Mobile Home Park Mastery: Episode 317

The Truth About Self-Managing Your Park

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Particularly on smaller parks or parks near your home, it’s always tempting to “self-manage”. But is that a good idea? In this Mobile Home Park Mastery podcast, we’re going to explore the truth about self-managing a mobile home park and identify the good and bad aspects – as well as the alternatives.

Episode 317: The Truth About Self-Managing Your Park Transcript

We know that every mobile home park must have a manager, but should that manager be you? This is Frank Rolfe of Mobile Home Park Mastery Podcast. We're gonna talk about the truth behind self-managing mobile home parks, both good and bad. Now, Dave Raynolds, my partner, always self-managed his early parks. He'd buy a mobile home park and he'd actually move into the park while he did the renovations to it. And I also self-managed, in-person, my early mobile home park Glenhaven for one entire year. I sat in the little office there at the park, a little trailer. And I self-managed the turnaround, leasing of the lots, the selling of the homes, everything. And then it begs the question, was that a good or a bad idea? Well, let's start off with the good attributes to self-managing.

The first big one is, you then have much greater control over what happens because you're physically there. So there's no question if you want 100% control, if you want to micro-manage your heart out, then being there at the park all day every day is the way to make that happen. Because you don't delegate at all. You basically are the sole actor, the sole decision maker in everything that goes on. And that typically translates into having a faster and more effective turnaround. Also when you self-manage, you learn a lot about the business firsthand right there in the trenches. I have to say, I probably learned more from Glenhaven than any other park I ever bought because I knew nothing about the business when I got into it. So my learning curve was faster and stronger and higher self-managing than it was later when I didn't self-manage.

So if you wanna learn the business, again, self-managing is probably a good way to get that going. And of course then you have the cost aspect. If you self-manage, your management cost is basically zero because you don't pay yourself, so it's just your time. So if you're trying to cut the cost down to the absolute minimum on the management side, then self-management would get the job done. But now let's go over some of the downside items to self-managing a mobile home park. The first one is, it can really be culture shock. I know that at Glenhaven, when I self-managed Glenhaven coming out of the environment of being in an office building, wearing typically a coat and tie during the day, meeting with other business owners that also owned coats and ties back in my billboard days, to then being at Glenhaven was a little strange. Some would have said it was a little depressing.

Now, I tried to break through the depressing saying, "Well, wait a minute here. I'm trying to learn about a business." But you can't say that vaulting yourself from your normal life and to mobile home park living is not a little bit of systemic shock. And some people are not going to like that. And I myself can truthfully say when I first started managing at Glenhaven, I didn't much like that either. It was not the kind of thing I was accustomed to. So the first downside is, it can kind of get you a little depressed. The next item you need to know is, it can be incredibly boring. Now, you might say, "Why is that? How could that be incredibly boring?" Well, the problem is not much goes on in a mobile home park. When I first bought Glenhaven and I was trying to get things fixed and homes readied and paint things and patching the potholes and trimming trees and getting rid of all the junk, it was pretty active for a short time in the front end.

I'd have the old roll-off dumpster brought in and start picking up all the trash. Okay, that was exciting. A lot of action then. You had a lot of satisfaction from a day's work. And it was true of all the early big stuff, painting the laundry building, taking old vacant homes and repainting the exterior and the interior. But pretty soon, we went from that mode into more of the mode of just a lot of time passing with not much to do. So as a result, what ended up happening at Glenhaven while I was there in the little office every day, is I really segued more into adult daycare. I had certain residents in there that were very, very bored themselves, very lonely, and they would gravitate towards the office. And in so doing, it entertained them, but there really wasn't much going on productive really for me. So as a resolve, managing, which I thought would be a daily affair of excitement and interaction with customers, isn't really what happened.

Now, it was still important for me when we were getting things done in the early days to be there to pay that contractor and tell that vendor, "Wait, no, that's the wrong color." Right? "That isn't the paint color I chose." But the problem is that they did the work. So in a typical day, I might meet with people once in the morning, "What's going on?" Once in the evening, look at what had happened, but I wasn't physically doing it. I was kind of just hanging out in the office. And so after a while that got to be a real grind. It really, really got boring. You know the problem you have when you're in the office all day when you're self-managing the park? Is that you start thinking about the fact you simply do have better uses for your time. 'Cause that's true, pretty much. So being a manager of a mobile home park, while a valuable skill and an important asset for any mobile home park owner, it's not typically something that you couldn't delegate for a lot less money.

I mean, how much do you pay a manager? If you say, "Well, I pay my manager $12 an hour." Well, it then begs the question, is your time only worth $12 an hour, or is your time worth far more than that? And if the answer is "No, no, my time is worth way more than that. My time is worth $100 an hour or $200 an hour or $500 an hour." Then what in the world are you doing sitting in that mobile home park office? Get somebody else in there to lower cost and go out and do something more productive. Finally, another big problem when you self-manage is that you get too involved in things that are not really important for the business because you're kind of bored and you mean well, but you start to micro-manage ridiculous things. And that's when I knew at Glenhaven I really had gotten myself in trouble. It was the saga of the laundry building paint color. What happened was Glenhaven's laundry buildings looked terrible, they had horrible repair.

All the paint was peeling off them, and I decided, let's paint them, but let's paint them instead of the old off-white color that they were, which showed so poorly with age and discoloration, instead we paint them a green color that I thought was more tasteful. So I went down to the paint store and I got a bunch of paint and I hired a painter, and we painted the laundry buildings, and I didn't like the color green. The first green we had, it didn't look right to me. It was like too lime color. So I said, "Painter, I don't like that green. Let's repaint the buildings again." And they said, "Well, I'm going to charge you the full amount to repaint them again right because it's not my fault. You chose the green." And I said, "Yeah, yeah, I know." So I went down, I got some more paint chips, I stared at them, I ordered again. This time it came out too jeweled color.

It wasn't that nice, attractive green that we all see on the National Park Service equipment that blends in so well. No, this green was more obnoxious. It was more of a Kelly Green, kind of tacky. So here I was again back to the painter, "Painter, we gotta paint these buildings again." Well, the guy thought I was an idiot, an absolute nut. Because who in the world is this focused on the shade of green of a laundry building? But I was. So after the third time of painting the buildings, I thought, "Oh, okay, now I've achieved the right color." But you know what? We shouldn't have done it more than the first time. Nobody cared. Everyone thought after the first one, "Well, it looked so much better." They didn't care that the green was a little off from what I had anticipated, and I started to do that on almost everything.

I knew I'd really had bought it when I actually hired an architect to try and help me redesign how to make Glenhaven more architecturally important and attractive. And I was very close and was toying with the idea of taking all of the old flat-roofed homes in Glenhaven and painting them a terra-cotta color, painting the doors turquoise, and getting logs and sawing the logs off in little one foot increments, and then affixing those to the tops of the homes so it looks like some kind of expensive New Mexico installation, like something you would see in Taos or Santa Fe. And fortunately, I then realized I had gone truly mad that I was way, way gilding the lily, that I was gone overboard and had started to segue from realizing that it was a business, and that instead it was some kind of weird art form, because I was so bored in trying to find meaning for my time.

The bottom line to it is that for most mobile home parks, the best choice for someone to manage it is a manager, not yourself. Now, in certain occasions, you may decide on a very temporary basis that you should self-manage because there's so much going on in the turnaround, the number of dollars are so large and there's so much at stake. But for most people, the best selection is simply for you to manage your manager appropriately, but delegate all the day-to-day tasks to your manager. That doesn't mean that you have to step out of the picture entirely. You can still call that manager every day. You call them in the morning to see what's going on today, and in the afternoon, "Okay, what happened today?"

Over time as the park gets turned around, you probably will no longer have calls that frequently, maybe just once a week. And don't forget, there's all kinds of technology today that you carry in your pocket, namely your cellphone and their cellphone. And they can communicate with you and you can communicate with them at any time using such items as texting a photo, or even FaceTime. Delegation of managing parks is not that difficult today 'cause you still feel very much in control, thanks to technology. And if you know what you're doing and you play smart strategy, you will probably be better off managing that mobile home park from afar. This is Frank Rolfe of Mobile Home Park Mastery Podcast. Hope you enjoyed this. Talk to you again soon.