Stop the scroll - the importance of styling your accommodation with Mark Hodge the easy way to increase bookings

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Interior design and styling is our topic this week! Let’s talk about how to stop the scroll! 

As the short term market gets more competitive, hosts need to keep innovating to keep a leg up on the competition. Having an attractive, stylish interior design with a few stand-out pieces is one way to make your property distinct, attracting guests who connect with your particular design aesthetic. But not only that, a well-designed space tells a story, sets the mood for an immersive experience, relates to your target market and photographs oh so well!

To help us take a closer look at styling and designing an Instagram-worthy space, I am so pleased to welcome Mark Hodge. Mark previously from a performance background, transitioned into real estate and then mortgage broking before offering his own home on AirBNB. He found a new passion and six years ago, started his own business, Maisonnets, where he and his team not only look after clients’ investment but also to a wide range of corporate or holiday travelers.

MaisonNets currently operates in six states within Australia obtaining super host status across the board. They have branched out to offer services to include styling and home improvements which is the topic of today’s podcast. 

Join us as we take a closer look at the practical considerations of design and style and share tips and tricks for creating a thoughtful and comfortable guest experience.

00:00 Stop the scroll – the importance of styling your accommodation
01:25 Guest Intro – Mark Hodge
02:43 How Mark got into interior design
06:00 Important design elements for your property
09:18 How do you know if your property needs an interior upgrade?
12:20 A classic example of what styling can do to fill the calendars.
12:40 Using tools like AirDNA or the OTA’s for data
14:39 What are the opportunities in Short Term Rentals in 2021-22
19:34 Should you DIY or get a professional interior designer? 
21:40 Interior Design is an investment, not an expense

Listen to the episode here

Watch the episode here

Bart: Ok folks, welcome back to The Accommodation Show. Today is going to be a wonderful episode, which is very important for you to watch and to listen to. I’m joined by the wonderful Mark Hodge from Maisonnets. Welcome to the show.


Mark: Thank you. Nice to be here with you.


Bart: Now, it’s an absolute pleasure to have you here. We’ve had a really good chat about some of your experiences and what you’re doing and I love that you have sort of two sides of what you do. One is in the short term rental space, property, managing, really giving people a good understanding of how to get a return on investment on their properties. And the other side is really understanding the design of the property and some of those principles can enable you to get more money out of your property. I’m excited about today’s topic. Talking about styling, property, renovating property and things that you can do within it. But before we get into it, Mark, I’d love you to introduce yourself. Let everybody know where you’re from. And what you’re up to.


Mark: My name is Mark Hodge. I’ve been running Maisonnets now, since 2017. We started off as a company called FM’s plus and then we changed names to Maisonnets. We started in Sydney and moved to Brisbane to Melbourne. Then it was through to Canberra, Hobart, Adelaide and in Perth. So prior to the pandemic, we were operating in six states now we’re operating in four. And it’s been a growth trajectory that’s sort of been halted a little bit by the pandemic. But we’re now starting to rebuild a business again and it’s pretty exciting. There’s a lot of things happening in the wind. I started off doing this myself on my own or Airbnb and I had some experience in real estate, mortgage broking, and through a real estate company. They wanted me to start doing a short term rental division. So I started my own business which is how we came to be


Bart: So you’ve never never looked back apart from when the pandemic started. Right? Exactly. Awesome. So tell me a little bit about the two sides. So you said to me when we talked last you said the interior design and the styling is something which is really important to me. And something we can really add value to businesses out there. Obviously that’s what we’re gonna be talking about today. Tell me about that. And then that part of it in relation to short term rentals and how it all kind of fits together.


Mark: Well, it’s it’s funny, really as I said, we started initially in Sydney, and we had I speak at a lot of seminars and we had students that wanted to do the same thing we had property in a similar location to one of our students, who brought me into his property to see if he could get a better return was property Maroubra. And I had been working with a modular building company and had a lot of connections with builders, project managers, interior designers. So I said to him, Look, it’s a great property, great location, but we can’t present it the way it is. So he said, Well, what do we need to do? So I gave him a list. And then I went to one of the people that I was working with with the modular building company and she pulled it together for me. Within three weeks, we had turned his property around. Did quite an extensive renovation, mainly cosmetic, but interior design as well.

We had about an $11,000 furniture package, which was pretty reasonable for a two-bedroom. And so he went from 600 a week to 1300 a week. And we were able to move someone into another property and that’s kind of how we started and I saw the value of what we were doing and a lot of people don’t really have the time or the inclination to style their own property. So I gained a raft of designers who I actually use myself some of my own properties, some that I do rental arbitrage on, they came in and did interior designs for us turned around and so these properties went from making five or 600 a week to 1200 to 1500 a week. But it’s finding the right people, not doing a cookie-cutter exercise of stock standard. But having someone that is able to help you market your property by having something really interesting to photograph and it will just stop the guests swiping left. And that’s basically you. What I say to our clients is you need someone with a really good eye that knows how to market a property by styling it the correct way.


Bart: I love this topic because it just opens this massive bag of worms. And there’s just so many things you said in the past couple of minutes that really I want to kind of dive into and that they’re important points. And look, I guess the why do we do all the styling. One is because we’re running a business and because we want to be more profitable. You won’t have guests come and we won’t get to say the first thing that I want you to to help us with. You said that this property was not presentable. I think those were the words you use for all that you can put on the market as a house looking. Could you explain that a little bit more? And for anyone that’s listening, just thinking, Well, of course my property’s presentable. And, there’s people staying in it. Where do you draw the line? As to? It’s alright, so it’s not alright, or is it? All these different shades of grey and you’re kind of sitting somewhere and what are your What are your thoughts?


Mark: So this particular property was being rented for 600 a week by a long term tenant. And within the rental market, there are people that will stay in various properties, depending on what they can afford. But to be able to offer this property to guests and guests, as we all know, and you would know, particularly have become much more discerning on what they’re picking. So it was a case of us going in and looking at the carpets and going there really not suitable. Looking at the kitchen and seeing how we could do that. And in that particular instance it wasn’t replacing the whole kitchen but it was replacing door handles ceramic coating the tiling to make it all fit in putting new flooring in the kitchen. There were stucco ceilings, so we dropped, dropped the ceiling, had a shadow line input down lighting, put ceiling fans, the screens on the windows were all damaged. 


That we were all replaced. We had vertical blinds. We got rid of those and put Holland blinds in better colors, much more appealing colors. We even actually had an emerald green tile that was probably put in like back in the 70s So we had that all spray enameled, made gray and then white and changing the vanity, things like that. Things that when he walks in and goes wow, this is really nice, really comfortable, beautiful colors. It feels nice to walk into. So it’s just having someone that’s got the iron knows what to do with a pop of color in wall hangings or like we’ve got one property that someone put an emerald green lounging. And people actually will look at that particular property online and go wow, that lounge looks really good. And it grabs them and it makes them look at the rest of the photos. So it’s little things like that that make a difference. And, even theming a property so that it draws people in, people, people might look at a property that’s, five kilometers away from where they want to be, but because that property is so appealing. It’s like, you build it now they want to come. It’s something that will gravitate people towards that particular listing.


Bart: Okay, so we’re looking at the properties and there’s all these different things we can do to improve it and to make it more desirable. So one is you’re going to benefit from all the marketing the question I’ve got for you just to start off with, obviously, if we’re a property manager, or if we’re a property owner, we’re gonna be looking at properties and finding ways to improve it. Now, if we’ve already been doing this for two, three years, how do we know whether it’s appropriate for us to go and start to upgrade our property and to do more styling to it? Is it just based on occupancy? Is it on rate? Is there any tips that you would have right now that someone could go and pick up and just go, I can do this to figure out whether I need to do some upgrades on my property.


Mark: I can tell you explicitly an example that we had last year, a property that we had in Canberra. So this particular property was in the Nishi building, where the overload is in new act and in Canberra. We had a client that we had a property we were looking after in Darlinghurst and also in Canberra. They did their own styling and the building itself is great. The locations are great. The styling was very basic. We pulled in another apartment in that building and we gave direction on the styling to the owners. They wanted to do it themselves, but we gave full direction. Now what actually happened in that property, our initial property that the owner had was he started to see his bookings declining. He started, he went from I think it was they were renting it for 430 a week. We were getting around 1200 a week with short term and it was a terrific shining example of the difference between short term and long term. 


So what happened was he started to see his bookings decline, but the other property upstairs had exactly the same floor plan for four floors. We’re getting all the bookings, and he was about to pull. So I said to him I said Trevor, look, we really need to have a look at restyling the property. It looks sparse. It wasn’t completely done. I know from the beginning you were going to put some more stuff in there. Can I take my stylus down and can we spend a little bit of money to go in so he agreed. We went in and we had a small budget, so I went down to do the property. And I actually put a little video together on the before and after of that and I really should send it through to you


Bart: Links below.  I’m sure people will be like want to see what the before and afters


Mark: We went in and within three days the calendar went from 0% full to 60% full for that month. And that’s a classic example of what styling can do to fill the calendars.


Bart: So what I am hearing you say, what I’m hearing you say is if your occupancy isn’t what you think it should be in your area, then that’s where you should be having good or if you’re giving price pressure. And that’s what you should be looking at is hey, this is probably one of the things in life because there’s a myriad of different things you have to look at be it what platforms you’re on and how your marketing is put together. But then if you’re doing okay and then it starts to drop and this is one of the areas that you want to look at. So if you use tools like Airbnb, and that sort of thing to get your data or are you also just looking at the OTAs and comparing them?


Mark: We do have on our property management software, we do have analytics. But there is an ADNA as well. There are different systems that they use to pull it all together to see what the average daily rental is and what the occupancy is for that area. But when it comes to specifics, I normally do that manually by going into listings and having a look putting the filters in,  putting exactly the right filters in and looking at what’s happening. Around the area. I mean, we have owners going oh look, I’ve looked at this and my property’s not ranking as high and this one’s ranking better and it’s getting more money. And that’s when we have to go look, you really have to look at the styling. Look, it’s how it’s presented and it’s not a set and forget like a long term rental. You really have to keep at it. You have to make sure that and that’s how we get our reviews as well as making sure that those properties are really marketable and desired by the guest.


Bart: So I would love your opinions with the styling, I’m very aware that the market is incredibly competitive in a short term rental space, everyone, every man and his dog seems to be jumping into this industry and wanting to make a quick buck and make some money, which kind of makes sense, right? The math at the moment makes sense to look at doing short term rentals rather than the longer-term rentals as long as you’ve got the right structures in place especially Yeah, so what are your opinions on what’s happening in the market overall? Because you’ve been through the thick and thin of it. So you’ve your business has grown and it’s got smashed by COVID Then you’re regrowing it, but because everyone’s charging into it. What do you think the impacts are going to be of the market changing on the need to service or to have these features and what do we need to look at as owners and what we need to be aware of? What are you thinking about in your business?


Mark: I gave a few seminars webinars last year, when the pandemic happened we looked into a lot of the research obviously, people were moving out in droves when the pandemic hit, and in Sydney and Melbourne, vacancy rates in long term tenancy went through the roof because everyone was putting their short term rental Airbnb is back into the long term pool because everyone had left the country and no one was coming in. What normally happens is 40-$46 billion so on the Eastern Seaboard, especially Sydney and Melbourne more so than Brisbane. Most of our occupancy came from overseas. So $46 billion is normally spent in this country by overseas travelers. But we spent over 49 billion going overseas. So that whole shift as well as our local tourism. You’ve also got that extra 49 billion they can’t go anywhere. And that it sort of shifted. So we were having periods, March, April, May. This year before all the lockdown started happening again, where everything was falling. We had people calling us wanting property. 


There is a shortage of property because a lot of it is in the long-term pool at the moment. So the huge demand that we’re seeing and I’m even seeing with my own property at the moment, like just back to back bookings. It’s just going to go absolutely crazy. But in making sure that you can fill your property, you’ve really got to keep a notch above the mediocre properties that are out there. And that’s where we really like the help with our stylists to be able to do that and maintain that. But the other thing is now that we’re starting to open up to the rest of the world, I spoke to Airbnb manager the other week. They have not seen the amount of searches from overseas. Travelers have been searching Australian property since before the pandemic, and we’ve been a little bit like a prison island. So all of that’s going to change. And we’re I think we were seen as quite a fascinating destination right now because we’ve managed to, to keep COVID at bay and I think everyone is going to flock to this country. A lot of people are feeling nervous about going overseas. And I really do feel that the short term industry is going to have a massive boom.


Bart: Look, I don’t disagree with that at all. I believe that the way that we’ve got such high vaccination rates in this country, as long as it all holds together and we keep COVID cases low in general. I think Australia will once again become super desirable just like New Zealand did. Back to the day where just everybody went back home or decided to emigrate there at that particular moment. Now, okay, so things are looking positive, which is great. And we’re seeing Yes, we can, we can invest a bit into our properties so that even if occupancy is high, therefore we can increase our rates. 


That’s basically economic supply and demand. Now let’s, let’s get into a little bit of the stickiness of it. So let’s say we’ve got a property right now, and we don’t know what to do. It’s good on you guys for giving us some ideas about styling. What do we do next? And let’s say let’s say of course, we can get a team to come and do some styling. That’s probably like the number one thing but what are the things that we’ll be thinking about and looking at in terms of styling, and they’re sort of basics that we can do and there’s more advanced what would you suggest people do if they’re sitting there right now they go, actually, it’s something I’ve been thinking about, what do you recommend they do?


Mark: I would recommend a professional stylist to someone that can come in? I mean, I’ve got some of my stylists who will go into a property. I’ve actually got one we’re going to go down to Canberra on Friday. So the client has some furnishings there. She will go in and go okay, well we can keep this. We can work with this. But we need to put something into here, we need to put a special color. We need to look at the flooring. We need to work out whether or not, we need to replace that we need to look at the color on the walls. Changing that so we have builders as well. We have tradespeople that she can pull in to come and do minor changes. We’ve also got others that can do major renovations if bathrooms need to be upgraded as well. But it’s having an overall picture and seeing how marketable something is. We’ve got high end designers and we’ve got people who are very thrifty because I have a lot of investors who need to do something on a budget. And that’s where that’s where they come in and assess to see what they keep what, they throw out and what they can incorporate by bringing in. 


Bart: So the first step is to get someone professionals come in to kind of do an appraisal. It’s almost like getting a real estate agent to tell you how much money is worth saving. I think you’re getting a stylist to come and say hey, this is where your art issues. I completely appreciate that. I understand design as well as that. I think I know what I’m doing but then a designer touches it and all of a sudden it just looks completely different in their eye because they’ve been trained for it. It’s just exciting. It’s really fantastic. And they put so much power in what they do. The other side of it that I wanted to talk about briefly, which I think might be of interest is the financial part of it. Right? So we’re talking about increasing revenue, but I imagine that if the property is yours, that you’re increasing the value of it, there’s probably some really great tax benefits to it as well. What is your understanding of that?


Mark: Well, it’s funny I spoke at a seminar a few years back in Melbourne and I posed the question to the audience who thinks that for a two-bedroom apartment $10,000, $12,000 Is is too much to furnish it to to gain short term occupancy. Most of them put up their hands, and I said, Okay, think about this. You’ve got $600 a week. You go if you spend $10,000 in interest terms, let’s say at that stage, I think it was focusing on interest terms, it was costing an interest-only you draw down on your loan. It was like $7.64 or something a week. And you’re getting 1300 a week. Now who thinks that’s a lot of money. No one put up their hands. So it’s, it’s thinking it’s a business. It’s not thinking it’s an expense you’ve got with any business you’ve got to outlay something to gain a better return. Items are depreciable. I work with a company called depreciate it that offers services for all of that for our clients as well. They can write things off or depression depreciates them over time. So it all comes back into their pocket again.


Bart: Look, I’m surprised I really, in my mind, I thought that we will be going through one on ones of everything you need to do to style your property but I think this is far more valuable is actually giving people the practical resources of how to do it as a business professional, rather than getting into the dirt and trying to figure out whether you need four chairs, or six chairs or eight chairs and that sort of thing, especially just saying what the return on investment is so significant, that you should probably get a professional in just at least help you, you can probably do the Thrifty way after that. And if you really want to paint your own walls, you paint your own walls and do what you want to do. But at least to have that guidance, getting someone that knows what they’re talking about is imperative. 


So absolutely, yeah, I totally agree. Look, I don’t have any other questions for today. I think that this episode has been incredibly valuable. And it’s really shining the light on on some of the things that people need to focus on and given them the steps that they need to take which is basically look at what your competitors are doing, see what your occupancy is like and then based on that and then see what people’s expectations are by doing research on the internet. Then if you think you need to do it, get a professional in and your upfront expense is very limited. And then you can decide to pull the trigger and get things done. Is that right?


Mark: Exactly, exactly. That’s exactly right.


Bart: Makes it sound easy, huh? 


Mark: Yeah.


Bart: Beautiful. Mark, I want to thank you so much for joining us on the show. We really appreciate it as a community. We love having people that are working in the industry take a bit of time out of their busy schedules to join us to have a bit of a chat and to share what they know. I appreciate it. The community appreciates it. Now. Is there anything that we can do for you?


Mark: Well, first of all, I want to say thank you for having me. Thank you for inviting me along. We have obviously lost a lot of listings. We lost a lot of houses. We had a lot of houses in Sydney and Melbourne that were doing extremely well before the pandemic and there is huge demand for them. And we get a lot of people calling. We do need to build out our property stables back up so particularly in Sydney, Melbourne, and Brisbane, Adelaide as well. Adelaide does extremely well in a really good market. So if anyone wants us to assess if they want to send their address, and we can do an appraisal, we can basically do an evaluation and let them know whether or not we think it would be right. If I didn’t think it was right, I wouldn’t take anything on it’s not a value to the client. So yeah, if anyone wants us to have a look at their property and thinks that they might be able to get a better return I’d love to have a look at it.


Bart: Beautiful and people can find you?




Bart: And then Mark Hodge on LinkedIn as well. What’s the best way to

reach you?


Mark: Yeah Mark Hodge on LinkedIn or even Maisonnets on Instagram, Maisonnets on Facebook as well


Bart: Beautiful and of course those links will be in the show notes below. So once again, thank you so much and if you are watching the episode, I would appreciate you giving it a LIKE, giving it a subscribe and I would like to know your thoughts about upgrading your property and about whether you think it’s worth doing. Thank you once again, I will catch you around and speak soon.


Mark: Thank you. Thanks very much.


Bart: Thank you so much for listening to the show. You can find us at the accommodation where you can find all the show notes. links to resources we have talked about in transcripts from the show. I really do appreciate you listening. And if you’d like to support the show, please subscribe. Leave a comment and share it with others.

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