Mobile Home Park Mastery: Episode 181

Celebrating The Builders

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Dale is an 87-year old contractor that made affordable housing possible for nearly 70 families for the past half-century. An innovator. A visionary. A pioneer. And a hero. In this Mobile Home Park Mastery podcast, we’re going to celebrate the Greatest Generation figures like Dale that built our industry from scratch and created the only form of detached, non-subsidized housing in America.

Episode 181: Celebrating The Builders Transcript

You see them all the time on television stories, talking about the rise of different industry, industry titans, sports titans, the celebration of people who took a thought and built it into a dynasty. But when's the last time you ever heard in the media the discussion of a mobile home park pioneer, someone who took an idea, risked all of their resources to build a beautiful community for lots of Americans who enjoy affordable housing?

This is Frank Rolfe from The Mobile Home Park Mastery Podcast. We're going to talk about one such pioneer. His name is Dale, a mom-and-pop I recently got introduced to and talk to, and found his whole life story to be very, very fascinating and worthy of a discussion here on the mobile home park mastery podcast. Dale is a contractor, lives in Ohio, and back in the 1970s and the '60s, sometimes contracting had its ups and downs, so Dale elected to try and build some way to give him a more stable form of income. He looked at different uses. He had a little bit of farmland, so he decided what he would do is he would build a mobile home park. His land wasn't of much value, formerly been a gravel pit, really wasn't good for much, so he decided to go ahead and risk every penny he had to get the loan to build that mobile home park.

He spent $270,000 converting this old gravel pit into a mobile home park with about 70 lots. To finance it, he went down to the bank. He got an FHA loan for 20% down, so he put down about $54,000, and in exchange, he got a mortgage for 25 years at six-and-a-half percent. Of course, it was out in the middle of nowhere, so to make it happen, he had to build his own water well and his own treatment plant. Scary undertaking for Dale. Dale had absolutely no experience in either. Didn't much like the idea of being in the water business or in the sewer business, but there really was no other option, so to make it all happen, he really stuck his neck out. He risked his life fortune, risked all of his personal financials for 25 years, built a water well and a treatment plant and assumed those duties, and from there he created a mobile home park.

Now, the first thing Dale did once he had that mobile home park built, and he didn't even know if it would work and he was really sweating it, really concerned that he'd really, instead of helping himself financially, had hurt himself, he went ahead and bought two mobile homes, brand new ones, brought them into his mobile home park to see if he could sell or rent them. Paid about $5,000 per home, had to pay it all out of his own pocket. There was no financing back then. He didn't even really know if anyone wanted to live there. Would he have now lost not only his down payment of $54,000, or maybe his credit for the rest of his life, now, was he also at another 10,000? He really wasn't sure.

But he put up the ads. He waited around. Phone would ring, not always. Finally, he found some customers and he was able to sell those homes at a reasonable payment to the customer and charge a lot rent of $50 per month, not much but enough to make the thing work as a side income for Dale. Today, he's got 68 of those lots occupied at a lot of $415 a month, far cry from the 50, and that park that he built back in 1971 for $270,000 today is worth around $3 million. Was that an accomplishment? I think so. I think that was an amazing accomplishment.

But there's more to the story than what you would see normally on television because Dale really deeply cares about his residents. Dale is very concerned about them. Typically, when you see on those shows on television, like the story of Rockefeller, the story of Vanderbilt, it's all just about the money. If you watch the show, for example, at Ford Motor Company, Henry Ford, yeah, he wanted the idea of assembling an inexpensive car, but he wanted to do it so he could get big sales. Not really sure he was a hundred percent that concerned about the average person buying that Ford automobile, what was going on in their life, if they could really afford the payments or not. But he liked the concept of building a big business, that's what he accomplished, but there was never that little bit extra.

But in Dale's story, there is that little bit of extra. See, Dale, the entire time he's owned this mobile home park, he's gone out of his way to make sure that everyone has a really good living experience there. For example, when private utilities, which he always found to be a little scary, had the potential to become public because they ran city water and city sewer nearby the property, he immediately jumped at the opportunity to upgrade it, not because it made financial sense to Dale. Dale, at that point, had already run those private utilities for decades, but because he thought it was better for the customer. He liked the idea of them having regular municipal water and a regular municipal sewer. Dale was always concerned with property condition. He went that extra mile. When a resident couldn't afford to paint their home, paint their roof, Dale would step in and do it for them. A, he wanted to help them. B, he wanted to help the overall community make it remain as attractive as it is possibly could be.

Dale's story wasn't all just about the money. Financially, sure, it was a genius stroke. He converted a $300,000 roughly mobile home park into something worth $3 million over time. But the bigger part is he did this by allowing 68 families to have a really good life there, a long life there. Some of those families have remained almost since the beginning because they could not find a better house in value than what they had in Dale's property.

Now that Dale is getting on in age, 87 years old, he's now concerned about what to do with the property. He's trying to find a new steward to manage that property for the next generation. Not just all about the money. Who knows? Maybe you can sell the land for a price higher than the park. I don't know. He'd never do it because he cares about all those families that rely on that to be their home. You see, Dale is part of that group called "the greatest generation." These are the people that built America. What the greatest generation does, which the other generations did not, is they put more thought, more care into people other than themselves. Whether it's their family or whether it's just a common person in the United States, these are the people who are willing to die to help everyone out to keep their freedom. They truly were the greatest folks.

In fact, I tell people all the time that one of the biggest problems you're going to have in the United States and in the mobile home park industry is when the greatest generation vanishes, because they ultimately will, we all have a biological clock that's ticking, one day, that Dale won't be around the story, or those folks like Dale won't be around to tell their stories, and you can learn so much from the greatest generation.

All the parks that I've ever purchased, I can remember the conversations and the stories of each and every one of those greatest generation owners, fascinating stories. Unlike modern people, baby boomers, which is the age group that I'm in, and others, they simply want to talk about the money, the finances. That's the story. But it lacks that third dimension. To me, the story is much more interesting when it also evolves around something bigger than the money, bigger than the personality, the whole concept of helping others and providing affordable housing, so it makes me mad when I see and hear all these stories of various people, always in magazines and television and newspapers, all kinds of accolades of things they've done to revitalize downtown areas or build a new entertainment complex, or provide single-family homes. I've never seen a single story, not one regarding anyone, any pioneer, any founder who ever built a mobile home park.

One time I was driving through a mobile home park and I saw a little tiny bronze plate that a mom-and-pop had built into the fence as you went in the mobile home park, just for their own knowledge, nobody else's. It had about 20 words on it and it told the story of the fact that they had built a mobile home park from nothing back in a certain era. I think they did that because they realized no one would ever care or remember their names or what they accomplished, but the sad part is they help so many people.

There's 44,000 mobile home parks in the United States and they all started out, each and every one of them started out with a story like Dale's, somebody willing to stick their neck out, put their money on the line, bet all their cards on an idea that they didn't even know it would work, which in the end, helped tens of hundreds of thousands of people have a nice, clean, safe, affordable place to live, communities just like Dale's in Ohio but in every state in America except for Hawaii, so the next time you're out in the field, next time you're talking to a mobile home park builder, listen to their story, learn their story. They're absolutely fascinating. We all need to celebrate the efforts of all those pioneers who bet it all to build mobile home parks.

This is Frank Rolfe from The Mobile Home Park Mastery Podcast. Hope you enjoyed this. Talk to you again soon.