Mobile Home Park Mastery: Episode 295

Amenity Nightmares

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Across America, mobile home park owners are in a race to provide more amenities for residents to increase the perception of “value” for their rent. But not all amenities are created equal. In this Mobile Home Park Mastery podcast we’re going to review some of the worst amenities you can build, as well as provide caution on the location of some of the good ones.

Episode 295: Amenity Nightmares Transcript

Across America, mobile home park owners are racing to deliver the best value we can for our residents. As rents are going up and occupancy is also going up, we have to deliver a quality of life the residents really enjoy. The big part of that is offering amenities in your community. This is Frank Rolfe, Mobile Home Park Mastery Podcast. We're gonna talk about amenities, but more importantly, amenities gone wrong, nightmare amenities. Amenities that just aren't worth the money or actually can damage your property.

So let's first talk about where amenities came from in mobile home parks. If you look at the early mobile home parks from the '40s and the '50s, you won't see a lot of amenities. Typically in that era, there weren't any at all. And then in the 1960s, the government got more heavily involved in the industry. They started offering very attractive financing through HUD to mobile home park developers if they would put in certain amenities. Those amenities included a clubhouse and a pool. In the clubhouse they wanted you to have a pool table, pinball machine, ping pong table, and then they also wanted to have a laundry facility. Because back in those days, in the 1960s, mobile homes did not have washer dryer connections, they were exceedingly small and they wanted a place that people could basically hang out during the day before returning to their homes to go to sleep. Of course, in the modern world, the mobile homes today have washer and dryer connections. They're much more spacious. They have better heat and an air conditioning, and no one pretty much has to go to some certain kind of clubhouse to hang out because they can't bear how small their trailer is on the inside.

So times have changed dramatically and the type of amenities that work in parks have also changed, and many times the amenities that don't work are things that you were left behind with. The first of those are basketball courts. Now, a basketball court is not a very good amenity. Why is that? Well, very few people in that mobile home park play basketball. You won't see any seniors out playing basketball. You won't see little kids playing basketball. They can't, they don't have the strength to throw the ball. So pretty much a basketball court is a very underutilized amenity, but on top of that, it attracts people from the outside, people who are not in your mobile home park. Case in point, one of the first basketball courts I ever had with mobile home park, there was a huge fight on the basketball court at night and the police arrived and they arrested a bunch of people. And lo and behold, not one person who was arrested lived in the mobile home park. So I knew then the basketball courts needed to go. I did not need to have basketball courts because they were a amenity that really attracted outsiders and were very little utilized by those who lived in the mobile home park. So basketball court basically is not a very good amenity.

Another amenity that we're often left with from the olden days are laundry buildings. Now, the problem with the laundry building is two-fold. Number one, the washers and the dryers break down constantly. So it's a nightmare as far as maintenance, you'll never make any money with it. If you take out the repair and maintenance costs on the machines plus the water and electricity costs to run them, you're never gonna show a penny of profit. But the bigger problem today is as America's filled with homelessness often people will choose to try and live or shelter in your laundry building. There are many cases of mobile home park owners who had to destroy, tear down their laundry buildings because they had residents actually attacked who went into the laundry building at night while someone was trying to sleep in the building. Since mobile homes have washers and dryers today, there is really no reason to keep those laundry buildings in service. So that again is a nightmare amenity and one that you really don't want to have around.

Then you have the amenities that can be good for some reason, such as aesthetically, but that you really need to think about really hard and those are swimming pools. It was another classic amenity from the 1960s. It does make many parks look more grand, more classy. It gives it that country club air. But the problem you have, the swimming pool are, they're exceedingly expensive to maintain. And in many case, the swimming pool that you have in the mobile home park is not even legal in its current format. In many areas, a commercial pool must have two drains, for example, yet the one in mom and pop's mobile home park only has one. How can it still be in service? Well, mom and pop have flown under the radar screen and not ever had anyone walk in from the health department and audit their pool. But if you were to buy the park they probably would and you wouldn't want to operate it anyway if it's not actually completely in conformance with all health and safety. So swimming pools, you really have to look at it really, really hard.

Studies have shown that less than 10% of your mobile home park use a swimming pool. So, if you look at the cost of maintaining the pool and the cost of putting a pool into good working order based on the law, that's a very expensive amenity for only about 10% of your park population. Now, in many cases, you'll keep the pool open because aesthetically, it's very pleasing, so the residents do benefit just from the feel of having the pool, but they never use it. In some cases, if you have a pool that's no longer legal and you can't afford to keep it going, often, you can just give those residents who raise their hand a membership in some kind of community pool. It's actually far less expensive to do that than it is to replace that pool simply for those few who use it.

And the modern equivalent to the pool known as the splash pad, which is an area where you have water spraying, but there's no pool, you don't float. That's an amenity that can be used by people of all ages. Well, the benefit is you can't drown. And the additional benefit is you don't have many of these same laws regarding how it operates. You don't have to do, for example, water testing in most cases, and there's no way you can drown or fall into it. So, swimming pools are amenity that really are going to be going the way of the buffalo over the years ahead but if you have one in an area and you think it's a very important focal point visually, you might maintain it. As far as adding them, I wouldn't, you might put in a splash pad if you really feel the need to have something like that.

Let's talk for a minute about playgrounds. Playgrounds are great and we've installed playgrounds in many of our properties, but if you're gonna install a playground again, don't put it at the front. Put the playground towards the rear. Put it well inside of your mobile home park because unlike the basketball court, you don't want people coming in from the outside to use your playground and if you put your playground right out on the street, people driving down the street will see the playground and they'll stop their car and say, "Hey, let's go to that playground in the mobile home park. It's so convenient." You don't wanna be attracting people from outside your property onto your private property, onto your mobile home park. It makes no sense at all. So we have nothing against playgrounds, but let's try and keep that playground away from the street.

Then you have the dog park. This is a new amenity that some people who have started to install in some mobile home parks, but apparently they haven't talked very much to their insurance agent. That is an amenity that you really do not want to have in all likelihood because dog bites have become an exceedingly big part of the liability industry. There's a lot of personal injury lawyers out there who enjoy it. When someone calls for the dog bite case and a dog park is inviting that to occur, you're actually encouraging people to bring their dogs into an area without a leash. The dogs could end up in a fight, someone tried to break them up and get bit, or someone just brings in a large unruly dog. It runs around and ultimately bites someone inside the enclosure. So again, dog park is probably not an amenity you want.

The bottom line to it is, there are a lot of great amenities out there, picnic tables, charcoal grills, pavilions, things that are inclusive for people of all ages, things that are very inexpensive to maintain, things that look good, things that can be used throughout the year, those amenities are terrific. And there are other amenities which we inherit in many of the older parks but are still good amenities, things like playgrounds, even swimming pools. And then you have some amenities which we inherit, which we really probably should not keep around. Basketball courts and swimming pools that are not completely safe, and certainly laundry buildings. And then some amenities we're probably best off, not even suggesting that we look at the inclusion such as the dog park. But that's not to say we shouldn't try and find an amenity for every piece of the common space in the property.

As rents continue to escalate with mobile home parks nationwide we've got to continue to deliver value because value is what makes people pay those higher rents still with a smile on their face. And we want our customers to feel like they get a really good value for their dollar. So let's keep building those amenities. Let's just try and build them a little smarter. This is Frank Rolfe, Mobile Home Park Mastery Podcast. Hope you enjoyed this. Talk to you again sooner.