Mobile Home Park Mastery: Episode 254

The Impact of Home Age

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Mobile homes may all look similar to the average American, but to the successful park owner, there is a considerable difference between them – and it almost all revolves around age. In this Mobile Home Park Mastery podcast, we’re going to examine what you can tell about a mobile home simply from its age and what the key attributes are to focus on when buying and renovating used mobile homes to fill lots or simply pass judgment on park-owned homes you already possess.

Episode 254: The Impact of Home Age Transcript

We live in a country obsessed with age, age permeates everything you see in the media, commercials fill the airwaves with products to make you look younger, senior housing is a big topic in the world of real estate. So does age also matter with mobile homes? This is Frank Rolfe with the Mobile Home Park Mastery Podcast. We're gonna talk about the impact of age on mobile homes. And it turns out it does mean quite a lot.

Let's first start off with quality of construction. Now, on this one attribute, sometimes the older homes may be ahead of the newer. If you look at the weight of the average mobile home based on the title, you will soon see that the older homes simply weighed more. Now, there's many different arguments for why that occurred, but anyone who's ever really renovated an older home will often see they just used more lumber, and they used lots of other products that were a little more meaty. So as a result, I think the older homes were probably better built. The other reason is that before HUD came on the scene in '76, you had a lot of hobbyists building mobile homes one at a time in their garage or Quonset hut or backyard. And these craftsmen often went to the next level with what they did, they truly cared about the product they were creating, it wasn't just about the money, it was merely a side hustle, no one was doing it really full-time, except the larger manufacturers, and so I think often they cared a little more. So as far as quality of construction, I don't really see any parallel between the age of the home and how it was built, and I certainly would never say that the newest homes are the best built. I won't say the new homes are worse built than those of days gone by, but that is one item where age doesn't seem to really apply much.

Now, the next is floor plan. Now, on floor plan, clearly the newer homes win out. The early origins of the industry, if you go way back into the '30s and the '40s and the '50s, everything was based on the concept of an eight-foot wide home, that's because that's how wide cars are is eight feet. And since you were towing these things simply behind cars, you wanted to have them in that same width parallel. So all of your early homes were eight feet in width, and the problem with an eight foot width home is, it's a really crummy floor plan, it's really hard to live in one happily, you can't fit any kind of reasonable sized furniture or bed in there. And then the homes went to 10 feet in width, that was some time in the 1960s, that you hit 10 on a regular basis, and 10 again, just isn't wide enough. And then it went up to 12 in the '70s, so now we have the 12-foot wide mobile home, but still, that's not really the right width to have a very good floor plan. And then we magically went into the 14-foot width, which started up really after HUD took over the industry, but even then after a few years of delay.

A 14-foot wide mobile home gives you everything you need, a living room/dining room/kitchen and bedrooms, they're finally wide enough to hold conventional sized beds, even the beloved king sized bed. So when it comes to floor plan, you really need to have a 14-foot wide or a wider home. Today they make homes as wide as 18 feet, but I think 14 suffices. When you're in a 16 or an 18-foot, you have the same general feel of the 14, but when you drop from the 14 to a 12, it's a big decline in living standards. So when it comes to age on the floor plan, the 14 foot wide, that's the '80s. So basically, 1980s to new are most preferable when it comes to the age of the homes regarding floor plan. Then you have longevity. This is one topic that most people do not understand, they all think that mobile homes basically have some kind of end date on them, they expire at a certain point, and you must just throw them in the trash can to get a new one, and that's not true at all. Many people think that theory came from aggressive salespeople who viewed mobile homes in the early days like cars and would try and convince people who own them that after a certain reviewers time, to trade in for that new model. That's where the whole idea of trade-ins came from. A lot of these dealer lots, they'll talk about, "Oh yeah, that's our trade-in section." Well, here the world trade-in, trades in a home, nobody, that's an automobile thing.

So when it really comes to longevity, I don't see any reason that even the oldest of mobile homes can't go on seemingly forever. What you have is something built out of wood, but then sheathed in metal. Single-family homes are not sheathed in metal, so if you were to say that mobile homes can't survive, well then single-family certainly can't survive either. So I don't think age is really that important on longevity except there were certain moments in the era of construction that were worse than others, the advent of T1-11 siding, for example, that is a terrible product, or at least it's proven to me through years of looking at old used mobile homes, that is an exterior that doesn't work too well. The good old metal on metal and the vinyl and shingled, those seem to win the day. So when you talk about the age and the longevity, and I'm talking strictly from the fact of it just falling apart to the level no one can live in it anymore, if it's properly maintained, and sheathed in metal, then you're probably fine. The only longevity issue to me would be that T1-11 siding.

Then you have the safety. Now, mobile homes, when HUD came on the scene in the mid '70s thereafter, you had the federal government backing the design and the manufacturer. And that was a pretty important step, because now there was uniformity to how these things were built and people could buy it knowing and having confidence that it was all done correctly. However, prior to '76, we don't really know exactly how they were built, or if there was any engineering at all. You also have issues such as aluminum wiring, which only date to the older homes, so from a safety perspective, I have no doubt that the newer homes are better. Now, I would probably say though, that anything that's got that HUD seal on it, which means 1976 roughly to new, would all be roughly equivalent, but the things older, things that are lacking the HUD seal, safety could be a concern.

Next you have legality. This is a big issue because, as most people know, but only those who've been in the industry for a while now, if you don't have a HUD seal on the back of the home, you can't move it in and get it hooked up in almost any mobile home park in the United States, and that's a really big deal. So if I'm trying to fill a vacant lot with a mobile home in a used home, and if I happen to buy one 'cause I'm not paying attention, that was constructed prior to 1976 and does not have that HUD seal on the back, well, that won't do me any good at all. I can bring it into the park, but I'll never get the city to green-tag it to let it stay or to have the power turned on. So when it becomes to legality, the homes have to have the HUD seal. So if the home is older than '76, if the home does not have the HUD seal, it's not really a mobile home to us as far as an income-producing unit that actually gets us anywhere. So that's one huge issue on age. Also, you have the issue on age on pricing of the homes.

Now, in today's world, there are people who actually act as the bank to finance these homes, the best known of which is CASH, which is a division of 21st Mortgage, but there's others out there. There's PEP and there's Triad and other people. And what they do is they'll create a mortgage on a mobile home, thereby allowing your customer to actually have a conventional mortgage and use the park owner to stop being in the banking business. However, they won't do those kinds of products on really old homes. Most of them, they stop in the 1980s. Now, some of them will do 1980s homes, assuming the notice of a sufficient size and they like the home, the condition, and then the location. However, the really old homes, no one wants to do. So if you have a 1960s or '70s home, just because of age, it probably will not fit into those programs, and therefore its value is rendered much, much lower. Now, 1990s through current homes, those typically always meet all the parameters to have a group conventionally do those mortgages. But here is one time in which age is very, very important in determining whether that home is gonna work for you or not.

So what are the big takeaways when you add it all together? Well, if you really look at everything we just discussed, quality of construction, floor plan, longevity, safety, legality and pricing, it's gonna take you to one logical conclusion, and that is the one era in which all of those line segments intersect is roughly the 1980s. Now, the 1970s homes, while the quality of construction was okay for the most part, if it's the later '70s or even if it's earlier, and the person was trying hard, but the floor plan prior to the advent of HUD is never going to be a satisfactory. You're never gonna be 14 feet wide. And the legality of pre-'76, where you have no HUD seal, that won't work with you at all. And the fact it's got 1970s on the front, as far as the age, probably will preclude you from those attractive mortgage programs through CASH and PEP and Triad. The '80s however, really have it all. So those 1980s homes, those round roof homes that you see often in dealers yards and with home wholesalers and ads, and if you're trying to fill your lots, those are the homes you wanna target, are those homes that are '80s and newer.

Now, the 1990s obviously have all of their own benefits as well. Those 1990s homes are even better when it comes to the pricing and the financing and the ability to hit debt, and some would say they also are better looking as far as appearance. Now, I don't know that to be completely true. Some people like the shingled and vinyled outside. Others say, "Well, no, there's gild in the lily and creating lots of maintenance problems in the future." But all I know is that the 1980s homes are just fine, and the 1990s homes, they have their own advantages, but the moral to it all is beware of those homes that are pre-HUD. Those 1960s and '70s homes, although they may look nice on the outside, they may be well painted, have all their shutters on, very well maintained, they do have a lot of problems when it comes to floor plan, when it comes to safety, totally when it comes to legality, when it comes to pricing, all these many issues are important. So while age is a big part of society, age is also a big part of the mobile home, part of the mobile home park industry. So if you just watch over the age of the homes, it will help direct you to only make good purchases to fill your vacant lots. This is Frank Rolfe, Mobile Home Park Mastery Podcast. I hope you enjoyed this. Talk to you again soon.