Evidence Again That The Mobile Home Park “Moat” Cannot Be Breached

About a decade ago I was at a mobile home park industry conference where a speaker gave a report on why single-family homes in the U.S. cannot be built at an affordable price. The reason was the high price of residential lots in most American cities, which average around $80,000 each. When you add the price of the home, the speaker remarked, there’s no way that even a small home could possibly go up for less than $150,000 or so. Recently a non-profit in Florida tried this unsuccessful strategy again and ended up with 900 square foot homes for over $200,000 which they claim was partially caused by lumber price increases as a result of the pandemic. But it all simply points out that the mobile home park “moat” of affordable detached dwellings cannot be breached in a modern America.

How do mobile home parks do it then?

Offering a detached dwelling for $1,000 to $40,000 would seem impossible in a modern world. But mobile home parks across America do it every day. Now, it comes with some strings, such as the $280 national average monthly lot rent. But let’s look at how the numbers stack up vs. a traditional stick-built home:

Type of Dwelling Price/Mortgage Property Tax (assume 2% of appraised value Lot Rent Total

Stick-built $200,000/$1,000/mo $333/mo. N/A $1,333/mo Mobile Home Park $10,000/$150/mo. $27/mo $280/mo $447/mo.

The bottom line is that mobile home parks can provide detached housing at roughly $1,000 per month less than the stick-built alternative. And, in the above example, it should be noted that the customer needs $1,000 for the down-payment on the mobile home and at least ten times that for the stick-built.

Why it offends people when they realize the brilliance of the mobile home park business model

For some reason, many find it offensive that mobile home parks are the only form of affordable detached housing in the U.S. Maybe it’s because of the failure of the stick-built industry to figure out how to do it, or perhaps it’s the American stigma against “trailer parks”. But, in many cases, it’s just professional jealousy and envy. I once was featured in a major media publication that was negative on the mobile home park business and then the writer said to me “off the record, do you really think that someone like me could buy a mobile home park – how would I go about doing that”. Of course, one way that the media gets back at the mobile home park industry is simply to ignore it when talking about the American affordable housing crisis. In every article or news story about the affordable housing crisis there is never a mention about mobile home parks, only stick-built homes and apartments.

Despite this reality, why there will never be any new parks built

The mobile home manufacturing industry – and certain people within it – are always talking about the concept that some day the U.S. government will intervene and allow new mobile home parks to be built. This is an interesting fairy tale in the same genre as King Arthur, but about as likely to happen. The reason that people say this (mostly home manufacturers or their agents) is to boost the incorrect assumption that the demand for new mobile homes will be endless when, in fact, most of the mobile home sales in the U.S. are from park owners who will end their orders once their properties become 100% occupied (which is already occurring in some part of the U.S.). So why won’t there actually be any new parks built in the U.S. in the years ahead? There are several reasons:

  • The average American hates the concept of a mobile home park being built in their neighborhood. Some call this concept NIMBY which stands for “not in my back yard”. Since city politicians are the representatives of their constituency, that pretty much ends the argument right there. Without support, zoning administrators will not zone land for mobile home park development.
  • The cities also hate mobile home parks as a land use just as enthusiastically as their constituency, although for different reasons. Their issue is that mobile home parks are not producers of big property taxes but cost a fortune in the form of school tuition, uninsured healthcare and other city services. Essentially, cities lose money with mobile home parks and then get nothing but negative feedback from developers who are scared off by their existence.
  • It is a fact that single family homes located next to mobile home parks do, in fact, drop significantly in value, and this statistic means that that the NIMBY concern is grounded in fact.
  • The federal government has no influence over city zoning, and the only places where they might have any influence at all are typically dangerous, blighted areas of cities in which there is not only no demand for affordable housing, but no demand for housing at all.
  • For all the reasons above, there are only roughly ten new mobile home parks built annually in the entire United States. With roughly 100 being torn down for new development annually, mobile home parks are literally an endangered species.

Conclusion

No medieval castle has ever shared as impregnable a moat as mobile home parks. This one feature alone makes mobile home parks one of the safest investments in America – and this will never change going forward.

Frank Rolfe has been a commercial real estate investor for almost three decades, and currently holds nearly $1 billion of properties in 25 states. His books and courses on commercial property acquisitions and management are among the top-selling in the industry.