No mobile home park can be successful without a competent manager. A manager serves as your eyes and ears in the field, as well as your problem-solver, ambassador and mayor all rolled into one. Since the manager is such an essential role, every community owner should focus on what can go wrong and how to mitigate that risk.
A common issue when there is a lot of money floating around an office with an employee with no immediate supervision is the very real risk of embezzlement. This can be mitigated (but not eliminated) by only accepting checks and money orders and no cash. However, embezzlement can manifest itself in other ways. For example, managers can forge alliance with contractors (typically plumbing) and fake needed repairs which, when you pay the bill, gets split between the contractor and the manager. Another common embezzlement is for the manager to pretend a park-owned home is vacant when it is actually rented. These issues can best be detected by having regular audits of vacant homes to ensure that they are in fact vacant (Facetime is a good tool here) as well as to require photos of every repair issue as well as the progress of repair and completion.
Bad People Skills
Since a big part of the manager’s role is to interface with the residents, having poor people skills is a disaster for the success of your property. When somebody is unable to resolve even minor resident disputes – such as one resident saying the neighbor kid’s toys are on their property – then they are never going to be able to handle the job. To mitigate this risk, you must hire only individuals who have this talent. This is not a skill that is easy to teach. We would much rather higher a manager from a different career path but with good people skills than a lifetime mobile home park manager who has no knack with the human race. One way to at least monitor this situation is with a “Help Line” in which the residents can all a toll-free number or send an email that goes direct to the owner and/or the central office. If you get constant complaints such as “the manager was rude to me” or “the manager ignored me” then it’s a pretty good bet that they have no people skills and will slowly destroy your business.
Poor adherence to basics like office hours
Some managers have people skills and don’t embezzle but yet have an inability to follow basic guidelines like showing up on time or making the deposit every day. Their free spirit is hard to corral and it can have implications on your business as it sets a tone of unprofessionalism that can spill over into many areas such as property condition. So how can you solve this behavioral problem? Some owners create protocols such as having meetings by phone at the office opening time, or to install cameras to monitor what’s going on at the park. You must always let the manager know that this is a real business – just like a McDonalds – and not a loose imitation of one. This can be a serious problem for “inherited” managers because the former mom & pop owners may never have been strict on even the most basic items.
In all manager issues, the clear point of no return was simply hiring the wrong person to begin with. Although hiring people can be a tough, unpleasant job that requires wasted time and energy spent on candidates that were not in any way worthy, you can’t simply hire the first person that applies. It is far easier to spend time hiring a manager than dealing with a firing one. So spend your attention on the front end and your business will be far ahead.
There are no high-school or college classes on being a mobile home park manager. Many come from the apartment realm but most come from completely different industries. As a result it is imperative that you understand the necessity or training the manager for their job. One option is the Community Manager Program [link to course} which is a defensive driving-styled course with modules and a test at the end of each module. But regardless of your system, you must show the manager exactly what you want them to do on the job – no simply thrust them into the position and say “go manager”.
Focus on performance
A common problem between owners and mobile home park managers is simply the owner’s reluctance to be performance driven, often because they are afraid of upsetting the manager. This is a recipe for doom as the manager will simply get worse over time rather than better. Instead, show the manager what the goals are and then work jointly towards their achievement. Don’t be shy about saying “we’re dying on getting those homes occupied – what’s the plan?” as opposed to “how’s the weather today”? Build clear performance metrics and track them. That’s better for everybody involved.
Managers are an essential part of your mobile home park business model. You cannot succeed without them. But sometimes it’s equally hard to succeed with them. Make sure that you serve as part of the solution and not the problem.