Mobile Home Park Mastery: Episode 79

Perfect Property Condition

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There’s no greater source of resident attraction and retention than a great looking property. But how do you achieve property condition perfection? In this fourth installment of our nine-part series on “Mobile Home Park Perfectionism” we’re going to discuss the eleven steps to perfect property condition, as well as the techniques used to guarantee those results.

Episode Transcript

A beautiful sign, a nice entry, beautifully paved roads, wonderful mowing, perfectly trimmed bushes, these are the things that make residents want to live in your property. These are the things that make people want to stay living in your property, but unfortunately, in many mobile home parks, the property condition is not good. This is Frank Rolfe with the Mobile Home Park Mastery podcast, and the fourth of our nine-part series on mobile home park perfectionism.

We'll be talking today about property condition perfectionism. Now, what is the goal to having good property condition in your mobile home park? The first is to maintain the property in a clean sightly manner that fully meets the methods we're going to go over in a minute. So, we want to have a property that is perfect. This is one of the clear topics of perfectionism because this topic is all about just that. Second, we want to be constantly elevating the pride of ownership in common areas, to not let the property remain static, and to make the property a better place for everyone to live.

The third reason is just to work smart and maintain the property as low a cost as possible while meeting these minimum standards. There's always a battle when property condition because sure you can go out and repave the streets every month, but you can never survive the costs, so there has to be a reasonable level of maintenance maintained in which the property looks the best it can but at a reasonable price. Otherwise, you'll have to raise the rents into oblivion to deliver the kind of quality that you're prescribing by having these ridiculous goals on property condition.

So, what are the action steps? We'll go over this. We call these the 11 steps to perfect property conditions. Here's the perfectionism plan right here. Number one, signage, the first thing you see when you approach the mobile home park. All entry signage needs to be new, the sign needs to be perfect, and it needs to be held up on nice looking posts. Now, we prefer putting in four by four wooden posts, sleeved in white PVC with white PVC caps on them. It's low cost, looks fantastic, never requires painting.

The signs that we use, we use the aluminum variety, from companies like Fast Signs, with vinyl lettering. Not the most expensive form of sign, but a whole lot better looking than a painted sheet of plywood like some mom and pops use. If you want to get into a next level up from that, there are sandblasted signs, there are bronze lettered signs. The only problem with those are, they don't often wear well in a mobile home park environment. They're subject to vandalism, so we prefer what we use but whatever you want to use, make sure it's really, really nice because that's what sets the first impression of the property.

Also, throughout the property, all those street signs, stop signs and street signs, everything, those need to be held up with some degree of normalcy that everything looks the same. You want to have some kind of standardized framework. Again, we use four by four posts, sleeved in white PVC, with an identical white PVC cap that exactly matches what we have holding the sign up out front. Maybe that's not what you want to go with. Maybe you want to use expensive architectural aluminum. It doesn't matter what you use, all that matters is that it looks great and it's consistent throughout the property.

Third item is, in many mobile home parks, mom and pop chose a repetitive design and the most common one are coach lights. We have all been in mobile home parks that have a coach light proudly in the front yard of every single home. That's great, and those repetitive features look terrific if they're looking like they're supposed to. They always have to be straight, painted and functioning. There's nothing that looks worse than a park with coach lights in front of every home where each one is missing the top or every other one is missing the top, and the rest are all bent over at a severe angle. If you can not get those repetitive designs to look perfect, then just remove them because it actually looks worse. It's not helping. It's actually hurting the appearance.

Number two, trees. Trees are simple. Under our insurance regulations, we are not allowed to have any dead limbs or any dead trees. There are no exceptions. If you drive through the property and you see anything dead, it has to go. Additionally, although not necessarily required by law, or even by your insurance company, remove stumps. They look bad. Nothing makes a property look dumber than when you have a series of large stumps very clear to see, because it sends the message you care so little that you won't grind them down. If the park that you have currently has a bunch of them, then get a volume deal from an arborist to go ahead and get those ground out, but we don't like the stumps either.

Item three, grass. What does grass perfectionism look like in a mobile home park? Well, this is a tricky issue because our residents often are not in tune with what grass needs to look like. Even in subdivisions, even in McMansion neighborhoods, the city itself does not have that critical a concept of how high the grass can be, only at what point it becomes unacceptable. What do you do? You want to mow the common areas perfectly. You want to mow the vacant lots perfectly. That sends the message to everybody what you expect. Those that can comply, great. Those that cannot comply, you're going to go in and mow their yard in what's called a forced mowing, and then bill them back for it. Be sure and charge an amount that's, although allowed by law, hefty enough they don't want to use you as their mowing service.

Next, everything in the park needs to have weed eating, not just mowing. You can't just mow the yard or the mobile home and let the weeds grow two feet up the sides. You need to weed eat it. Another tip I will tell you is, there's nothing that looks worse than when the weed eater knocks holes in the skirting. So on any home that you ever install the skirting on, put a row of shingles that sticks out away from the skirting about a foot or so. That'll keep the weeds from growing up against the skirting and allow you to weed eat them without hitting the skirting.

Next, you must never have any grass growing in the roads, curbs, or pads. That's what Roundup is for. You do not want that. It looks terrible, and it actually destroys your concrete. So, you've got to spray Roundup anytime you've got any form of grass growing in roads, curbs or pads. It's the aesthetic thing to do, and it's also a great precaution so you don't get any further damage. Finally, you've got to get your streets edged. Now, a lot of our residents do not own edgers, yet in many of our properties, that street needs to have a crisp look where it doesn't look it's best, so we will often have the mower go in and edge all of the streets. Sure, we pay a little more for it, but we think the impact is worth it.

Next in perfectionism is debris. We do not allow any item of debris of any kind to be in any common area or vacant lot. We control those, and so that should never happen. But what about the tenants' yards? What do we do about the debris in their property? Well, let's pick our battles smartly. I am not going to call children's toy debris. I don't think that Barney ride-on truck is worthy of us getting in a fit about. However, no appliances in a tenant yard, no scraps of old rotted lumber or shingles.

Items that are obviously trash need to go in the dumpster, not sit in the neighbors yard for years and years and years til they actually grow into some kind of green sculpture. Tree limbs, also, never allowed. The resident is not allowed to stock any of these kinds of items in their yard because not only does it look terrible, it's actually even a problem from a health and sanitation, because you can get rodents that start living in these piles of debris, so debris has to go.

Next, your common areas have to be perfect because you own them. You control them. There's no excuse to have a clubhouse, storage units, sheds, anything that you own and control not painted properly. There should never be any broken windows, no missing doors, no graffiti of any type. All of your fences that you control, your entry fence and other fences in the property need to be straight, solid, painted, and looking perfect. So you never can scrimp on the common areas because that sets the example for the whole rest of the park. If you don't keep those good, why would anybody else?

Next, the roads. They need to have no potholes. All speed bumps need to be freshly painted, but we're going to stop there because beyond that it gets very expensive. Most park owners don't resurface the streets til right before they sell or refinance because the minute you do, it starts going downhill. Vehicles, do not allow any non-running vehicles, but be realistic. Non-running vehicles are actually just that, cars that do not run. Cars that do run do carry people to work, but simply are missing their tags, missing license plates that are not current, in effect, those are still running so be reasonable on that.

Do not allow anyone to park any commercial vehicles in your park, but I'm not talking their Roto-Rooter truck, the exterminator van. I'm talking 18-wheelers and giant dump trucks. Those things will destroy your roads and may make it impossible for other residents to get around them on the street. Also, do not allow people to ever do this makeshift form of mini storage that we see in some parks where they will buy an old non-running van, push it up in their yard and consider that their little self-storage unit. Anything that does not run that cannot be driven out of the park has to go.

Next, tenant fences. We always want our fences to be see-through, so chain link or picket, and not to exceed four feet in height. However, again, be reasonable. When you buy the mobile home park, there may already be fences there. You don't want to go to people and say, "Hey, I just bought the park, and here, you've got to go rip your fence down." Sometimes we've had people saw them off and shorten them. Other times, we've had them paint them. All we want to do is to make the park look attractive. The fences don't really cause an operational problem. It's an aesthetic problem. As long as you make them look good, normally it can get by.

Skirting, all homes in the park must be skirted, all skirting must be solid with no gaps at all, and all skirting must be one color, but I didn't say it all has to be vinyl. It's possible that you can have a home that looks fine and the skirting is of another substance beyond vinyl. There are scrap yards that sell all kinds of materials: fiberglass, roofing from greenhouses, patterned metal. All these items hide the hideous underbelly of the mobile home, so as long as you can get it on there so that it hides everything from view and is straight and vertical, it's probably fine.

Home condition, no broken windows or doors. Never allowable. Even if the home is complete interior restoration, you must make the outside look good. The exterior needs to be painted one color. No rusted roofs, no green mold on exterior, and no tarps on roofs. These are the items we ask of our residents, they're the items we ask of ourselves on our own park, own homes. You cannot let people violate this. Why? It's just not fair. It's not fair of someone who has the great-looking home, the super nice double wide, to look out their windows on the home that's completely covered in rust. That does not work.

Finally, the 11th item, window treatments. It's something that people often overlook. Do not allow any plywood in the windows unless it's painted to match the home. You can have no broken mini blinds because broken mini blinds look awful and they're so inexpensive to fix, 5 or $10. You cannot have, ever, a beach towel or a sheet in a window and consider that an appropriate window treatment. And last, but not least, but very popular in many mobile home parks, aluminum foil. Aluminum foil is not, not a decent window treatment. All window treatments need to be neutral. White mini blinds are often your best choice.

Now, some other things I want to talk about as far as property condition perfectionism. First, we must always remember that we lead by example, so our common areas, our entry, everything that we own and control, it must be perfect because we cannot hope for our residents to have perfectionism unless we display it. Next, you want to give out rules violation notices to those who are not keeping up with everybody else, but be smart about it. Don't bug people on minor items. Don't say, "Yeah, your kid's got a beach ball in the yard," because even if the person takes that in the home, you know it'll be back out there again tomorrow so be reasonable but don't be shy in letting people know things need to be improved.

Send out your rules violation notices, it's often very important to have the manager meet with the resident to followup with that, to go over the game plan to get that solved. If the tenant cannot afford to do the work, then help them do it. It's very common in many mobile home parks, particularly on skirting, for the owner to help the resident install it and then bill it back to them in, for example, 12 easy installments over the span of the year. If a tenant refuses, however, to work on their perfectionism of the rules, you may be forced to non-renew their lease. That's something you never want to do if you can help it, but you sometimes have to to get their attention.

They have to be a good member of the community. You cannot let one person hold the looks of the entire property hostage. It's not fair to other people who maintain their property to be embarrassed or humiliated when visitors come by because they have to drive by that one property that looks so bad. Now, other considerations, never be satisfied. Always be trying to take the property to the next level. Your goal should be to make this mobile home park the best it can be, and you never want to stop short. Every day, every month, these will be a gradual progression of making it better.

You'll also want to know your budget and stay on budget because, again, you can sometimes get carried away. I know my very first mobile home park, I once painted the laundry building a different shade of green three times because I didn't like the way that it turned out, and that was overkill. Our residents could care less what color of green it was. That was me. I was a little carried away and not really watching my budget. Remember the pride of ownership means simply that the resident wants to make the best of their property. Old homes can look fantastic when the resident cares, when they want to put in the time and the effort and the money to keep that home looking great, and in fact many of our communities, the best looking homes are also some of the oldest.

So again, this is Frank Rolfe with the Mobile Home Park Mastery podcast, talking about property condition perfectionism. Next week, we're going to be going over budget perfectionism in a mobile home park. Talk to you again soon.