Experimenting With Road Surfaces And Parking Pads

A road is just a road, right? Wrong. The type of road surface you use in your property will influence a number of factors including potentially the cap rate, lender interest, future buyer interest and customer satisfaction. It’s important that every park owner match the type of road to their goals and budgets, and the universe of options is growing as new types of road construction are tested. So what are the considerations?

The essential characteristics of mobile home park roads

Mobile home parks roads are, at the end of the day, the fixture that allows residents to drive from the entry to their respective home. But they also are an important part of park aesthetics, as they are probably the most visible of all park infrastructure. In fact, there’s simply nothing that makes a mobile home park seem prettier than a jet-black street with fresh striping.

What the residents want

Let’s first examine the role of the resident and what their goals are. The residents want to have a road network that is free of potholes. That’s pretty much the sum of their demands. We have never had a resident say to us “I won’t live at this property because I want a different road surface”. However, there’s no doubt that the road should match, in some manner, the general “feel” of the property.

What the lenders want

Lenders want a road system that represents significant capital expenditure and longevity – something that puts more value in the park for the protection of their collateral value. Typically, the lender wants either asphalt of concrete streets because those are the most expensive. However, in some parts of America – such as Colorado – gravel streets are allowed due to severe weather considerations as constant snow plowing destroys asphalt roads.

What the park owner wants

The park owner simply wants to keep the residents and lenders happy – they have no vested interest in any certain road surface. But they do have an interest in selecting a road that is within the park’s budget and has good longevity with minimum repairs. So the park owner adds the additional dimension of cost constraint to the mix. When you add them together it’s basically what surface offers no potholes and a somewhat smooth surface for residents that also offers professional infrastructure appearance for the bank and is reasonably priced for the owner?

The typical types of roads

Here are the different types of roads you typically find in a mobile home park:

  • Concrete. No explanation needed.
  • Asphalt. This is the black “topping” that goes on top of road base aggregate.
  • Gravel. This can include road base aggregate or true gravel.
  • Dirt. This is effectively no road surface whatsoever, and appears as a road from the grass being killed off by the continual crushing weight of tires.

I think we all know what these are.

Some alternative styles that are worth exploring

Although those are the four best-known road types, there are two more worth mentioning.

  • Chip and Seal. In this construction type, road base is covered with tar and crushed rock. As cars go over the road, it makes the surface harder and smoother. This is a typical road construction method for county and state rural highways due to it’s lower cost and greater longevity that asphalt, while at the same time having the same visual effect.
  • Emulsion over Road Base. This is a new trend in park road construction. You build the road out of road base and then shoot emulsion (a substance like tar) on top of the road base to give it a black finish. We have tested this out and it’s working well a year into the test.

The typical types of parking pads

You can’t talk about roads without additionally mentioning parking pads – the slabs on which the residents’ cars are parked near their home. There are three main varieties:

  • Concrete. In this structure, a 10’ x 20’ (single car) or 20’ x 20’ (two car) concrete pad is poured on the resident’s lot. This is the Cadillac of the industry, as it is a one-time fix if properly maintained.
  • Asphalt. This type of pad is identical to the one above, except that it’s made of road base covered with asphalt to give it a hard, black look.
  • Dirt. This is a situation in which the resident just parks their car in the yard which, over time, kills all the grass and it becomes an unattractive mess in short order. This is not a satisfactory option.

Some alternative types of parking pads

  • 20’ x 20’ pad framed with edging and then filled with crushed rock. Many mom and pop builders did a decent job on the streets, but often forgot parking pads altogether. That requires the new builder to install them in bulk, which is very expensive. Rather than spending $1,000 to $2,000 per pad (or more) you could investigate building a 10’ x 20’ or 20’ x 20’ square formed with building timbers, metal edging or even railroad ties, and then filling this square up with crushed granite or similar stone. The net effect will have the similar appearance to a paved parking pad, but at a fraction of the price (as much as 80% off if you’re a good shopper).

Conclusion

A big cost consideration for any park owner are the roads and parking pads. This primer will help guide you as to the options, and three-bids and lender requirements will help you identify the winner.

Frank Rolfe has been an investor in mobile home parks for almost 30 years, and has owned and operated hundreds of mobile home parks during that time. He is currently ranked, with his partner Dave Reynolds, as the 5th largest mobile home park owner in the U.S., with around 20,000 lots spread out over 25 states. Along the way, Frank began writing about the industry, and his books, coupled with those of his partner Dave Reynolds, evolved into a course and boot camp on mobile home park investing that has become the leader in this niche of commercial real estate.