Preparing For Winter At Your Mobile Home Park

The approach of winter often brings forth mental images of the holiday season. But for mobile home park owners, it also brings forth other items: some dreaded and some good news. Here are the winners and losers of winter as far as community owners are concerned, and how to mitigate these issues before the snow starts falling and the temperature dips below freezing.

GOOD NEWS: NO GRASS TO MOW

One blessing of colder temperatures is that grass and weeds die. To some community owners, this is a breath of fresh air considering the significant effort made during the warmer months to ensure that residents keep their yards manicured. But this also extends to the end of mowing on common areas (vacant lots and community areas). This shuts off the clock on the cost of landscaping, as well as the stress and hassle of watching over it.

BAD NEWS: SNOW TO PLOW

But as the grass dies out, the new problem for many community owners is snow plowing. In the more southern states, this is not an issue at all. In the middle states it’s a rarity that you will need this service (maybe 3 to 5 times per season). But in the most northern properties, it’s a huge issue – with weather in North Dakota, for example, so extreme that in some years the accumulated snow is taller than the homes. Now is the time to be getting bids and selecting the company to do the plowing (or just an individual if they have the right equipment and insurance).

GOOD NEWS: POTENTIAL STAFF REDUCTION IN MAINTENANCE

While there can be some benefit in larger properties to having maintenance staff that does such duties as mowing, litter removal and minor home renovation, most of these benefits evaporate when the temperatures drop. In the winter there’s nothing to mow, nothing that can be done on the exteriors of homes or buildings (can’t paint or seal roofs below 50 degrees normally) and residents are rarely out in the yards so the amount of litter is negligible. As a result, if you are unhappy with your maintenance staff, winter is the right time to take the property in a new direction. You then have six months to evaluate your true needs and hire accordingly, or simply drop the position entirely and boost your NOI.

BAD NEWS: SALES DECLINE IN NOVEMBER/DECEMBER DUE TO HOLIDAYS

While the demand for affordable housing in the U.S. is vast, it hits an all-time low each year during the holiday season. And that only makes sense. Nobody really wants to move when the temperatures are low and the holiday decorations (including Christmas tree) are in full bloom and lighted. While this is a temporary phenomenon since most residents look at January as a time of fresh change and resolutions (including finding a better housing option than their hated apartment) you have to remember the sales and rental slack that the holidays provide (which abruptly ends when they take the tree down and return the ornaments to their closet). Just make sure to budget accordingly.

GOOD NEWS: FEWER ISSUES WITH RESIDENTS

Another interesting feature of winter is that residents just completely stop using their yards and the community common areas and this often reduces any friction or problems that the manager has to get involved in, such as disputes over property boundaries and items in yards. It’s almost like a bear that goes into hibernation and you rarely see it again until the spring. This greatly reduces your management issues throughout the cold weather.

BAD NEWS: PIPES FREEZING

Perhaps the greatest risk and challenge that winter brings to many properties is freezing pipes – both where the water connects to the home as well as pipes inside of vacant homes. To solve these issues, the only solution is to do very careful home winterization and the addition of heat tape and insulation to all water risers. The good news is that you can accomplish this with some effort and the problem is rare – yet too many community owners procrastinate and end up with frozen pipes. Even though the residents are responsible for everything past the meter (which is where they almost always freeze) it will do you no good to argue this point when their line is frozen. Better yet, just inspect all homes to make sure that the pipes are properly winterized. On the vacant park-owned home, drain them of all water and shut it all off or, if you don’t want to, then you’ll have to make sure the home is heated well above freezing throughout the winter. Although some think that dripping faucets can cure all ills, that’s only true in areas that have only mild temperatures. At 40 degrees below zero (which we face in such areas as the Upper Peninsula) nothing works except good old-fashioned winterization.

GOOD NEWS: IT MAKES SPRING AND SUMMER SEEM A WHOLE LOT MORE FUN

One great feature of winter is that it makes the spring and summer seasons so much more fun – kind of like a movie that has to have the really bad parts to make the final actions by the hero seem justified. Does anyone truly like winter, other than the holiday moments that go with it? When you get into your frozen car and it’s dark out at 5 PM then the only thing that keeps you going is that you will one day be wearing a swimsuit and sitting by your pool.

BAD NEWS: IT GETS DARK EARLY AND HIGHLIGHTS AMBIENT LIGHT ISSUES

And speaking of being dark at 5 PM, nothing points out your mobile home park’s lack of suitably ambient light more than winter and it’s constant morning and night darkness. This is the perfect time to harness this absence of light to better improve your ambient lighting via street lights and security lights. If you have the ability to add lights to existing power company poles through their street light initiatives, then that’s always a great way to increase the ambient lighting. The other option are solar powered street lights from Gamma Sonic, which don’t require any wiring or digging up streets. But here’s an important tip: don’t overdo it. While ambient light is great for security and not tripping over objects, it can also be annoying for some residents as far as light coming in their windows when they try to sleep. A good community is not supposed to look like daylight at midnight, but only a subtle improvement over regular night-time.

CONCLUSION

Winter is approaching. It can be a time of joy and dread. But if you take proactive steps, there’s no reason that winter cannot provide more benefits than problems. Eggnog is great as long as you’re not drinking it while watching a plumber trying to unfreeze your water line.

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.