Mobile Home Park Mastery: Episode 312

The Critical Item That Freakonomics Left Out

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I recently appeared on the Freakonomics podcast on the topic of mobile home parks. But there was one critical item that was edited out of that discussion when it finally hit the air. In this Mobile Home Park Mastery podcast we’re going to explore the one topic they apparently found too taboo and why it’s so important to the narrative today on the relationship between park owners and residents.

Episode 312: The Critical Item That Freakonomics Left Out Transcript

I recently appeared on the US podcast, known as Freakonomics. It's one of the largest podcasts in America, 10 million audience, but it's predominantly people aged from about 24-30, it's a millennial podcast, and it's an audience which is clearly woke by definition, that's what the main appeal is to that podcast if you look at the episodes. And you might say, "Why do you appear on that thing?" Well, I appeared on that thing because it's been my thought for two decades now that if you remain silent when people say things about you that are false, that it's almost like an admission of guilt. So when I see somebody and they say something terrible and they go to the person, they say, "I have no comment," it just comes off terribly, just the optics are just no good. So I agreed to be on the podcast because I enjoy debate, I used to be a high school debater, and I enjoy learning, and I like to hear the perspectives of different people, so hearing the perspective of someone who had interview me who is kind of from a woke background was kind of exciting and intriguing because I was hoping I could dispel some of the myths and stereotypes of the industry, and that if I gave them all of the truth, that perhaps some of it might stick, and maybe over the decades we can change the narrative of an industry that has the worst stereotype. There's nothing worse in the mobile home park industry when it comes to image, we've destroyed it as an industry over the last half century.

And it's always very troublesome for me that so many in our industry refuse to talk. We are effectively seemingly spineless. We have no self-confidence at all. So I typically get chosen by default when nobody else in the industry will talk to these type of folk. So I sat down in a sound studio in St. Louis with the host from Freakonomics, and he started to ask me questions about the industry. And of course, I knew where they were all heading, it's the same old stuff of the evil landlord and the tenant, and the whole Waffle House stuck to their booth narrative, which that quote of mine is not even related in any possible way to anything other than explaining the stability of the revenue of parks versus restaurants. If you read the original quote through Bloomberg, if you actually talk to the author of the article from Bloomberg many years ago, they would tell you that's all the quote was, but nevertheless, that was the kind of the narrative. And then we came to one big item. And when I answered his question, he was stunned.

We had complete silence. And he said to me, "How come that no one has ever said that before?" And I said, "Well, I've been saying it and writing it for years, but you probably don't read any of my stuff, but that's the truth." And I knew then I'd hit pay dirt. I'd hit a raw nerve. And yet, when you read or listen to the podcast, he avoids it completely. He edited that entire section out. This is Frank Rolfe from Mobile Home Park Mastery podcast, we're gonna focus on what he edited out. What there was, was so painful to the whole woke narrative of mobile home park ownerships and the relationship we have with our tenants that he was so afraid of it that he just couldn't even address it. So here's where that went. He went down the regular path that many people do from the woke domain and said, "Well, look, your residents are trapped, you can raise the rent as much as you want, and there's not a thing they can do about it." And I said, "No. That's not true at all." And he said, "What do you mean it's not true at all?"

I said, "Well, they could sell their home, right?" "Well, maybe." "Well, they could rent their home, right?" "Well, I guess." "Okay, well, why do you guess on those because isn't that the same thing you would do with a condo or a stick-built home? Isn't those the normal options we have as people is to sell or rent?" And he had to admit that was true. That, yes, he guessed that mobile home park people did have the same rights as all others. So this whole narrative that we force people out and they don't know what to do, and they don't know how to eat and they don't know where to live, that's just a big old pile of BS.

They could easily sell the mobile home. Housing right now has never been at a greater premium. They could clearly make a profit selling their home off if they couldn't afford to live in that park anymore, and we certainly would not fight them in any way if they want to sublease any home. So what about that? Well, I explained to him the problem was that they don't ever think logically with enough advance preparation to do that. Most mobile home park residents, they don't actually take action until you're evicting them. Rental possession comes with the cost of I'm kicking you out in 24 hours, and only then they start thinking through what the options are, now it's too late. But clearly, they always have the right to sell or rent, but that wasn't the item he was so afraid of. He didn't put any of that, of course, in the program, but that wasn't really the big one. So the big one came when he then said, "Well, I guess maybe that is true, but the big deal is that you have them trapped 'cause it's their property, and if they wanna keep their property, they can't move it."

And I said, "Well, but that's not true." He said, "Well, it has to be true. It costs $5000 to move a mobile home from point A to point B. You've written the article yourself." I said, "Yeah, that part is true. It's very expensive to move a mobile home. However, you can get a mobile home park owner to move anyone's home from point A to point B, as long as the home is in decent repair, as long as they have a criminal and credit check, that is called an organic move, it happens in the industry all the time. So if someone comes to our office and says, "Hey, I wanna move out of my mobile home park and into yours. I like yours better. Like the better location," whatever the reason may be, then we'll pay for that move and we will happily move them for whatever park or even raw land that run into our park, because it just makes good business sense. I have a vacant lot, they have a home, it's a lot easier for me to bring in their home and for me to pay the $5000 than it would be for me to bring in another home from outside of the park and bring it in and then potentially rehab it if it's used, or set it up and sell it as new.

Well, he just couldn't deal with that because he'd never heard of that before. And he wanna know a lot more questions and answers on that topic. How many organic moves do we do? I said, "Our company, we do several hundred of them a year." "What are the limitations?" "Well, you can't move home unless it's got a HUD seal on it." And he said, "Uh-huh, well, I have you there, then you can't move the older ones." I said, "Well, uh-huh, I didn't do that. HUD did that. You got a problem with that whole concept of HUD and the HUD seal and you can't move the home without the HUD seal, then you go to the federal government because they did that long before I got into the business. They did that back in '76."

So he says, "So you're saying any home that's got a HUD seal on it, which means '76 and later, that that's okay? And you would pay to move them." I said, "Absolutely." He said, "Well, I'm dumbfounded because that narrative is nothing I've ever heard before, I always heard that they can't move them." I said, "Well, but they can move them. You're terribly wrong." And it begs a question why that is such a scary narrative to those who want to give this image of the evil landlord and the besieged tenant. And the problem is that that's just been for years now, one of the biggest parts of the media attack on park owners. Somehow our residents are stuck, frozen in concrete, mired in quicksand, but everybody else is free to do anything they want. So if you're an apartment resident apparently and you don't pay your rent, well, that's okay, find a dandy, you just throw your stuff in your pick-up truck, but that's no biggie.

And if you're on a stick-built home and you can't pay, well, they have many, many other options somehow. But the simple fact is mobile home park residents have one more option than everybody else. You can't physically move a condo, you cannot physically move a stick-built home, but you can physically move a mobile home. If you wanted to move a home from point A to point B, from another park into your park, and even if it was a couple of markets away, and even if the cost for transporting that home was $8000, any park owner would happily do it. We would happily do that organic move, probably all day long.

So the bottom line to it is when people write all these articles and do all these podcasts and different things, talking about the fact the mobile home park owners somehow mistreat the residents, 'cause our residents are somehow stuck, which makes no sense, but somehow our people are different, ours are stuck, they can't think ahead enough to sub-lease, they can't think enough to sell it, but they still have one more option, and that's the option to actually physically move their home. To move their property. And that's the part I was most disappointed at in Freakonomics. In fact, I could tell the guy was very uncomfortable now that I had unlocked the Pandora's box of the fact that his whole thing he had probably written was incorrect. And I said to him, that you know, you're called Freakonomics and I looked you up, and it said that your goal is to give the truth about how things work, so I certainly hope you will include this revelation in what you do.

"Well, yes. In Freakonomics, we definitely try our best." No. No. They didn't try at all. In fact, in one quote in there, you'll see that in the early parts of it, he talks about when I had my first park, and one of the first evictions I ever did was a veteran. That story did not end at veteran. It said I had to evict a veteran who was a really nice person, and I urged him to go into a social program. And they said, "I tried, but I can't get in." The government says, "There's no more room." He cut that out. Gee, I can't wonder why. This is Frank Rolfe, The Mobile Home Park Mastery podcast. Hope you enjoyed this. Talk to you again soon.