Interview: Mark Thomas

One of Monaco’s most well-known personalities, Mark Thomas, talks to Monaco Life about returning to the world of real estate, the current property market, and how he has managed to achieve a balanced lifestyle.
Monaco Life: You have worn many hats over the years, what are you currently involved in career wise?
While I have done a lot of different things with private offices over the years, I have just returned to my old roots, which is real estate. I obtained my bachelors and masters degrees in real estate from Cambridge University and spent eight years working in real estate in London for Richard Ellis. Then I moved down here after the Sevens World Cup for Wales to play professional rugby for Racing Club Nice. I just wanted a change of life because, after eight years in London, I wasn’t really enjoying it. I also wanted to learn different languages so I started speaking French, although some people will say I speak it badly (laughing). When I finished rugby, I joined the bobsled team with Prince Albert for seven winters, including five world championships and five world series. I couldn’t take part in the Olympics because I had a British passport, but I helped the boys qualify and went to Nagano with them. It was a great period of my life, to compete at that level, and my work over the last 15 years or so has been quite an adventure with mining, marine salvage, film, media and technology projects. Then I decided I just didn’t want to be on planes all the time flying to the States or to Asia every two or three weeks. For a long time there, I was jet lagged for about half of the year, travelling constantly with no routine. It all sounds very glamorous but at one point you think, “Hang on this isn’t working for me”. I am so happy not to be spending all my time travelling now and just focusing on real estate in Monaco and having a settled, healthy  lifestyle.
So, I am working with Balkin Estates, essentially buying and selling for investors and clients, taking care of foreign clients mostly, and I am enjoying it. I have been in Monaco for 26 years, half my life basically, so my network is extensive in all fields of life here and I know a lot of people, which ultimately makes for good business. Monaco is going through massive changes for the better – enormous infrastructure improvements. I call this the biggest little city in the world, or the biggest village in the world, because of the multinational people who live here. In London, there’s a rigid formality to everything and a boardroom where you have meetings. But here, you are friends with someone and he says “I need a larger two or three bed, the family’s gotten bigger”, and it’s as simple as that.
How is the real estate market at the moment in Monaco?
At the very top, the VIP end, there is the new Portier Cove extension, but that’s about five years away. It is not officially selling at the moment but there’s a lot of interest. There is also the new Testimonial II in development and the Jardin Exotique at the entrance to Monaco, as well as the usual Saint Roman, Larvotto, Carré d’Or and Condamine districts. Everyone has different tastes. Some people don’t care about a view, they want space. Others can’t live without seeing the sea. So, whether you are buying in the new Jardin Exotique or the Carré d’Or, location is everything as well as the quality of the individual properties.
Will the new developments drive up the market?
Personally, I think at the top end of the market there will be competition for new space because of the facilities and the quality it provides people. But that’s a limited market; they can act very quickly because they don’t necessarily have to organise finance from a bank, for example. But that’s a rare place to operate and purchase. The average sale in Monaco for a nice, 130sqm two-bed is around €5 million to €6 million. You are paying anything from €40,000 per square metre up to €100,000 per square metre at the moment, location dependent.
Is the market not saturated given all the new developments?
No, not at all. The enquiries for properties are relentless. If this first week of 2020 is anything to go by, we will have a very busy year again. For example, there is a property in the port which I bought for a Hong Kong client. It was sold in June for €5.3 million and we bought it recently for €6.3 million. The investor just wanted to flip it; he got a great deal from the previous owners who were returning to their country of origin and wanted a quick deal. Our client, following the refurbishment works, can sell again and make a handsome profit given the location and quality. If the product is done well, it doesn’t last long. Many people want a turn-key operation, so you have to be aware of the quality and how you manage the property.

How is the rental market?
It is strong as well, though the studio market has fallen a bit because of the stricter requirements for a carte de séjour, which means there are deals in that market for pied à terre. There was a big demand for family properties last year, so that skewed the average price per square metre, but it shows that Monaco is attracting the right kind of people. I recently attended a presentation about the next five years of the Princess Grace Hospital, and it is just staggering. We have a world class medical facility here, and it’s getting better and better.
So, the health system in Monaco is matching the price-point of the properties?
The expectations people have of Monaco involves service and quality, and having access to the best possible medical facilities. We have an amazing cardiothoracic unit and sports unit – I know because I had surgery there after I suffered 18 bone fractures in my bobsled accident. The Princess Grace Hospital now also has a body check-up unit, which I have had – the full body scan. Previously, people would go to the Mayo Clinic, to Switzerland or the UK for a full body check. But they do it here now and it’s fantastic. Monaco is very proactive in meeting the expectations of people, and the medical facilities are just getting better and better.

Speaking of health, you are looking fabulous these days. Can you tell us your secret?
There is no secret. We did the Champagne and Oysters Cycle ride from Saint Tropez to Monaco and a long-term friend of mine, Rainer Herbert Keller, sent me a photo of myself and I said: “That can’t be me, I look so unhealthy and heavy!” Basically, I looked fat and I was mortified. We hung out and he told me about Metabolic Balance. It has changed my life and I share it with as many friends as I can. Essentially, you have a blood test with 36 markers and it is sent away to the headquarters in Munich for doctors to analyse your metabolism. From your blood, they are able to identify what you should and shouldn’t be eating, and then the team in the headquarters formulates your detox and nutrition program based on those results, tailored for each individual. So, it turns out I can’t have all kinds of dairy – for example the cow milk yoghurt that I was eating in the morning which I thought was good for me has to be replaced by a goat milk yogurt. The same applies to vegetables, fruits, fish and meat. The tailor-made program tells you exactly which foods are good for you. Broccoli, tomatoes and onions for example do not suit me, so I should not eat them. Essentially, all foods are selected to optimise your well-being and you will see the benefits within a short period of time. It’s a simple and efficient nutrition system to follow and it is now part of my daily routine.
Obviously in a business environment, I have to be very disciplined and not eat out for lunch and dinner all the time. But it is about creating new habits, knowing what you can and can’t eat, and sticking to it. It has been a revelation and I have actually really enjoyed it. Everyone’s saying how great I look, noticing that I have more energy. I honestly feel like a young man again.
We are allowed to have cheat days; I had a pizza last week, the first time in two months, and it was great. But I don’t have cravings. I have three meals a day, five hours apart, and you don’t snack or feel hungry because you are eating the right foods for your body while drinking a lot of water.

Do you see this being a long-term regime?
Absolutely. My food choices have changed. It’s a conscious process of making good choices, and you are what you eat – you certainly don’t put diesel in a Ferrari! Of course, I still drink wine and beer, but not so often. On a typical weekend, I go to the gym then hit the food market at Place des Armes and get my chilies, vegetables and peppers for the weekend. I enjoy the process. I know the different menus of what I can and can’t eat, what goes with what, and I play around with it. There are days I don’t want to eat animal proteins so I will have hummus, rye crackers and vegetables, for example. Before I would eat everything, now I am conscious of what I need. I also check in with my personal coach at Metabolic Balance regularly. All this together with my spinning, circuit training and cycling keeps me focussed to achieve my optimal weight loss whilst living a balanced life.
So, this ties back to what you were talking about at the beginning – making healthy life choices, whether it be work or lifestyle…
Your health is your wealth. If you don’t have your health you can’t do anything, right? You can’t work, walk, socialise. I turned 50 and decided that it was time to get it together. It took a few more years to simplify my life, but it starts with you and your responsibility to yourself. Having been an international rugby player and bobsledder and getting to an international level, I understand sacrifices. But if that sacrifice today is just eating more healthily and making really good positive choices, it reflects on the rest of the decision making in your life – your business relationships, your family…
On the Metabolic Balance program, I have lost nearly 15 kilograms in four months, effortlessly, and I am still going. My goal is to lose another 10 kilograms by May. I feel like I am 25 – I also act like I am 25 – haha, but just because you get older and wiser, it doesn’t negate you the responsibility of living a fun life but also looking after yourself, not just for yourself and your loved ones, but to operate at optimal efficiency in life: sport, travel, work. And every journey starts with the first step.
Personally, I feel the best six doctors in the world are sunlight, rest, exercise, diet, self-confidence and friends. Keep them in all stages of your life: “Love the people the almighty sent you, for one day he will need them back.”
To learn more about Metabolic Balance, visit the website by clicking here.