Mobile Home Park Mastery: Episode 32

Hopes And Dreams Of Our Residents

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How well do you really know your customers? In this episode of our five-part series on “Lessons Learned From Our Residents”, we’re going to explore the deepest thoughts and goals of our resident base, and discuss how to provide the basic quality of life options that make residents stay for a life time. You will find that the desire for a nice place to live is universal, and the most important thing that any park owner can do is to create a wonderful community that has high levels of customer retention.

Episode Transcript

Are people who live in mobile homes and mobile home parks different than you and I? In a word, no. This is Frank Rolfe. In this fourth part of a five-part podcast series on lessons learned from our residents, we're going to discuss over 20 years of learning and what the hopes of dreams of our residents truly are.

Let's first start off with a very basic one. They want to live at a nice place. When I first got in the industry, like many other people, I was filled with stereotypes from things I'd seen in the media and really had no clue as to who or why people live in mobile home parks, but what I found is they really want all the same things that you and I want, and one thing is they want a nice place to live. They want it to be safe. They want it to be clean. They want it to be attractive. They want it to be charming. They want all the same things that you want wherever it is that you live. So we all basically share those same hopes and dreams of having a nice place to call home.

Now, it's a little bit troubling out there that most people think less of mobile home park residents than those who live in apartments and stick build and other forms of housing because they're completely incorrect. Just because you may not make as much money, and this is not even true across the spectrum. There's many different types of mobile home parks out there. There's billionaires that live at some of the parks on the West and on the East Coast, but in a broad analysis, when you're dealing in the affordable housing space, there's this general conception that people are different in what they're after, and that maybe they don't have as much as aesthetic sense, and maybe they don't care.

And I can tell you from being in this business for over two decades, that is the dumbest idea of all time. All the way back to my very first park, Glen Haven, I learned from being out there every day for a year, that my residents all had the exact same hopes and dreams that I had. The only issue was they didn't perhaps have as much income coming in, so they had to put their dreams on hold for a while, while they tried to adapt the best they could to their actual budget.

It also annoys me when people think that people who live in mobile home parks just want to be in the cheapest place possible. That's completely wrong. People who live in mobile home parks traditionally want that nice, safe, clean place to live, and they're willing to pay for it. They don't want to live in the $75 a month lot place that mom and pop have down the highway where the water is rusty red, and the sewer breaks every third day, and every trailer in there doesn't have skirting. No. That's not what people want. People want a place that's nice. They want a place that they can be proud of.

So the first macro viewpoint on the hopes and dreams of our residents is simply they're just like you and I. If you want to know what they want out of life, what do you want out of life. They pretty much match up.

The next thing they want is they want to have pride in their home. They want to be proud of where they live. They want friends and family to come by and say, "Wow! I really like your house. Wow! This is really nice." The same thing that you would like.

Often people don't have the money to make their house like they wanted it to be. As a park owner, it's a great thing if you can try and help them to do that. It's a win-win. As their house looks nicer, it makes your park look nicer. As your park looks nicer, it makes your appraisal go higher.

We have a program in our business called Hug and Home, and under that program, we try and help those who really want to make their home nicer by donating them the parts, supplies, and even the money, and even the labor too sometimes, to get those homes fixed up. But when you see someone living in a mobile home that doesn't look very good, normally the problem is they just don't have the capital or the know-how to fix that. If you can help empower them to do that, you've done a great thing because everyone wants to live in a nice house.

Also, everyone wants to have pride in their neighborhood. People who live in mobile home parks are no different than those living in McMansions. They really want to live in a place that they feel is really nice for them and their family, and they want to be proud to say, "Yes, I live in that neighborhood." Or, "I live in that mobile home park."

It broke my heart by at Glen Haven when I went down to the parts supply store one day with somebody that helped me when I wasn't in the park. I had someone there who lived there, and I needed to buy some parts to work on the park. I can't remember what the parks were. It was some skirting or something. So we went down to Home Depot, and when they asked, "Where do you want it delivered?" They didn't give them the name and address of the park. They gave them the name and the address of the church next door.

As we left the story, I said, "Why did you do that? Why didn't you give them our address? What the church next door?" They said, "Well, they'll call when they deliver it, and I'll intercept it, and it's just next door, and I'll walk it on over." And I said, "Well, why don't you give them the name and address of the park?" And the answer was, they were embarrassed to live there. I had not done a very good job at that point, I guess, of turning it around. It was fairly early stage in the turn-around, and I was embarrassed, in fact, that they were embarrassed to be living there.

The moral. Our residents really want to be proud in their neighborhood, and you, as the park owner, really need to provide that. If you want to make people proud of their mobile home park, give them a good entry. White vinyl fencing perhaps. A sign. Mow it down well. Edge it. Put in a little landscaping. Make the roads free of pot holes. Put that little extra muscle in there. That's what people will need. That's what they need to feel proud of their neighborhood. It's not really expensive. It's more an attitude. It's more of a passion to just make it a great place to live.

If you can do that, you'll foster pride in the park, and that's a very powerful force. When people have pride in their park, they also have pride of ownership in their homes, and the net result is your park looks great. You have higher resident retention, higher resident attraction, and an overall higher value.

Next item is that people who live in mobile home parks traditionally want to have good schools. They want to have good education systems for their kids. One thing I've learned in over 20 years of managing and owning mobile home parks is that you're making a horrible mistake if you assume that folks who live in mobile home parks are lesser parents than those who live in other forms of housing because you're totally wrong.

I think what happens often is we try and equate that kind of type A personality to, "Oh, that must be the best because type A people who go to good colleges and work hard, they have the highest incomes, and as a result, they must be the better parents." Right? But that's not true. Typically, people who live in mobile home parks who are not making large amounts of money, one thing they do have, an asset they have more than the people living in McMansions, is time. They have a job that starts at certain times and ends at a certain time. They rarely take that job home with them. As a result, they can spend more times with their kids being better parents, bonding with the kids. Some of the best behaved kids you will ever see are those who live in mobile home parks.

We choose a mobile home park every year to give every child in the park $50 cash, something that Dave and I do every year, part of our Christmas festivities, and when do that, we are always amazed at how well behaved everybody is. I don't think you would find as well behaved a group of kids in the finest McMansion neighborhood on the side of a golf course than you do in your typical mobile home park. That's because those parents really care and spent lots of time with those kids, so the kids have very, very happy social environments.

I know that when Brandon lived in Hondo years ago, back when Dave would move into the parks that he purchased to manage them, Brandon found his time in Hondo, which is a park down in Texas, to be among the happiest of his childhood because all the kids were very, very well behaved, very good social skills, and really would just travel from home to home where the parents would entertain them, each home with a different activity.

So again, what do you find in a mobile home park when it comes to parenting? Typically really good parenting, and a real big desire on the part of those residents for the kids to have really good educational opportunities, and that's why Dave and I feel that school districts are so incredibly important part of your park selection process because that's one of the most basic hopes and dreams of your residents is to give their children a lot of opportunity through education.

Also on the subject of kids, most people who live in mobile home parks, they really want those kids to have good careers. Maybe they made a mistake. Maybe they just chose a career that didn't pay well, but you'll find, if you interview them, so many people in mobile home parks have kids who are now pharmacists and lawyers and doctors. Why is that? Because again, they spent a lot of time with those kids and helped launch them on the path with a very solid footing. So if you're thinking that people in mobile home parks don't care about what happens to their kid's careers, you're wrong. Those parents very, very much want those kids to have a great life, and again, it all harkens back to your park selection criteria of why you've got to have good schools and a nice, clean, safe place.

Now another hope and dream of your residents is building relationships. Now, Time Magazine brought out an article here recently called The Home of the Future in which they raved about the fact that mobile home parks, they claimed, were like gated communities for the less affluent. Personally, I find that offensive because mobile home park people are not always the less affluent. I'm not even sure they're half the time the less affluent. So I don't think that's a fair characterization. However, what I think you will find is that those people really, really have very deep relationships with their neighbors, and that's what Time Magazine was talking about.

I found an article not too long ago about a study that was done at Harvard University. In fact, it was the longest running study Harvard had ever done. It actually extended beyond the lifespan of those who started the study. What they did is they took people from a variety of backgrounds, ethnicities, geographies, and they studied what made them happy or unhappy in their life. Was it their income? Their career choice? What turned the corner on them?

And what they found was that it was all about relationships. Those who had happy relationships were, in the end, the happy people in the survey, and those who had unhappy relationships were not. It wasn't a matter of income. It wasn't a matter of career choice. It didn't matter if you lived in the largest mansion or the smallest apartment. So, what does it all mean? It means that people who live in mobile home parks traditionally have that most basic necessity to be the happiest you can be. They have great relationships. That's more powerful than money, and again, that's what Time Magazine was talking about.

Again, going back to Hondo when Dave and Brandon and Dave's wife lived in Hondo, they found that the people who lived in Hondo had this amazing support network. It didn't matter what your problems were, they could help you. If you moved into the mobile home park as a single mother, they would help you with transportation to your job, daycare for your child. They had support networks that were so sophisticated. They had ride sharing before the advent of Uber. They had Meals on Wheels before I'd even heard that name. Basically, they took care of each other, and that is an amazing thing. If we truly think that relationships are the key to happiness, then perhaps those who live in mobile home parks are the happiest of them all.

Finally, the hopes and dreams of your mobile home park residents are the same basic, at the end of the day, macro dream that anyone listening to this has. That is having a high quality of life. They want to have a life that is filled with happiness, good relationships, pride, respect, all the same things that you do. So when you're looking at a mobile home park to buy, or if you've already purchased one, and you're wondering, "What should I do to make this park the best it can be?" Look no further than yourself. What would you want? Because really, all of us are completely identical to all of our mobile home park residents. We all want the same things. We have the same basic hopes and dreams and desires.

So do a good job of helping people to have that high quality of life. If you're a park owner, make sure that you put in the effort to give them a nice, attractive, safe, clean place to live. And if you're looking at buying a mobile home park, make sure you use the correct park selection criteria so you can provide those hopes and dreams that they so desire.

This is Frank Rolfe for the Mobile Home Park Mastery Series. Hope you've enjoyed this fourth segment of our five-part series on lessons learned from our residents, and I'll be back shortly with one final segment from this series called Regional Differences where we're going to talk about all the different things we've found on that big old American map over the last 20 years, how people are really often different by state and by region.

Hope you enjoyed this. We'll talk to you again soon.