Whether you are Democrat or Republican, if you own a mobile home park, there is much to potentially rejoice about in the projected repeal or reduction in the SAFE Act. These laws, brought about by the sub-prime mortgage collapse of 2007 and the subsequent Great Recession, had a noble mission, but had some terrible collateral damage. While they were intended to impact large mortgage companies and the way that they dealt with customers, the net effect was that it effectively lumped even the small park owner with one or two homes for sale into this same universe. The result is that thousands of Americans were held back from becoming homeowners – and relegated to strictly renters – because property owners refused to become licensed or even deal with these laws, and instead took the much easier path of just becoming rental landlords. While we are unsure of when the end of the SAFE Act will take place – or even simply an amendment placing a cap on homes under $50,000 or sellers who do less than 5 or 10 transactions per year – we know that it’s elimination or reduction will cause much satisfaction on the part of mobile home park owners who have been trying to get it amended for almost a decade.
Memo From Frank & Dave
What To Do About Small Lots
Back in the early days of the industry, the biggest mobile homes were around 8’ x 40’. These were the showpieces at that time, as reflected in the ad shown above. Even J. Paul Getty’s Spartan – widely considered the prototype of the mobile home from the 1950s – was 8’ x 40’. These early parks hold some of the finest locations in the U.S., as they were built at a time when cities still allowed new construction and often pre-date the cities that formed around them. Frequently the park buyer will encounter situations in which they find a property with a terrific location coupled with tiny lots. So the question is: how do you address and evaluate small lots?
Is the density putting you at risk for Fire Marshal intervention?
Although mobile home parks benefit from the property rights of legal non-conforming “grandfathered’ status – in which they have no obligation to obey any ordinance enacted after the date of lawful construction – they are not exempt from the power of the Fire Marshal. The Fire Marshal has the ability to end any practice that is creating danger to the community at large. This can sometimes manifest itself in the Fire Marshal requiring moving over or removal of certain homes that are too close to others. Any time that the homes in the park are around 10’ or less in distance from each other, you should try to have the Fire Marshal walk the property and get their feedback.
The width is often more important than the length
Not all small lots are created equal. If the mobile home lot cannot hold a 14’ wide home, then you have a really significant problem, as manufacturers no longer normally produce 8’, 10’ or 12’ wide homes, and they are equally rare on the used home market. So you need to pay attention to the width of the lot as much – or even more – than the length.
Can the lot hold a two-bedroom home?
You’ve never known misery until you have tried to sell or rent a one-bedroom mobile home. While two-bedroom models fly off the shelf, one-bedrooms languish. Even elderly residents who live alone have no interest in one-bedroom units. It seems that everyone wants that second bedroom for a guest room, hobby room, or simply a little extra space. If your lot will not hold a two-bedroom mobile home, then it’s too small. That size is normally around 46’ or longer in depth to qualify for a two-bedroom model. Lots that will only hold a one-bedroom mobile home will typically need to be combined with neighboring lots to allow for bigger homes, and you need to allow that possibility when counting the number of usable vacant lots in the park you are buying.
Is there demand for RVs?
Another option for small lots is the use of RVs. But before you assume that’s the solution, you need to verify that there is demand for RV lots in the market. To attain this data, you need to drive your competitors – including stand-alone RV parks – and see how full they are. Talk to RV suppliers (sales lots, RV repair, propane sales) and get their opinions. But remember that, even if there is demand for RVs, they are not as valuable a resident as a mobile home, as they move frequently and are not as attractive to banks or appraisers.
Can your budget accept the reduction of lots if you combine several into one?
When you are working with small lots, you need to realize that filling these vacant lots is often a game of strategy like playing chess. Every action has a reaction, and you have to ensure that you are making the right moves to maximize the number of homes you can fit on the property. The most common options are to combine two lots side-by-side and install a small double-wide, or to combine two lots end-to-end and put in a 76’ three-bedroom home. These strategies, obviously, reduce your available vacant lots by 50% and, as a result, the maximum amount of potential revenue these vacant lots represent.
The potential complications of combining lots together
Just because you have two lots adjoining does not mean that you can use them as one unit. Issues such as topography and utility easements might mean that the lots cannot be combined. There can also be utility issues when combining smaller lots, such as the fact that old lots may need a total re-work of the electrical, water or sewer system. If you are planning on combining small lots together, the time to attack is during due diligence and get the factual information of any holdups.
Have you considered the impact on occupied lots and not just vacant ones?
Many buyers make a mistake and only focus on the impact of small lots on the vacant lots, without thinking about the occupied lots, as well. Remember that any occupied lot could go vacant in the future as a result of a fire or a resident moving their home. While these happen rarely, you need to have a Plan B for every lot in the park. Make sure that vacant and occupied lots have the ability to hold two-bedroom homes. There is the classic case of a large portfolio owner two decades ago that bought a park in a great location in Plano, Texas, but with very small lots. To upgrade the property, they removed the old homes and brought in new ones. While it made the park look much better, nobody was tracking the fact that every new home required two lots. When they got done they were horrified that the park’s total occupancy was half of what was originally budgeted – the park manager had never bothered to alert the corporate office of this obvious occurrence until it was too late.
Is it a lender hurdle?
Even if you get comfortable with your small lots, remember that the lender and appraiser may not be as forgiving. Talk to the lender on the front end and make sure that high density is allowable. We typically don’t see pushback until the density reaches nearly 20 units per acre, but any park with smaller lots might be at risk of a negative assessment. Be prepared for that and have your explanation ready for the lender of how you are planning to manage around this issue.
Some of the best mobile home parks in the U.S. have small lots, which is a direct result of their age. Parks from the 1950’s and early 1960s enjoy phenomenal locations, so you cannot look at these tremendous properties if you are not willing to address the concept of small lots. As long as you do proper due diligence, there’s no reason you cannot buy and succeed with a park with small lots.
MJ Vukovich: The New Power In MH Loan Brokerage
MJ Vukovich is a well-known figure in the mobile home park industry. He is a third-generation park owner, and literally grew up in the business. A couple years ago he started adding to his skill set with loan brokerage, and ultimately became a part of Bellwether Enterprise, one of the largest mortgage originators in the U.S. And even better yet, if you do a loan with MJ, let him know we referred you and MHU will give you a $500 gift card to the home improvement store of your choice upon loan closing.
To get ahold of MJ for questions or to get the loan process going, email him at [email protected] or call him at 612-335-7740.
Can America Adapt To Smaller Living Spaces?
After years of American housing focused on how to build bigger and bigger homes, the reality of a declining economy and growing number of retirees (roughly 10,000 Baby Boomers are retiring per day) is changing the focus from larger to smaller. But can Americans truly adapt to living in smaller spaces?
The generational impact of living space expectations
The Greatest Generation and Silent Generation grew up in small spaces, and had no problem retiring into them. Baby Boomers, on the other hand, were a product of the “me” generation, and have felt entitled to giant living spaces that are a multiple of what they grew up in. While some Baby Boomers may be willing to live in smaller units in keeping with their budget, there may be a strong resistance to do so by the bulk of the Boomers. However, there appears to be an almost cult-like interest in the Millennial and other younger generations to the concept of “living tiny”.
Getting by with less: a dream or a reality?
Of course, those who hate the idea of living in smaller spaces may find their wishes unsupportable based on economic realities. The fact that 70% of American households do not have even $1,000 is a striking representation of what the consumer can actually afford regarding housing. With the average social security check in the U.S. averaging just $1,200 per month, the future of the McMansion is in jeopardy for huge numbers of Americans.
The impact of multi-generational households
One trend that is a definite wildcard in the housing debate is the fact that a huge percentage of Americans are now living in multi-generational households. In fact, around 25% of Americans under the age of 30 now live with their parents. This type of housing allows residents to pool their resources for a larger dwelling, and having several generations under one roof demands larger spaces. However, we are also seeing such households in mobile home parks in which several generations all live in the same park but in separate homes – which costs much less than other options. So perhaps the multi-generational concept will be changed from “in the same home” to “in the same community” as long as the pricing is affordable.
Historical precedent: does it still apply?
Prior generations, when faced with economic hardship, adapted accordingly. Living in smaller spaces went smoothly in the Great Depression, and again in WW II. It was not that long ago that Americans that they are entitled to bigger spaces – may become as irrelevant as shows like Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous. When economic reality meets with personal desires, the money typically wins out.
The “tiny house” movement is coming in really handy
What may make smaller spaces more palatable is the rise in popularity of the “tiny house” movement. There are at least five of these shows on cable, such as Tiny House Hunters, and they have been single-handedly making smallness chic again. The whole movement of “living small” is taking on cult status and that’s very supportive to the mobile home park industry.
America is approaching a crossroads of the intersection of consumer tastes and economic reality. We believe that mobile home parks will win that battle, and that living small will become a fixture of the U.S. housing market for decades to come.
Why Mobile Insurance Is The Best Protection At Affordable Prices
Whether you are simply in need of an insurance quote or you have the unfortunate, yet common task, of filing a claim, Mobile Insurance is ready and waiting to take your call. We’ve used Mobile Insurance for over a decade, and their superior service is known throughout the industry. Kurt, the owner of Mobile Insurance, is a top resource for any park insurance question, and they provide free quotes on parks that you are acquiring. That’s why around 2,000 park owners in the U.S. are Mobile Insurance customers.
Mobile Insurance can help you engineer the policy you need to cover all your concerns, and their prices are unbelievably low. Being able to contact them when you need them is just as important. We recommend that every park buyer call them first, as we know of no other group that has the same expertise, quality of service, and low prices. Call them at 800-458-4320 or email [email protected]
You Can Make Any Kitchen Look Like This – And Why You Should
This is a photo of the kitchen in a Clayton home at the Louisville Home Show. Spectacular, right? You might say “that’s a great kitchen, but I’ve got older homes”. But the truth is that you can make your old home kitchen look just like this at a low cost.
The importance of design
What makes this kitchen look good is not accidental. It’s design. The designers at Clayton are the best in the U.S. The point is that good design is like a road map to a great end result. Too many kitchens in mobile homes are the product of simply buying whatever is cheapest. If you want to produce a good product for your resident, you need to put in more effort than that.
The easy access to modern materials
You can walk into any Home Depot of Lowe’s and find every material shown in this photo. The cabinets come pre-built, and the flooring is not real wood but simple to install vinyl. Countertops are available from a number of suppliers at a relatively low cost. Although 20 years ago, a kitchen like this would have required a big budget and a skilled craftsman, today it is as commonplace as buying a bag of Fritos.
Simply copying the best work of professionals
So where do you go to get good design ideas? Your local mobile home dealership would be good start, or perhaps the mobile home show in Tunica that’s coming up this month. Pick out a kitchen that impresses you, and copy every element down from the exact vinyl flooring to the countertops and cabinet paint colors. Even investigate the lighting options and appliances (if you provide them). There’s no reason to re-invent the wheel. They say that copying is the most important form of flattery. Start being flattering.
It costs about the same to do it right as to do it wrong
The crazy thing about remodeling the kitchen in a mobile home is that it costs the same to do it poorly as it does to do it well. Paint, vinyl flooring, countertops – they cost the same regardless of the colors and patterns you buy. Since there’s no price advantage, you cannot rationalize why your kitchen does not look like that photo.
Appearance is everything in showing homes
For those who say “but that kitchen in the photo has upgraded cabinets, etc. and you’re only talking about the surface appearance” we would counter that “beauty is only skin deep, but that’s what sells all homes”. You can’t see behind the walls in a McMansion, and there is too much hype about the “quality” of things that remain untested or don’t hold up three years later. Mobile homes have limitations based on how they’re built, and solid materials are not often part of the equation. But that’s not to say they can’t look terrific and please the occupants.
You can make your older mobile home kitchen look as good as the one pictured above. And you should. A great looking kitchen will make a home sell or rent a thousand times faster, and improve the quality of life of those who live in the home.
A Story About Dave DiMarco
The best corporate lawyer we have ever used is Dave DiMarco at Woods Oviatt Gilman, LLP. We have used him on virtually all of our conduit loans, as well as traditional bank loans. What we love about Dave DiMarco is that he knows what we are trying to accomplish (get the loan closed quickly and inexpensively) and he can quarterback the situation and push it to the goal line without us having to bug him or worry about our progress. Here’s a story that illustrates why we use Dave Dimarco.
A few years ago we bought a mobile home park and, after turning it around, went to refinance it into conduit debt. Everything looked great until the lender’s counsel found a minor problem with the title: a city street that fed into the park actually belonged to the park and not the city. On top of that there was around 16 square feet of land that the park owner had not obtained an easement for 40 years ago, and that made one side of the city’s road in jeopardy. Now, the whole situation was ridiculous, as the city itself was adamant that they owned the street. In fact, state law mandated that, under adverse possession, they had owned the street for decades. It even showed as the city’s street on the street map. However, the impossible-to-please lender would not move forward unless we could obtain a letter from a judge stating that the city owned the street – which could take months or years. So Dave DiMarco ran out and located the owner of the 16 square feet, initiated negotiations, and we bought the easement. It saved the day on that loan. No other attorney on earth would have taken that outside the box effort. We knew then that Dave Dimarco was our man.
If you need service like that, then consider using Dave DiMarco on your next transaction. You can reach him at (585) 987-2833. And, yes, he’s the brother of Anthony and Gerry DiMarco – the #1 mobile home park loan brokers in the U.S. This is a family that definitely shapes the industry.
Not Even Superman Can Save A Park In A Bad Location
It may be easier to leap tall buildings in a single bound than to make a success of a mobile home park in a bad location. Even Superman would be hard pressed to turn a profit on a park that has everything going against it as far as where it’s located. So why is a bad location so impossible – and how can you make sure that your location is correct?
No demand equals eventually no occupancy
A bad location is one that has no demand. Even if the park is full at purchase, the lack of demand will eventually catch up to you. Over time, residents will die of old age, or be evicted for non-payment of rent. As a result, homes will become empty and require you to find new residents. If your phone never rings, then these homes will never have paying tenants again, and you will eventually end up with a raw piece of land covered in vacant old mobile homes. You see this type of park in blighted areas that have senior residents who moved in decades ago when the area was desirable. How do you guard against this? With the use of test ads. If the park pulls no demand from the test ad, then it won’t once you by it, either.
Rural areas that have no jobs and that means no rent appreciation
What about locations that offer a mild form of demand but are not near any type of employment area? These are a slow death as you see your lot rents unable to go up due to low demand and price movement. Remember that to have affordable housing, you have to have contrast with expensive housing. In locations that have low median home prices and apartment rents, there is nothing to push rents up. This is the reason that many markets have lot rents as low as $100 per month – which is right where they were 20 years ago. What’s the solution? Look for median home prices that are around $100,000 and up and three-bedroom apartment rents that are around $1,000 per month and up. You can find this data on any market by going to www.Bestplaces.net.
Economic time bombs that explode periodically
Another sign of a bad location is the market that periodically takes a nosedive that plunges your occupancy to 50% and demand lower than the tickets to a box office flop. At the core of this bad location is a non-diversified employment base that has basically one large private sector employer that gets destroyed periodically and then has a comeback years later (if at all). Proverbial “one-horse towns” include Duncan, Oklahoma (the home of Halliburton) and Bartlesville, Oklahoma (the former home of Phillips Petroleum – who left and the town collapsed). What you want is a location that has a diversified “recession-resistant” economy that is built around healthcare, education and government employment, which are immune to layoffs. Look at the top ten employers in any market and analyze what the risk is of layoffs or closures on each of these groups. You can get this data often from Wikipedia or the Chamber website.
Just as kryptonite was the danger to Superman, a bad location is the danger to mobile home park ownership. Take these steps and you will not need your cape.
Why We Love Clayton’s CASH Program So Much
As many people know, we are the largest users of 21st Mortgage/Clayton Home’s CASH program in the U.S. We have around 1,000 homes in our parks under this initiative. So why are we such huge fans of CASH?
- It allows you to fill your vacant lots with no money out of pocket.
- You are not the home owner: the customer is the buyer and 21st is the lender.
- 21st Mortgage handles all the paperwork, so you do not have to be SAFE Act licensed.
- 21st does a terrific job of screening applicants, and has very low defaults.
We’re not alone in our excitement for this program, as the number of homes ordered under CASH has more than doubled this year from a variety of park owners, both large and small.
For more information on this program, call Candice Doolan at 800-955-0021 ext 1735 or email her at [email protected].
American Pickers In A Mobile Home? You Won’t Believe The Things We Find In Them, Too
In a recent America Pickers episode, they go searching inside a mobile home for important antique items to sell in their shop in Le Claire, Iowa. And they find some really great antiques. Why not? Mobile homes can often contain important historical items. Probably the most interesting item I’ve ever seen in a mobile home (both historically and from a value perspective) was a giant painting of the Marlboro model from the 1940s in my manager’s house at my Grapevine Estates mobile home park. Shirley was a great manager, but I didn’t know anything about her past. One day, I went in her mobile home and there was this giant oil painting that I immediately recognized as the Marlboro Girl from the 1940s. I asked her “Shirley, is that you?” and she replied “yes, that’s me from many years ago”. I would imagine that the painting, to the right collector, would be worth $10,000+ at auction, but it was worth more than that to Shirley, as it was a piece of her history. The moral is that you should never overlook the fact that mobile homes often contain some great items for the historian in all of us.
You Can Still Buy The The 2017 Affordable Housing Summit Recordings
Yesterday we held the 2017 Affordable Housing Summit, our annual review of all the new regulations, opportunities and pitfalls in each sector of the MH industry. It’s 12 speakers plus Q&A with no topic taboo. If you can’t get at least ten good ideas from the Summit, then you must not have been listening. The bad news is that you just missed it. But the good news is that you can still buy the recording of the event. To order the recordings, Click Here.
The Complications Of Residents Running Businesses Inside Your Park
America was built on entrepreneurship. Starting businesses is as much a part of U.S. culture as the hot dog and baseball. But sometimes this American fascination with starting a company can cause complications for your mobile home park. So what are the things to consider?
The property manager
The property manager is like your quarterback. You simply cannot win if this individual is weak. If you only had the time to properly select one team member, this would be the one. If the park is too small to hire from outside the property, then seek those residents with the nicest yard, home and car. These are the folks that have the most stable lifestyle and set a good example for the rest of the community. If you are hiring from outside and importing the manager into your community, then make sure you have selected someone who shares your morals and vision and will interact well with customers.
Why these developed – and realizing that many had noble beginnings
Every time you see a resident starting their business, remember that this is a noble cause and worthy of respect. It exemplifies ambition and a desire to improve their financial future. That’s what built our country. Most of these businesses began as an offshoot of the residents’ day jobs, and then they realized that there was demand inside the park to make extra money. In many ways, these businesses are essential to your residents, with such services as daycare and auto repair essential to all the other residents being able to get to work and pay the rent.
The typical types of businesses we see
The most common types of businesses that you find inside mobile home parks include:
- Tax preparation
- Auto repair
- Auto detailing
- Food truck
- Various MLM concepts such as vitamins, etc.
Some of these businesses may present legal issues for the park owner. For example, a restaurant operating out of a mobile home would be in violation of the health laws. And most businesses are supposed to have permits and other city licenses. You need to analyze the potential legal risks of having people operate businesses in your property and see what the implications might be. You will soon realize that some (such as tax accounting) are far less than others (such as daycare). Since this involves your property, you will probably be somehow tied to almost anything that happens indirectly (just ask any personal injury lawyer) and you should definitely call your insurance agent if you are in doubt.
Operational concerns for the park
All businesses have their own attributes. For each business you notice in your park, you need to consider the following impact:
- Environmental pollution. This is particularly worrisome on anything auto related.
- Traffic. This would be true of anything related to food sales.
- Parking. This would be true of anything that is a retail business.
- Aesthetics. This would be true of someone who put up a bunch of signs or banners.
- Debris. This would be a common issue with roofers.
- Dumping in dumpster. This would be a common problem with landscapers, roofers and any type of construction.
- Use of utilities. This would be a big issue with someone who details cars or fills up a water container for construction, assuming they do not have their own water separately metered.
You should evaluate the cost and/or impact on the neighborhood to see which of these factors damage the quality of life in your park, and act accordingly.
How involved should the park owner be?
Most mobile home park owners prefer to look at their property as a subdivision, and not to get too involved in the residents’ private lives. Throughout virtually every subdivision in America, you will find similar entrepreneurship ventures. Even Steve Jobs started Apple out of his garage. If the business is not detrimental to the park’s quality of life, value or operation, then it may be best for the park owner to simply let the resident follow their American Dream.
While Shark Tank would not be impressed with all park start-ups, they can serve an important need in the community and provide additional cash flow to pay rent. At the same time, they can frequently have negative attributes that must be addressed. While no park owner wants to play scrooge to the next Facebook, the quality of life of the entire community must be considered, as well as the economics of the park itself.
Why Mike Renz Is The Only Name You Need For Phase I Environmental Reports
You can’t buy a mobile home park without doing a Phase I – you could lose everything if it turns out to have environmental pollution on it. So who do you choose to do the report? We choose Mike Renz. Mike is the consummate professional and his range of knowledge is unparalleled. Here’s an example. We were buying a mobile home park and it failed the Phase I. Most people would have given up, but Renz knew that something did not seem right. It seems that a disgruntled manager had called the EPA and claimed that the owner had been operating an illegal land fill at the back of the property, yet Renz saw no evidence of this on aerial photos. So he did some quick borings and found the claim was a lie and the EPA removed it from their database. Case closed and park purchased. That’s the reason that we refer so many people to Mike Renz. Have you ever seen the “Beard of Knowledge” character on the show Pawn Stars – the guy who is a walking encyclopedia of all trivia? Well, for environmental issues, Mike Renz is that guy.
You can contact Mike Renz at (614) 538-0451.
Don’t Overlook The Power Of Ultra-Urban Mobile Home Parks
Sam Zell recently sold a huge amount of apartments that were suburban, to re-focus on his urban multi-family holdings. It seems that more and more people like to live in the downtown area, where the action is. And there is a surprising similarity between these residents and those of mobile home parks – at least as far as the preference for urban living.
What is an “ultra-urban” mobile home park?
An ultra-urban mobile home park would be one that is right in the heart of town – sometimes literally in the middle of downtown. These are areas where there are often no single-family residences, just the mobile home park mixed with commercial and industrial areas. Often these parks are on the main drag in these unique spots, highly visible to the whole world. This is similar to the urban renewal apartments that are popping up in downtown areas across the U.S.
Why people would want to live there
So why would someone want to live in a mobile home park in a gritty urban area? It’s the same reasons that people want to live in those loft apartments and old office buildings converted to multi-family in downtown areas. They want to live near everything that’s going on – from restaurants to retail. And they also want to live near where they work, just like those folks in the urban apartments. Most of these mobile home park residents hold jobs in downtown in such industries as fast food, auto repair and maintenance. There is also typically an RV contingency that prefers these locations because they can walk everywhere.
Comparison to “suburban” parks
The customer base for ultra-urban mobile home parks is often very different from suburban ones – they are two completely separate subsets of consumers. The biggest difference is typically family unit size. Most suburban customers are in search of a great school district and, logically, have plenty of kids. Ultra-urban parks typically have horrible school districts that are very far away from the park, and are not great environments to grow up in. As a result, most ultra-urban residents have only one or two adults in their households. There is also a change in tastes between these two groups. Ultra-urban residents tend to be less into aesthetics, and would happily trade a nice mature tree for extra asphalt.
What to watch out for
Most ultra-urban parks are extremely old. Many trace back to the beginnings of the industry in the 1930s and 1940s. That’s why you will often see the buildings or foundations of early motor-courts motels at the entrance – the trailers were frequently parked in the field behind the motel in the old days. Because of their age, these old parks have some special concerns, specifically:
- Very old utility lines
- Very old electrical service with low number of amps per lot
- Often master-metered electric and/or gas
- Environmental contamination (because there were often gas stations as part of these early ventures)/li>
- City zoning issues (simply because the records are missing due to pre-dating modern record keeping standards)
- Security issues
- Small lots and extreme density
As we’ve often said, no park is perfect. The older parks, with the most infrastructure and density issues, also often have the best locations (as they were built before cities grew hostile to the concept, and the city grew around them). Ultra-urban parks take these issues to the extreme, and require superior due diligence.
Ultra-urban mobile home parks offer a unique set of advantages and diligence issues. They can be extremely profitable if properly negotiated, as the customer base loves these locations and will pay a huge lot rent for the ability to live downtown (in many markets, the ultra-urban lot rents exceed the nice suburban ones). Just like the apartment industry’s push to meet the demand for urban apartments, you should take note of these opportunities when you come upon them.
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