Mobile Home Park Mastery: Episode 21

Insider Secrets to Renovating Mobile Homes

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If you like watching those HGTV shows like Flip or Flop, then you may think you have a rough idea of how hoe remodeling works. But that’s not in any way representative of mobile home renovations. In this third part of a five-part series, Frank is going to discuss some insider secrets in mobile home renovations, that can save you significant money and keep you on the cutting edge of clever ideas that park owners have learned from trial and error. This is the third in our five-part series on mobile homes, and you’ll find each one of great benefit.

Episode Transcript

Forget what you've seen on HGTV. We're going to be talking about how to remodel mobile homes, the insider's secrets to properly renovating a mobile home, but has nothing to do with what you see on that popular T.V. channel, regarding how you'd renovate houses, predominantly in California. In those programs, they spend lots and lots of money, often hundreds of thousands of dollars, making these dream homes that are very, very expensive. In the mobile home world, we're all about affordable housing. We're trying to figure out how to spend the least amount of money possible to provide a nice, clean safe place to live. And you'll hear in a second, even the renovation process itself is very much different than a traditional home.

This is Frank Rolfe with Mobile Home Park Mastery podcast. This is the third in a five-part series all about park-owned homes, and we're going to be talking about the insider's secrets to renovating mobile homes. Now, the first secret, and this one sounds ridiculous, but you'd be shocked how many people make this rookie error. You never, ever stand on the roof of a mobile home. Now, you can on the brand new ones. The shingle, vinyled homes, yes. You can stand on those shingled roofs. They're just like your roof at home. But if it's the old metal on metal roof, who would make the mistake of thinking that that metal is adhered to something that's strong backing it, because it's not. It's literally just raw metal and what's holding it up are the frames or the girders that hold up the roof. If you step off those, you'll go right through the roof.

You'd be shocked how many people I know that bought a metal on metal home, decided to renovate it, what's the first thing they do? Hey, let's go and seal the roof. That's a great idea. That's the right step. That's always a smart thing to do. Don't want any water to get in the home and also an old, rusted metal roof looks awful. So, what they do is they go out and they get some of the Kool Seal or some kind of rubberized compound to rub on there. Great, they get they're paint roller, they get they're paint roller handle and they get a ladder and they climb up on the roof and they decide to put their weight on the roof while they go back and forth with the paint roller. And what do you suppose happens? You got it. They go right through the roof. The only way you won't go through the roof is if you have your foot on top of metal that is holding it up. Just as when you walk in your attic at home, right? You walk in your attic, you're kind of just trying to step from wood to w ood, otherwise you'll go right through that insolation and go crashing right through your ceiling. Same situation here. So, never, ever, ever step on the roof of a metal on metal roof.

The way you do it is, you set up your ladder and you put all your pressure on the ladder and you take that paint roller and that handle and you roll the roof without ever stepping on the roof. Because if you step on that roof, you will do infinite amount of damage and cost to repair. So, instead of helping the home, you actually seriously impaired it. So, don't ever do that. Now, the second item is don't be so sudden in replacing central heat and air in an old, used mobile home. And here's the reason why. Central heat and air is very expensive. The furnace in a mobile home is typically the most expensive part. The furnace can come in at about two thousand dollars just for the furnace. So, what do you do? If you don't want to go back in with a furnace, what are your other options? Well, you don't want to put space heaters in a mobile home. That's very dangerous. They could cause a fire, so that's not a good idea. Yes, I know they make those oil filled, radiator space heater s, but nevertheless, that's not really going to work. But an option that does work in many of these older mobile homes is what's called a window heat air.

This is a window unit that can blow both air conditioning and heat. And the reason a lot of park owners are converting to window heat air is two fold. One, the customers seem to really like it. They like having the instant gratification of standing in front of a source of either extremely hot or extremely cold air. I know that when I was growing up, I would go and visit my grandparents in Kansas City. They had a window air conditioner and I thought, when it was 100 degrees, I was standing in front of that window air was the greatest thing on Earth. And a lot of people like the fact that they can turn that thing on and crank it full blast and have the immediate gratification of just getting frozen by standing in front of it, or baked by standing in front of it, if it's on the heat application. So, that's item number one.

Item number two, of course, is it's very, very cost efficient. A central heat air unit might cost you, as apposed to the two thousand for the central, it might only cost you five hundred dollars. Now, you have to have more than one typically. Some mobile homes, you can use just one. Some you have to use a big one in the living room and a smaller one in the master bedroom. But nevertheless, it's still significantly less expensive and on top of that, they rarely, rarely get stolen. A lot of the central heat airs have a problem. Many of your unscrupulous residents upon leaving, realize that that is a good source of money at the pawn shop, and they'll actually pull your furnace out and go out down and hock it. That does not help you much. You don't want to have those central heat units disappearing in between tenants. But they typically would not take out the window heat air, because it's too visible. They know that they'll be seen doing that, so as a result, they can pry away on that central heat unit inside their home all day long and no one even knows what's going on. But those window heat air, much more obvious if they touch those.

The third insider secret is, think about putting vinyl throughout the entire home as a flooring substitute for carpet. You're seeing that more and more at the mobile home shows today. When I first started going to mobile home shows 20 years ago, the homes were completely carpeted, except for the bathroom. Even the kitchens, in those days, had carpet. However, what's happened is, people have found that they're getting so good at these vinyl products, particularly the fake, hardwood flooring vinyl products, that they can actually put that down and aesthetically it looks like a hardwood floored, stick-built home. But the beauty of vinyl is, if things spill, it doesn't soak into the carpet. If they have pets, pet urine and horrible things don't get stuck in the carpet or get into the floor under the carpet. The vinyl basically protects the floor from all these issues, it allows for easy cleanup and also no bad smells. The customers, however, can additionally, if they like carp et, easily go to Home Depot or Lowe's or Walmart and buy area rugs of any design and color that they'd like and in between residents, if those rugs have been damaged, those are easy to just roll up and throw away, clean the vinyl floor and you're back in business again.

I would say probably, at least 60 percent of all the brand new mobile homes you see at the mobile home show, all have vinyl throughout the entire home, with the appearance of hardwood. It's a win, win. It not only looks really nice, it's extremely cost efficient for the park owner.

Fourth insider secret is, skirting can basically be anything. It doesn't just have to be vinyl. This is very important when you're looking at a park where you have many, many, many homes that do not have skirting. Now, skirting in vinyl can be very expensive. Figure on at least a thousand dollars per home. Let's say you're buying a mobile home park with 60 homes that are unskirted. That's 60 thousand dollars. That's a ton of money. Is that really the best way to spend 60 thousand dollars on a mobile home park? Probably not, because what does the skirting really do? If you look at skirting, it's whole purpose is to hide the unattractive underbelly of the mobile home. The piping, the tie towns, maybe some insulation hanging down. None of this looks very good and secondly, it's to protect the home in the colder climates, where having it is good as likelihood of freezing and also reducing heating and air bills by not having that cold wind blowing under the home, which would th en cause the home to have to be heated at an even higher rate to withstand that extra-cold air going around.

But, it doesn't have to be in vinyl. Now, what else can you do? Well, we've skirted many, many miles of homes using materials that we get out of salvaged parts stores. I remember I once skirted like about 20 homes using the fiberglass roofing of old greenhouse buildings that had been demolished, because they were demolishing the buildings. People took that corrugated material to a salvage yard, and I bought it and I found you could cut that into strips that were horizontal and make that into skirting. Over the last two decades, we've skirted in all kinds of things. Fiberglass, metal, even wood. Now you might say, what the heck? Why are you doing this? Isn't this cheapening your mobile home park?

Yes, I would prefer vinyl, there's no doubt about that, but in many cases you only see maybe not greater than 20 or 30 feet of the skirting of a mobile home. 14 feet across the front, and then maybe 10 feet up each side. Everything else is blocked from view by the home next store. So, when you're driving through the park from a street-scaping perspective, you only see that very small element of skirting. So, then what's the purpose of the rest? It's to block view. It's to block wind. But, it's really not aesthetically oriented, per se. So often you don't have to use the vinyl, because that's not the goal of the movie. The goal is to get something up on the homes to block view, to block the wind, but in many cases as inexpensively as you can.

What we found from using lots of different combinations of materials, the key item is that it's installed where it's all straight. There's no missing gaps and most importantly, it's painted. And don't paint it the same color as the home. Look, whenever you have a question on aesthetics on mobile homes, look at what the brand new homes are doing. You'll see the skirting is never the color of the actual exterior of the home. It's a complimentary color but yet it's not the same color, because you're not trying to emphasize that the home is extra tall. The skirting is just supposed to blend in. But as long as you get that skirting material up and you paint it and it's straight, has no gaps in it, you can get away with a lot of salvaged products.

Some park owners will only put the new vinyl on the street-scaping part ... and by street-scaping I mean, what you see when you're driving down the street. What the appraiser, the bank, the city inspector, the residents, everybody sees. So, you can put vinyl on the front of the home. Vinyl up the side maybe 10 or 15 feet and then go into your other product the rest of the way around. It's an option and in some parts where you have to skirt a whole lot of homes, it's a really good option.

Another insider secret is, don't knock holes in your skirting if you can help it and how you get around that is by taking and putting a row of shingles, regular household roofing shingles. Where the shingle begins, the very edge of the shingle is underneath your skirting sticking out away from the home. That gives you a buffer zone of about a foot. Nothing will grow in that space. The shingle basically deprives sunlight to the Earth, it's a very hard surface and plants can't grow through it. What it means is, when people go out and weed eat around the skirting, they won't hit the skirting because the weed eater itself will not have to get close enough to knock a hole. If you drive through mobile home parks and see holes in skirting, what you're really seeing is what happens when you mix weed eater with vinyl skirting, which is going to punch a hole right through it. I've seen skirtings where they've actually punched a hole all the way around the entire home with the weed e ater. The way you stop that is, the best way, put a row of shingles down.

Now, the final item is how important shutters are on mobile homes. When I got my first park, Glenhaven, there were almost no shutters and I thought, "Man, and Glenhaven is so ugly. What is the problem? Why doesn't it look like those other mobile home parks I drive through?" I had no idea what I was doing back then. I was just trying to figure it all out as I went. And then I noticed there was a big difference between Glenhaven and some of its peers. Glenhaven had old, metal on metal, flat-roofed homes, but the shingles, for whatever reason, were no longer on most of the windows. Maybe they had just fallen off over time. Maybe someone had removed them. Maybe someone had removed them to paint the mobile home and never put them back. So, when you look at a typical Glenhaven home, what you had, was typically just a tan rectangle and that was all you saw, and it was very blah. Had no sparkle, no pizazz, very depressing.

When I went into other mobile home parks, I noticed their mobile homes had something different. Just like Glenhaven, they had that flat-roofed, rectangle of just maybe a tan color, but they also had coordinating shingles of another color that gave it a little life, a little class. It would have black, blue, green, red, lots of different colors and those shutters are really what made the home. And if you look back on those early designs of mobile homes, you'll see that every home you'll see, from the 1950s and the '60s and the '70s, what do they all have in common, and even in the '80s, they all have shingles. Got to have those ... not shingles, shingles, shutters. Sorry. Wrong word. You have to have those shutters. The shutters are what really bring life to the home itself. Now how do you do that?

How do you put shutters on an old mobile home that has no shutters? Well, it's not hard. You go down to Home Depot, you can go to Lowe's, you can go to Lane McDuff, anywhere that sells vinyl shutters, they're not expensive. They're about 20 to 40 dollars per set and all you have to do is basically screw them into the wall of the mobile home and you're done. And those things last forever. Those things will outlive you. You put them on the mobile home, they don't really fade that bad. If they did fade too bad, you can always paint over them again. But those shutters are worth their weight in gold. I can't tell you what a difference they make and in fact, you yourself, the next time you drive through a mobile home park, look at some of those older homes, the really good-looking homes, and you'll notice what really makes those things pop are the shutters. The shutters are really what you got to have.

Without having shutters, it's like a human face with no eyebrows. It just lacks that little extra something that makes it aesthetically pleasing. So, make shutters your friend. If you buy a mobile home park that's got 20 homes with no shutters on them, you would change the look of that property overnight if you will simply go out and buy those shutters. They're so inexpensive, so easy to install and the results of doing that are so significant, it's mind boggling. In our next part and our fourth part of this five-part series, we're going to be talking all about insider secrets to renting and selling mobile homes. This is Frank Rolfe with Mobile Home Park Mastery and we'll talk to you again soon.