Mobile Home Park Mastery: Episode 77

Perfect Occupancy

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In the midst of the biggest affordable housing crisis in American History, there’s no reason to have a single vacant home or lot in your mobile home park. In this second installment of a nine-part series on “Mobile Home Park Perfectionism” we’re going to discuss how to achieve perfect occupancy. Since each occupied lot in a mobile home park is worth anywhere from around $20,000 to $100,000+, there’s a huge incentive to focus on this topic.

Episode Transcript

Perfect occupancy is such a simple goal. All you want is to have no vacant lots, homes, RV lots, storage units, apartments, stick built homes or commercial structures, nothing sitting vacant in your mobile home park. This is Frank Rolfe in the second of our nine part series on mobile home park perfectionism and we're going to be going over exactly how to get everything in a mobile home park occupied.

Let's get right into it. Any vacant structure should immediately take advantage of the following which is all free. Number one, a listing on any Google search engine for that asset class in the market. If you have RV parks you should be show up immediately when someone searches RV park in whatever the name of the market is. If you have storage units, once again, you should show up on Google. If you Google search storage units, whatever the name of the market is, you should pull right up.

Second, MH Bay or any other free listing service that allows you to list what you have online. MH Bay is a resource where people can go and search for mobile homes for sale or rent. Anything you can find that's free, go for it. Craigslist, same story. It's completely free, why would you not post any vacant item you have on Craigslist?

Another free option which has great results are resident referral letters. You basically send out your letter to all your existing residents saying, "Hey, I've got storage units. Hey I've got RV lots. Hey I've got mobile homes for rent or for sale." You'll be shocked how many people have friends or family that are interested.

Next, putting up banners at the entry. Most mobile home parks are on pretty busy streets and because of that, you get a lot of visibility from passing cars and you're wasting your time and wasting money if you do not have big old banners right there at the front. We normally like to put them on three rail, white vinyl fencing. That's what we put on most of our park entries. You put the banners right on there and you're going to reach often five or 10,000 people a day driving by.

Next, tear sheets. Tear sheets are thing where you basically make an eight and a half by 11 advertisement, you put the phone number in little vertical strips on the bottom then you cut those strips so if someone is interested, they can simply pull that off the sheet and call it at their leisure. And we typically those in laundromats and grocery stores right around the park.

Finally, Facebook or any other free form of advertising that attracts people and doesn't cost you any money. Those are the free steps for trying to fill anything you have inside the park but often that isn't enough. What do you do if you do all those steps and the phone is still not ringing and the item still sits empty?

Then there's two great forms of paid advertisement that we like to do. One is we do the largest metro newspaper classifieds. This has always been one of the strongest ways to unload vacant mobile homes for sale or rent. All you do is you go to the for rent section or mobile homes for rent in the classified section of your big metro paper. Not your local paper. Local papers are great for sports scores and things like that but you're trying to get homes out the door, other items, go to the biggest metro paper and stick your classified ad in that.

Another item which is very, very effective for mobile homes is doing a direct mail to class B, C and D apartment complexes that are nearby. All you do is you get an eight and a half by 11 sheet of paper and you make up an ad. It should have a picture of the mobile home with a headline, why rent when you can own? And then you talk about the key items that make the mobile home so attractive to people. Here's what they are.

Number one, no residents knocking on your walls or ceilings. Number two, have your own yard. Number three, park by your front door. Number four, sense of community. These are all four things that apartments can never provide and that yet most people really, really want badly. Those are two of the best paid for forms of advertising.

Now what if you have vacant RV lots? How do you do that? How do you get RV lots out the door? Well, in addition to everything we've talked about so far, call potential users. Any kind of big event. Maybe you're in the area with there's the state fair or whatever you have in town that's going on that happens periodically and also new big employers or any big employer. You have a big oil refinery there, all these people bring in workers periodically to do things at their facility and what better source of RV people? 'Cause a lot of people who work on that kind of stuff travel around and live in RVs.

Also, distribute flyers. Make a really nice eight and a half by 11 flyer. Take it around to all of the people who sell RV parts like propane distributors, any kind of RV repair and also take flyers to the tourism center. When people pull into town or they ask, "Hey, where should I park my RV?" They see these flyers that they can pick up and use.

Now what if you got vacant mobile home lots not RV lots but mobile home lots? Then what do you do? What additionally can you do beyond what we've already talked about? Well, first, you can always be talking with mobile home dealers in your area and giving them flyers. Even though they don't sell a lot of mobile homes these days that go into parks, they do sell some. And if you take that step, you'll be one step closer to mobile home park perfectionism by getting your vacant mobile home lots out the door.

Number two, seek out Lonnie dealers in your market. These are people who it's based on the book Deals on Wheels by Lonnie Scruggs. These are people that have a business model of buying and bringing in mobile homes and renting them or selling them inside of mobile home parks. Very valuable to you because they do the job that you don't want to do. They buy the home. They bring it in. They do everything. You don't have to do anything at all. Very attractive. How do you find them? You seek them out. You talk to mobile home movers. Do you know any Lonnie dealers? You talk to mobile home dealerships. Do you know any Lonnie dealers? You watch in the paper or driving through other parks, repetitive phone numbers. And when you find them you have a simple pitch, what do I have to do to get you to bring all of your Lonnie deals to my mobile home park?

Finally, finding homes new, used and repo to fill those lots that you can purchase yourself. Most mobile home park owners today are always in the market to buy new and used mobile homes to fill lots. Looking at homes that fit the space. Looking for homes that are a good deal for them. You can also go out there and buy those homes to fill your mobile home lots.

What if you have vacant apartments? Single family homes or commercial buildings? What additionally can you do with those? Well, list those on any website that deals with apartments or home rentals. There's so many different websites today that are kind of a repository of all the inventory available out there and they're often free or nearly free. Get on all of those. Why would you not? Same with commercial building and rental websites. These also exist and get on there with those too.

Also, get in with a local broker perhaps or management company that have clients. Don't be embarrassed or don't be shy to go ahead and take that stick built mom and pop house in your mobile home park and you can even list that with a home rental company. Often they'll have a list of people and what's needed is they always have people looking for the really inexpensive kind of home rentals and often that old mom and pop home fits right into that.

Now, what happens when the phone rings? These are all ways to make the phone ring, what do you do when the phone rings? Well in a perfect world, your manager's going to answer that on the first three rings. You don't want to leave that customer holding. You want them to answer with the name of the park and how can I help you today? A real spunky, positive answer. Don't let them answer with some kind of real downer like, what do you want? That's not the way to do it. It needs to be very peppy, very positive.

Have a voicemail. If they don't answer, that's set up and professionally, with a professional message. And additionally have the manager return all those calls immediately. As soon as they get them. Bear in mind that time kills deals. Every moment you're not addressing that customer's needs, they're going to go somewhere else.

Also, you need to forward the office line to their cellphone when the manager's not in the office during office hours. Don't let them tell you, "Oh I didn't answer the phone today, I was at Home Depot." That's not good enough. They're at Home Depot, their phone should be forwarded from the office to their cell where they can continue to answer prospects' calls while they're gone. Otherwise that's incredibly wasteful.

Whenever someone calls they should always get the prospect's name and number for followup. Don't let the customer call and say, "Hey you got a commercial building." Find out who are they. What's their phone number? What are they looking for? And then start calling them to urge them to come by. To see if there's any way you can try and get a deal done.

Also, they should always convincing the customer to come in for a showing. When someone calls you, no one buys anything or rents anything off the phone. They have to see it. This is the world of housing. This is not eBay. When someone calls you, the whole point is to arrange a showing. You're not LL Bean. You're not going to get a phone order. It's not good enough just to answer the phone and not take any further action. You need to get people to come on in, look at what you have to offer and get the sale closed.

They need to always make sure that they are on time for the showing. You'd be shocked how many managers we've had to let go over time 'cause they did not understand the customer's the VIP. They would leave the customer standing by the home or standing in the office while they're on the phone talking to a friend. That does not work. The customer's always the most important person walking in the door.

And when you find the customer that wants to buy or rent, you've got to process that application as quickly as possible. There's a lot of different competitive things people can do as far as renting or buying. You must not let them waiver and start having second thoughts because it takes you forever to get them approved. It takes you three days to get somebody approved but then they've already found somewhere else to live and when you call to say, "Hey, you're approved." They'll say, "Well I don't care. I've already got somewhere else going." You've got to move very quickly on that.

Now here are some other considerations of things you need to think of that are outside the box but all a part of occupancy perfectionism. Number one, always watch for other parks shutting down in your market. Every year it seems we luck out and there's one or two parks that are being redeveloped to Home Depot or Lowe's or some other use. Now we were able to jump in there and get a lot of homes out of there. We had one in Wisconsin last year. It was awesome. We picked up about 20 homes from a mobile home park that was being redeveloped. This is happening across America. Why? Because apartment rents are so much higher than our rents and commercial building rents are so much higher than mobile home lot rents, a lot of parks are being redeveloped and when that happens, it displaces all of the residents and that can be an unbelievably great thing for you as a park owner if you can capture all those tenants.

Number two, always be careful if you go around trying to approach people in other parks to move into your park. This is a rookie error some people make. They don't understand the downside, the damage to doing that. If you've got a park with some vacant home and vacant lots, it doesn't make any sense to go to your neighboring park and try and steal their customers. Why? 'Cause they'll immediately come back and try and steal your customers. If they're redeveloping the park that's great. There's no way that anyone would strike back. They'd have no desire but don't go around trying to raid your neighbor. That's always a terrible idea. Historically, has never worked out very good at all.

Also, make sure before you get into the mobile home renting or selling mode you understand the titling laws in your state. Without a title in some states, you can only rent the mobile home so make sure you know that. How do you get the information? Go to the mobile home association for your state.

Also, if you're going to have your manager do any of the advertising for example on Craigslist, always make sure to monitor, improve those ads. You'd be amazed at some of the terrible ads that people have done over the years that we've seen. Pictures that horribly unbecoming. Copy that has typos in it. Pricing that is wrong. Always make sure you're controlling the ads. Don't let the manager go out there and start running crazy ads because you'll be bound by them as the owner and that's never a good thing.

Next, mystery shopping is absolutely key. You've got to always stay on top of the manager and see exactly what they're doing. You want to do mobile home park perfectionism on occupancy? Route your number through something like a group called Who's Calling because Who's Calling records all incoming calls and you can actually listen to exactly what your manager is telling people. It also captures the phone number so you can call them later to see if they went to the showing and if the manager showed up and how they did. If you don't want to do Who's Calling, at a minimum, mystery shop. Star 67 your phone, call up the customer and or answer the phone and see what's going on. Just pose as though you want to rent a mobile home or you want to rent that stick built house and see what the manager says. Did he answer the phone in a cheery fashion? Did they ask you the right questions? Did they urge you to come in and see it? Did they capture your name and phone number? Mystery shopping is another awesome tool that everyone should look into doing.

Also, use some pricing logic. When you are out selling something people don't always pay what you want. That's okay as long as you've got a narrow margin. If your mobile home is priced at $20,000 and someone calls and say, "Hey, I just got a lump sum from a traffic accident that I was in and I'll buy your home but only pay $18,000." Well you should probably take it. 18,000 cash if fantastic if you're asking 20,000. Don't let your manager be firm on the pricing. No one's firm on the pricing in America. Give them some degree of leniency but don't go crazy. If the home is priced at 20,000 and someone says, "I've got $2,000 on a tax refund," don't accept that. Often you're going to have to set parameters with your manager on how much they can and cannot alter the pricing but you got to be flexible. People expect to get a good deal today. You have to give them a good deal.

Also, as far as the mobile homes go, never forget that we want mobile home owners more than we want renters because when people own they care. They're stakeholders. They have pride of ownership in what they do. Try and give them a path to ownership somehow if you can. Find some lenders who will make loans on homes, even older homes. 21st Mortgage even has a program for older used homes. But it's great if you can give people that option. That dream of owning as opposed to simply being a renter so try and make that happen. And you have to proactively go out there and do that.

Finally, never forget fair housing, it's the law of the US. Don't violate it in any possible way. One of the key ways that we see people violating it in some mobile home parks is what's called steering. Someone comes in wanting a home, whether to rent or buy, they've got kids and the person says, "Ah yes, well you have kids. This is the street where all the people with kids live on." That is completely wrong. You cannot do that. If you do not know fair housing, get the fair housing book from HUD. They're free. Also give one to your manager and make the manager write something and sign something saying that they have read it and that they acknowledge the rules of fair housing and that they will comply with it.

Those are the steps to mobile home park occupancy perfectionism. Hope you enjoyed this second of our nine part series. Coming up next week, we're going to be talking about home renovation perfectionism. This is Frank Rolfe, the Mobile Home Park Mastery podcast series. Talk to you again soon.