Mobile Home Park Mastery: Episode 158

All Mobile Homes Come With A Hitch

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To get a mobile home from Point A to Point B you have to haul it – and you need a hitch to make that possible. But what about after it arrives? In this episode of the Mobile Home Park Mastery pocast, we’re going to dig deep into the facts about these “hitches” and the best policies regarding them going forward. Until mobile homes come with engines and drivetrain, then hitches will be a fact of life for all mobile home park owners, so it’s time to discuss the topic.

Episode 158: All Mobile Homes Come With A Hitch Transcript

All mobile homes come with a hitch, and no, it's not what you thought. This is Frank Rolfe, the Mobile Home Park Mastery Podcast series. We're going to be talking about the hitch, that one unusual attribute of a mobile home, something it doesn't really share with anything else out there except perhaps a boat trailer. And we're going to talk all about how it impacts mobile home parks, how you need to approach them, just everything regarding the good old hitch.

Let's start off with the definition of a hitch. Hitch is defined by Webster's as an item to connect an implement with a source of motive power. So clearly, the whole purpose of the hitch is the simple fact that mobile homes do not have a internal drive train. So for a mobile home to go down the road, it has to be hauled by something, hopefully a licensed CDL carrying mobile home truck that's built to move mobile homes. But, of course, we've also seen it sometimes by someone who's doing it on the sly who doesn't actually have a permit. We've seen mobile homes moved by SUVs and other items completely unsafe, completely illegal, but yet some homeowners choose that manner of conveyance because they cannot afford to have it done professionally.

What else in life has a hitch on it? Well, only things I can think of are a boat trailer and an RV, like a camper. That's about it. So there really aren't a whole lot of items out there that have hitches on them that we see in normal life. And the hitch is really only there for one purpose. That's just to move the mobile home from point A to point B. Once it's arrived, it really has no further purpose.

So what do you do with hitches? Well, let's first start off with one interesting bit of hitch trivia, and that's that all mobile homes that you see out there today are described as being basically four feet longer on the title than they actually are. Because the way mobile homes are measured on that title is from the back wall of the mobile home to the front of the hitch. So when I say that I just bought a 14 by 80 foot mobile home, I really bought a 14 by 76 foot if I'm really measuring it based on the walls. I don't know why you'd want to measure it based on the hitch. I'm not even sure why they originally put that on the titles from the back wall to the front of the hitch, but they did.

So when you're looking at moving a mobile home into your mobile home park, you have to make sure you're talking in the same language as the person selling you the home. And that means you want to know the size of the box, which means the four walls. You don't want to know the size with the hitch because when it gets to your park, you're probably going to remove the hitch. But if you get it all wrong, if you all are not talking apples to apples, when the home arrives, the home sticks out in the street four feet. So it's very important that we all acknowledge that there is a hitch, that the hitch is a part of the title, and that we all need to make sure when we talk about the measurement of any mobile home, that we all know clearly whether we're talking with hitch or without hitch.

Now in modern times, when the mobile home arrives, you can unbolt that hitch and slide it underneath the home. Very, very smart thinking on the part of manufacturers. But in all the older homes out there, the pre-HUD and even the post-HUD for most of them, they don't unbolt. You see, they're actually welded, so you have to cut them off the home to remove them. That was not a very smart idea. Now, why did they do it that way? I don't know. Perhaps they didn't know how to bolt them on. Perhaps they weren't as good at that time of engineering how to make the hitch work unless it was an integral part of the frame itself. I'm not really sure.

But in modern times, you definitely want to remove the hitches on both old and new homes for the simple reason that institutional lenders hate them. Your customers really hate them. They're not sightly and they serve absolutely no purpose at all. So if we're saying the hitch is a single purpose entity, which doesn't need to exist after the home has arrived, then what do we do with them? Well, if it is a newer home, when it arrives you unbolt, slide it under the home, and then you skirt very neatly those four walls of the home where they're exposed to the elements down beneath, and it looks very professionally done.

Now, if you have an older home that has an existing hitch which you can't unbolt, you have two choices. Number one, you could cut the hitch off. Number two, you can skirt over the hitch. Now if you cut the hitch off, the problem is you could theoretically cause a fire hazard. The only way to get the hitch off would be to cut it off with an acetylene torch or were to cut it off with a saw, both of which are going to cause flames and sparks. And if you're in an area where it's very, very dry, for all I know you might light the grass on fire. So traditionally, cutting the hitch off is a little more difficult than merely skirting over it.

How do you skirt over it? Well, you take that same skirting you put around the home and you put it on both sides. Remember, a hitch looks like a V, so on those two sides of the V, and then you continue it across the top. Does it eradicate the hitch from view? No. Does it look as good as if you don't have a hitch? No. Is it easier and perhaps safer in some markets to do it that way? Yes.

And then on top of that, the customer wants to, in some cases, believe they have the ability to move the home again later. So they want to maintain that hitch on there so they have that option, or at least they think they have the option to move it. Now, of course, that option isn't really there for the older homes. Number one, the pre-HUD homes can't be moved into almost any city in America. They won't give you a green tag to connect the electricity if it's pre-HUD.

When they enacted the HUD takeover of the manufacturing industry, they grandfathered all those older homes that were pre-HUD and said, "They're all legal, but you can't move them." So if it's pre-HUD, it was built before 1976, then it has no purpose whatsoever. But even if the home was built post '76, and it has it all important HUD seal on it, nevertheless is the thing really safe to move?

You know, when you jack up in the air a 1979 mobile home and take it out on the highway, you are putting all kinds of pressures and stresses on something that's about 50 years old. So is that really going to work out for you? Well, maybe not. And if it doesn't, man are the damages huge. If you take that home down the road and the roof blows off, or the wall blows off, because if it's going down the highway at 55, that's like having a 55 mile an hour continuous windstorm, and I'm not sure that home can make it,

On top of that, When you jack them up in the air, often the frames themselves have sagged, they've rusted, they break when you do that. So typically, you can't really move the home anyway. So although someone may think of their old 1968 home that having that hitch on there makes it eminently able to move anywhere they like, the truth is no, they have no such freedom because under HUD, they can't move it. And if it's an older home, but is post HUD, the truth is it probably won't make it if they try and move it.

So the hitch really doesn't have a purpose today. So what does the hitch do for you then? Well, in most parts, what a hitch does for you is it makes the streetscaping look really, really ugly. Bear in mind that most mobile home park owners today are trying to provide a really high quality product. That's been the focus over the last decade or so is everyone's trying to really elevate their level of play. Really provide really nice communities. Why do they want that? Well, they all want to get institutional debt. They want Conduit CMBS debt, or they want Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac agency debt. And that requires the parks to look a little better than they did in the olden days.

So how do you achieve that? Well, typically you don't want your mobile home parks to look like an RV park. You don't want it to have the appearance of nothing but transient residents. You want it to have a sense of community, a sense of permanence. And you don't really get that, of course, when you have a hitch on there. It just looks like an RV park where anyone could back up their pickup truck and pull on out with the old RV. That's really not what you're trying to do.

So what you do is you typically want to remove them. You want to skirt over them. You want to unbolt them, slide them under the home. Not because you're trying to ruin the access of the customer to move the home. Simply because aesthetically, it looks so much better. On top of that, the lenders themselves, they want this because they also like properties that look nice, that looks stable. Lenders don't want homes to leave any more than the owners want the homes to leave. So really it's a win-win for everybody. The lender's happy because the neighborhood looks more stable and secure that no one's going to move. And the owner's happy because it looks better and they can get really nice loans. And the residents are happy because they don't have to look at all those stupid hitches that don't do anyone any good.

Let's also point out that most mobile home park residents do nothing with their hitches. It'd be one thing if they did something with them that was attractive, but that's not what occurs. Many mobile home parks, when you drive around, you'll see that, yes, the home is skirted on all four sides, but the hitch is just left out, sitting there typically rusting. It's really kind of odd. The home is painted. The home is skirted. The deck is nice. The deck is painted. The car looks nice. They've even done some landscaping. And then there's this horrible looking hitch, rusting, dangling out there.

And then sometimes what they try and do to hide the hitch looks worse than having the hitch just hanging out there, Taking pieces of plywood and putting that on two sides of the hitch, that's not attractive. Then people do some other crazy stuff. I see people try and put landscaping in the middle of the hitch, like an old pot or something. Worst ones I've seen as someone actually put a toilet in the middle of the hitch and tried to grow a plant in the toilet. I'm not sure what the message was or what that concept of landscaping is, but it's probably not to be found in any landscaping design books that are in your local public library.

So the bottom line is hitches are unique to our industry. There's no question that having a hitch is not really something you want to have as a leftover, as a monument to the fact that it was moved, and you really don't move the homes today. So we really need to all collectively look at the hitches, decide what's the best for everybody. Clearly not having a hitch is in the best interests of the way your park looks. And that impacts all of the neighbors and their pride of ownership. And it clearly is better for the park owner because, again, it contributes more to it looking more like a subdivision. And the lender is obviously also happier about having the fact that it's a nice looking property, looks the best that it can be. And the resident really loses nothing in it anyway because they theoretically can't probably move the home if they wanted to. And if they could move the home, if it's a newer home, it already has a bolt-on hitch, which will take only a few moments to put back on.

So the bottom line is hitches is such a part of our industry, essential that you know about them. And now you know everything you need to know about the fact that mobile homes do have a hitch. And again, no, it's not what you thought when you started listening to this podcast. This is Frank Rolfe with the Mobile Home Park Mastery Podcast series. Talk to you again soon.