Mobile Home Park Mastery: Episode 241

Things Haven’t Changed Much In 67 Years

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One of the few books ever written about mobile home parks was the 1955 “How to Build and Operate a Mobile Home Park” by L.C. Michelon. What’s amazing about this book is how little has changed over the decades regarding what makes a mobile home park successful. In this Mobile Home Park Mastery podcast we’re going to discuss all the similarities reflected in the book and why they continue to hold true.

Episode 241: Things Haven’t Changed Much In 67 Years Transcript

If you ever get bored, you might go on eBay or Etsy and put in the search bar, mobile home park, you'll be amazed at a lot of the historical nostalgic items that are available: Postcards, books, pamphlets. I've been buying on there for years, and I think I have about one of everything at this point, so feel free to go on and shop and you're not gonna hurt my feelings. One of the strange items I picked up over the years was the 1955 book called "How to Build and Operate A Mobile Home Park" by an author named LC Michelon. Now, Michelon apparently was not only a college professor, but he also built a mobile home park down in Florida, and he then wrote a book about the experience of how it worked. It's one of the earliest books I've ever seen on the industry where it actually discusses in graphic detail how in the world it works, what the purpose is, what the point is, how to make money with it. This is Frank Rolfe, the Mobile Home Park Mastery podcast. We're gonna talk about so much that is similar today to how it was back in Michelon's time, now 67 years ago.

Now, in one section of the book, he talks about all the many things that a mobile home park location must have to succeed. So here is his list. Number one, proximity to a good shopping center. That is his number one item. Well, we find that true today. Now, much has changed in America. A lot of people do shop online, but we have always found that the parks that have the greatest success are ones that are near such items as a Walmart, because the very fact that retail, big retail exists in the market where your park is, is a good foretelling clue that that is a market that has a really strong future. As we all know, Walmart does probably the best due diligence in America when they select their locations, they rarely pick a loser. Normally, the city kind of grows around where the Walmart is, not because Walmart is there, but because they're that good at predicting future growth. So I would totally agree with Michelon, yes, proximity to a good shopping center is still an important clue, but probably to these days, just the existence of Walmart and Home Depot and those type of big box retailers.

Number two, availability of city water and sewer lines. Yes, once again, we definitely do prefer mobile home parks that have municipal water and sewer. We do buy, and you can buy parks that have private utilities if you've thoroughly vetted them in due diligence, and that still works out fine, but I think we would all agree that most park owners would prefer city water and city sewer. Frontage on hard-surfaced roads or arterial highways. Yes, absolutely. I think in today's world, if you're not fronting on a paved road, where in the world are you? It's one thing to have a park on gravel road, a whole another thing to have a park that is accessed from a city street made of gravel, so I would definitely agree with his third concept. Fourth one, nearness to resort areas or recreational facilities, not really that important today. When Michelon built his mobile home park down in Florida, bear in mind that in 1955, mobile home parks and RV parks were one and the same. So this has a little bit of the RV flavor on it. I don't think it's that important that you buy a mobile home park near a resort area or recreational facility, but of course, it doesn't hurt.

Next up to bat, availability of hospitals, movies, television, and so on. Yes, I think that is true. I think the people who live in mobile home parks, they want the same access to fun as everybody else, so the fact that you are near an environment that has such items as restaurants, and movie theaters, definitely, it would be a very important factor. Now, of course, television today is served by cable or by the internet. You don't have to be within a certain radius of a transmission tower like you did back in 1955, but I think the spirit is correct. People like to be around stuff. Next, a possibility of drawing on the permanent residents of a metropolitan city. Bingo, totally agree. Most every park buyer today wants to be in a metropolitan area. Most lenders, most buyers, most appraisers want that metropolitan area to be roughly about 100,000 or greater in population, but yes, he was as correct back then as it would be today. Next, strategic location in terms of transient traffic from all directions. However, be careful, do you not locate near heavy industry or railroad tracks where noise or objectionable odors prevail. Once again, very, very accurate here.

Not necessarily on the location being close to lots of transient traffic. That's a fallback to the RV industry, but you don't wanna have your park right next to a neighbor who's a nuisance. You would not wanna be next to a factory that emits horrible odors or makes all kinds of crazy noise and commotion. So again, I think he's correct. Next, characteristics of the area, that is, whether it is a growth, recession, or stability stage. We have long talked, and I've written many articles about the fact that you definitely wanna be in areas that are vibrant and growing and not in areas that are declining. Now, there's not a lot of areas in America that are declining. There are some in a micro example in every city, but in a macro example, it's hard to really pick places today. Detroit, Michigan used to take the brunt of all these discussions because Detroit showed nothing but ever declining population and industrial vibrancy, but now, it has kind of hit bottom and bounced back, but yes, Michelon is correct. You wanna be in areas that have a bright future and not a negative future.

Next, topography at a high level of land, because even back in 1955, people did not want to be in areas that flood, and ever since Hurricane Harvey, that's really been an important item because you don't wanna own a mobile home park where despite all your hard work and effort in filling lots and raising rents and doing everything perfectly, it's suddenly washed away by some random rainstorm, so yes, Michelon was correct. And then finally, proper zoning. Absolutely. You cannot buy and ever succeed with a park that is in fact illegal. Parks come in three categories, either legal conforming, which means still legal, legal nonconforming, which means grandfathered or illegal. The first two are fine, but the third is not, if you buy a park that is illegal, well, then your investment is effectively worthless. What you've bought is a piece of land and a use on that land which cannot continue on into the future. Further in the book, if you read on through, you'll see other glimpses of things regarding mobile home parks in 1955 that you'll say, Gosh, that looks pretty similar today. In his description of what it's like to own a mobile home park, it says, "On this land sets a new way of life, the mobile home community, you are the head of that community. If it were an elective office, you would probably be the mayor." Alright, well, that's true.

When you own a mobile home park, you control more than just an investment. You control the quality of life for all of the residents, and you are in fact, in many ways, in control of their destiny, so it's a very serious undertaking. It's very, very important. You've got to think not only in the small picture of you and making money, but also in the big picture, as far as you are responsible and how you run that business will definitely impact those who live there. So if you do not draw a line in the sand and be intolerant of people who, for example, don't follow the community rules, which are there for the benefit of all who live there, then you will be responsible basically for a decline in the quality of life of the residents, so yes, you are the mayor of the town. You're responsible, you're the one who is the face of that town to the general community, and the decisions you make are very, very important. It also says in the book in further descriptions of what it's like to have a mobile home park, you see to a new kind of community spirit. People no longer live in isolated homes, socially isolated from one another. They're now part of a self-contained community where people can have sociability when they want it, or privacy when they need it. That's one of the great strengths of mobile home parks. It was so spotlighted during the COVID crisis.

People learned they did not like attached forms of housing, they didn't like the inability to go outside and be in the yard. They like the privacy, but yet they also like the sense of community in mobile home parks. Park owners have realized for the longest time now that building that sense of community is one of your most important amenities. We have tried hard as has almost everyone else, to take every inch of green space we have in the park and make it into some kind of an amenity, places where they can meet, they can gather, they can have picnic tables and outdoor grills and playgrounds and whatever you can conceive that's going to go ahead and bring them some form of recreational pleasure, and a chance to meet each other is very, very important. The sense of community also spills over into such items as how you maintain the common areas, and just how you try to unite the residents together. We try to do spring clean up events annually, where we get all the residents together to help clean up the park. We also have a communal meal, help them meet each other. That's an important step. We try and produce newsletters. We think that's, again, important to unite people and bring them up to date on the news.

And just generally the attitude in the park, if your manager is very welcoming and very warm in their reception to the residents, greets them with a happy smile, those are the kinds of things to help build that sense of community. Time Magazine wrote an article called "The Home of the Future", and it all talked about the facts that mobile home parks were "the gated communities for the less affluent." Many people objected to that because mobile home parks are in fact not necessarily the haven of the less affluent, but they are like gated communities only often without the gates. There's a very strong sense of community present where all the residents get to know each other and support each other and that support network is very, very important to the quality of life. The bottom line to it all is that mobile home parks really have not changed on a macro level much over the last 67 years. It's kind of remarkable when you look at almost any of these items that you can buy online on eBay and Etsy, just how similar things are. Although you will notice one big item, it's true, the Michelon book and the many postcards you can buy at parks back in the '50s and the '60s, the product today is much more appealing than it was back then.

Even in Michelon's book when he shows photographs of what he considers to be the state of the art, the highest level of aesthetic experience, you'll look at those and say, "Gosh, that doesn't even look like what would be today considered a very undesirable property." It's simply because the homes have come so far in their outward appearance, and park owners have become so much better at building and maintaining their community appearance. Really, we're an industry that not only were we consistent with 1955, but we've come a long way. We're definitely a better product, a better business today than we were back then. This is Frank Rolfe, the Mobile Home Park Mastery podcast. I hope you enjoyed this. Talk to you again soon.