Mobile home park managers have an extremely difficult role. They are supposed to wear two hats: 1) the nice person and 2) the tough person. This is extremely confusing to residents and often fails to accomplish what you desire as the owner. In this Mobile Home Park Mastery podcast we’re going to explore why this is not a healthy situation for your property and offer tips on giving the manager a more clear role in the community.
Episode 274: The Impossible Job of Being Both Good Guy and Bad Transcript
0:00:07.0 Frank Rolfe: Residents love consistency, but normally in most mobile home parks that's impossible because of the role the manager must play. This is Frank Rolf with the Mobile Home Park Mastery podcast. We're gonna talk about the Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde position that most managers are in, where they are supposed to be both the tough guy and the nice guy. Now, back when I had my first mobile home park I was a little bit worried about the role of the manager. Now, back when I had my first mobile home park Glenhaven down in Dallas, which I self-managed for the first year, I immediately recognized the confusion that was caused by the fact that I was there to collect money, to enforce rules, but at the same time, to try and make customers happy, to try and urge them to improve the quality of their home and their yard, to be a salesperson trying to rent and sell homes. And back then also rent vacant lots off into RVs. It was very, very difficult to be put in that position because people didn't know whether to run from me or to run towards me.
0:01:07.0 Frank Rolfe: They didn't know if I was the bearer of good news or of bad news. And the problem you find today is that in most mobile home parks as our caliber of customer has increased over time as the quality of the properties increases, it's more important than ever before to give your manager a clear role. To make people understand what the manager is all about and to have the manager fit like a square peg in a square hole and not in a round hole to getting the job done that you're trying to have them do. So what's the first problem? How do we get out of this mess of having managers try and wear both hats, neither with attaining their full potential in either one? Well, the first thing is don't make the manager have to be the bad guy. Now how do you do that? Because we all know that part of the role of the manager is to, for example, collect money. Well, let's try and change over to online rent payment. In our company we went from 0% online to now we are at roughly 92%. And that's in a pretty short span of time.
0:02:16.9 Frank Rolfe: How did we do that? Well, we really worked at it. We went to the residents and explained to them how much easier their life would be, how much better things would be, if they would only pay online. And we found that if we kept at it, if we kept going to them and nudging them along and telling them if they got signed up to do online rent payment, they would also get such things as the online newsletter. We ultimately turned the tide and we became a company that is mostly with online rent payment. And the great news of that is in that position the resident doesn't always think of going to the manager as a moment where they have to pay rent because nobody likes to pay rent. No one likes the physical act of having to go and give a check or a money order to the manager. So right off the bat you're getting rid of that monthly reminder that all the manager is good for is taking your money. So online rent payment is a great start as far as getting them out of the role of being the bad person. Secondly, allow them to deflect on the issues that make them bad people to the resident.
0:03:26.5 Frank Rolfe: Deflect that back to the management company. Now even if you only own one property you still wanna have a management company. The management company is gonna hire the manager and oversee the manager. And that needs to be the identity of who the main person is to the resident. Because it's one thing if the manager is acting on behalf of the management company. And it's a whole nother thing if they appear, if the optics are to the resident that the manager is doing these things based on their own desire to do it. So if someone goes in and complains to the manager and says, "Wait, why do I have to get the non-running vehicle out of my yard?" The manager can say, "Well, the management company told me it has to go." And therefore you've deflected the anger. If they say, "I don't wanna get rid of my dangerous breed of dog," then you can say, "Well I understand because, gosh, I also have had pets throughout my entire life. But the management company says you can't have it." Now the resident can then go to the management company and yell and scream all they would like to probably into a non-answered line because it's not really an actionable item.
0:04:37.5 Frank Rolfe: But it's very very important that you get the manager out of being in that ultimate role where the buck stops here. Let them deflect over to the management company. Also, put together a helpline. Have the helpline with an 800 number and an email address the residents can contact in the event of a problem. Because once again you're deflecting things off the manager. They can then call the helpline if they like and complain about that rent increase or complain about that citation for not having the grass at an acceptable height. But then again, that takes one more bit of pressure off the manager as far as not looking like the good guy to the residents. Also try and hold more events and things around the property to help put the manager in a good light. For example, we like to do spring cleanup events. As spring approaches next year that's one thing we'll do in probably every property. We typically bring a roll off dumpster in and we unite all the residents to put all the trash and all the things that accumulated over the winter into that. And we additionally go through the property, lot by lot, with the residents cleaning things up, painting things.
0:05:53.3 Frank Rolfe: It's a great way to unite the residents together in the common community spirit. But it's also a great way to make your manager the hero. Because there's also typically a free meal that comes with this event. Normally a lunch, catered. It can be barbecue, Mexican food, whatever you like to do. And this makes the manager appear more like the goodwill ambassador and less like the mean person. Also get out a newsletter to your residents and have the nice parts of the newsletter. Recipe of the month. Things like that. Have those come from the manager. Give the manager the identity of someone who people like. Someone who is just like them. Someone who they can go and talk to. Because you really want to get your manager into that positive, positive role.
0:06:40.1 Frank Rolfe: Recently someone built a brand new mobile home park out in Austin. It's not really a mobile home park. It's a tiny home community. Very high end. Every home in there over a hundred thousand dollars and lot rent of about a thousand a month. And they were trying every way possible to take away the standard identity of being a trailer park. And instead, make it into some kind of upscale hybrid. And they renamed every role in the mobile home park. And instead of having the mobile home park manager they instead elected to change the name to relationship ambassador and customer service specialist. Because they don't want to have people going to the manager in a negative light. In most mobile home parks today one of the big features of the managers... If you talk to anyone in our organization who works with managers on a regular basis and watches the skills of those who do the best job performance, what do we always notice? They are people people, people who really like talking to other people, have a happy attitude, happy disposition. That's really the future of our industry.
0:07:37.4 Frank Rolfe: Because what we have lying before us in most properties is trying to fill those last remaining lots, bringing in homes to sell, or in some cases with some operators to rent. Trying to get everything just perfect for the inevitable increase in lot rents. Because that's kind of where the industry is going. Our rents are so low, so ridiculously low that the final chapter of the mobile home park business is bringing our lot rents more in line with market forces. It makes no sense having the average lot rent in the US at $300 a month when the average apartment is at over $2000 a month. It makes no sense having lot rents at $300 a month when the average single family home is at $400,000. In fact, it makes so little sense that people are befuddled with why it ever occurred. There's an economist from Duke University that studied the phenomenon and his conclusion was that moms and pops have simply never kept up their rents with inflation.
0:08:53.3 Frank Rolfe: When most mobile home parks were built, the lot rents were typically what is in today's dollar $500 to $600 a month. However, instead they're roughly half that nationwide. I think that's probably a pretty good reason why things aren't what they are. But as a result it means we've got a lot of room to grow those rents over time. And it's gonna be a big focus. And the only way you're gonna get there is for residents to believe they're getting a good value and to be happy in your community. And there's no way you're gonna accomplish that if people are afraid of or angry at the manager. That's why it's very very important that all of us work on a continual basis to get the manager out of that evil bad role. It's simply not good for business.
0:09:44.5 Frank Rolfe: If you go to most high end condominium complexes or apartment complexes, what do you typically find in the manager? You find a very professional yet very friendly person. Someone that really knows the product and really wants to help. Someone who would never ever think at yelling at a resident or saying anything mean because they know that at the end of the day what will make them a success is by having residents like them and in liking them they'll be willing to pay higher rent to occupy more units. There's an old saying, you catch more flies with sugar than you do with vinegar and it's very very true. As we try and grow as an industry and try and go to the next level and attract higher end residents who are willing to pay higher rents, keep up their property in a better condition, pay the ever higher prices for new and used mobile homes, it's absolutely critical that we put managers where they are only seen as a goodwill ambassador. Choose managers going forward that have really good people skills. Don't choose managers just because you believe that they can strong-arm residents to get the job done on collections and rules.
0:11:04.4 Frank Rolfe: Every mobile home park goes through phases like a rocket ship and typically on the first stage of the turnaround you often do have to have someone who can play the tough guy to get the job done. But after you've completed that stage, really that's no longer the essential skill. The bottom line to it all is we all need to work as an industry to try and make managers somebody the residents like, that they admire, that they listen to, that they look to as someone to give them customer satisfaction because all of us in all mobile home parks we will all have a better business model when there is no longer confusion as to the role of the manager. This is Frank Rolfe, the Mobile Home Park Mastery podcast. Hope you enjoyed this. Talk to you again soon.