The first quarter is over, and it’s time to assess your performance in relation to your goals. If you already own a mobile home park, then this performance is measured in numbers. If you are trying to acquire a community, then it’s measured in time. Regardless of what you are trying to achieve, the end of the quarter is an essential time for reflection. We are huge believers in the importance of setting goals and measuring our relative success or failure in meeting them. One trait that most successful community owners have in common is a ritual of establishing goals and measuring them. If you have not developed your goals for 2017, then there’s still three quarters to go, so start today. For more of our thoughts on goal-setting, read the article below titled “Budgets are your GPS – use them!”.
Memo From Frank & Dave
Budgets Are Your GPS – Use Them!
We drive mobile home parks all the time. These drives often include multiple stops, driving at night, and unfamiliar routes. As a result, we are addicted to our GPS. We use it to predict arrival times and to keep us going in the right direction. But it also gives us infinite piece of mind to know that we are making the right turns, and not missing that essential exit number in a rainstorm. To us, budgets are just like that GPS. They keep you on the right path and give you a sense of security and well-being.
A tool you can trust
We don’t know who invented the GPS concept. We don’t even really know how it works. But it’s never let us down. And the same is true of using a budget. Even the ancient Egyptians utilized budgets to build the pyramids and to analyze taxation – it goes back to the beginnings of time. We have never heard of a budget – properly constructed – that did not give out the fair and impartial performance results desired. Can you trust a budget as the ultimate analytical tool? Absolutely.
A huge value – it’s essentially free
Once you buy a GPS, it’s free to use. You don’t even have to buy a budget. If you want to do it with pen and paper, or on your laptop, then it’s zero cost. But if you want utilize more extensive software, there might be some small additional expense. But budgeting is essentially a low-cost initiative and, therefore, there is no reason for any community owner to be lacking a decent budget to work from.
Guidance on all decisions
When we’re driving down the highway, and we want to go to McDonalds, we know roughly where the highway is to get back on our route. Budgets can give your mobile home park a similar sense of direction. If you are behind on your occupancy budget, and a customer walks in and offers you cash for a home that’s a little less than you’d hoped, you’re still going to take it, while you might not be so desperate if you were ahead of your budget. The budget can serve as a higher authority even if you own the mobile home park yourself, as you can say “that doesn’t really fit my budget” and everyone knows that that means.
But make sure they are reasonable
While budgets are a terrific tool, they are a disaster if they are not built from accurate expectations. If you plug “Nash, Oklahoma” into your GPS you will never end up in “Nash, Texas”. One of the biggest mistakes that many park buyers make is to “engineer” the deal by over-estimating the revenue and underestimating the expenses. That can turn a predicted $50,000 of net income into $70,000 on paper. But you’ll never hit those estimates, and you’ll miss your budget every month. Worse yet, you’ve fooled yourself into believing that you can hit those values, and overpaid for the property.
Don’t re-set them
If you change the destination in the GPS constantly, you eventually lose track of where you actually wanted to go. Budgets are the same. If it turns out that your estimations were completely off-base, then don’t change them immediately. Because you need to know how bad you missed the target and that will keep you prepared for the ramifications from that. The U.S. government is the worst at this. With every budget shortfall, they simply raise the budget again. That’s why the Federal Debt has risen to close to $20 trillion. They would have been better off never having changed the budget, and that would have put a greater sense of urgency in balancing the books.
Select a frequency that is a good use of time
So how often do you check your budget vs. actual performance? For most park owners, the correct time frame is monthly. Daily would be overkill and not an efficient use of time. But annually is way too far apart – by the time you figure out your problems you missed out on an entire year of time to fix them.
Have a consistent method of analyzing your budget vs. actual.
Most park owners call this the Budget/Actual/Difference meeting or B/A/D. Here’s the typical structure. You have your budget in one column. You have your actual performance in the second column. You have the actual dollars and cents impact in the third column. Many park owners augment this with a yellow highlighter on anything that went wrong over a set dollar amount (maybe $100). This will focus you on the biggest problems easily and visually. The sum of your successes vs. budget (positive cash) will be offset by your failures (negative cash) and their total is the amount you errored from your budgeted goal.
Be honest with yourself and admit your failures
There’s nothing worse than the park owner that won’t admit they screwed up. They rationalize, they argue, they waste a ton of time instead of focusing on fixing the situation. It’s like an alcoholic – they can’t make progress until they admit they have the disease. Admitting you made a mistake does not make you any less of a person. Everyone has done it, from Warren Buffett to Walmart (don’t forget those 150 Walmart Neighborhood Markets that they had to shut down recently as a total failure).
There is always a path to redemption
One nice thing about a GPS is that, nobody where you are, it can still get you back – even if you just drove 1,000 miles in the wrong direction. If you have missed your budget by a huge margin, you can still win the game if you can beat the budget an equal amount going forward. Redemption is always possible as long as you know the path to redemption. The worst thing you can do, if you fail to meet your budget, is to throw it away. Never, ever, abandon your budget – that’s the worst thing possible. Acknowledge what went wrong, and what you have to do to make it back, even if it takes years to accomplish.
A simple budget is one of the most powerful tools in the mobile home park sector. If you want to succeed, then you have to persistently adopt and use one. Buying and operating a mobile home park in the absence of a budget is as crazy as owning a GPS and not using it on a long drive.
MJ Vukovich: The New Power In MH Loan Brokerage
MJ Vukovich is a well-known figure in the mobile home park industry. He is a third-generation park owner, and literally grew up in the business. A couple years ago he started adding to his skill set with loan brokerage, and ultimately became a part of Bellwether Enterprise, one of the largest mortgage originators in the U.S. And even better yet, if you do a loan with MJ, let him know we referred you and MHU will give you a $500 gift card to the home improvement store of your choice upon loan closing.
To get ahold of MJ for questions or to get the loan process going, email him at [email protected] or call him at 612-335-7740.
Announcing The Winners Of Our Park Owner Video Contest
To us, 2017 is the Year of the Video. For too long, the MH industry has operated in a potential vacuum when it comes to disseminating what owning and operating a mobile home park is all about. For some bizarre reason our industry has chosen to sit silently by while the rest of the world actually makes a proactive effort to explain what they do and show pride in their work. For our part, we decided to make a video on the unfair stigma that mobile home park residents are often faced with and enter it into the Telluride Film Festival. While we didn’t win, if even one person watched it and thought “maybe I was wrong about the MH industry” then it was a total success.
In tandem with our making the film, we held a video contest for all community owners, that simply required that they walk or drive around their property and tell its story. We received some terrific entries, and were very impressed by the quality and thoughtfulness of these videos. Here are the winners of the contest.
First Place: Brian Gallagher - Tri Star Estates
Second Place: Rob Thaler & Josh Kroll - Mill Creek Estates
Third Place: Brian Trippe - Birmingham Mobile Home Park
We invite everyone who gets this newsletter to send us a video tour of you and your mobile home park. We will be using these videos to advance the knowledge of our industry to the general and investing public, and to show people that community owners are not a bunch of nuts but respectable investors who provide affordable housing to millions of Americans.
Why Mobile Insurance Is The Best Protection At Affordable Prices
Whether you are simply in need of an insurance quote or you have the unfortunate, yet common task, of filing a claim, Mobile Insurance is ready and waiting to take your call. We’ve used Mobile Insurance for over a decade, and their superior service is known throughout the industry. Kurt, the owner of Mobile Insurance, is a top resource for any park insurance question, and they provide free quotes on parks that you are acquiring. That’s why around 2,000 park owners in the U.S. are Mobile Insurance customers.
Mobile Insurance can help you engineer the policy you need to cover all your concerns, and their prices are unbelievably low. Being able to contact them when you need them is just as important. We recommend that every park buyer call them first, as we know of no other group that has the same expertise, quality of service, and low prices. Call them at 800-458-4320 or email [email protected]
When A Mobile Home Park Becomes A City
We have one property on Wikipedia. It’s our mobile home park formerly known as Oso Grande, located just south of Dallas. You’ll find it here under the “History” section of this article. It made it to internet celebrity status because it was ground zero for the city of Glenn Heights, which now has a population of 12,042. We also have another community called Jeffco Estates. It was built in 1954 and pre-dates the City of Arnold, Missouri, which now has a population of 21,357. Perhaps the most famous example is The Villages in Florida, which began as a single mobile home park and now has a population of 61,046. So why did so many cities begin with a mobile home park? One reason may be that mobile home parks were often built on the fringe of the city limits of big cities (Dallas, St. Louis and Ocala in the examples above) and were in the prime position for future suburbs. But do these cities remember their roots and appreciate the mobile home parks that were the very catalyst for the town? No, they suffer from faulty memory on that topic.
A Story About Dave DiMarco
The best corporate lawyer we have ever used is Dave DiMarco at Woods Oviatt Gilman, LLP. We have used him on virtually all of our conduit loans, as well as traditional bank loans. What we love about Dave DiMarco is that he knows what we are trying to accomplish (get the loan closed quickly and inexpensively) and he can quarterback the situation and push it to the goal line without us having to bug him or worry about our progress. Here’s a story that illustrates why we use Dave Dimarco.
A few years ago we bought a mobile home park and, after turning it around, went to refinance it into conduit debt. Everything looked great until the lender’s counsel found a minor problem with the title: a city street that fed into the park actually belonged to the park and not the city. On top of that there was around 16 square feet of land that the park owner had not obtained an easement for 40 years ago, and that made one side of the city’s road in jeopardy. Now, the whole situation was ridiculous, as the city itself was adamant that they owned the street. In fact, state law mandated that, under adverse possession, they had owned the street for decades. It even showed as the city’s street on the street map. However, the impossible-to-please lender would not move forward unless we could obtain a letter from a judge stating that the city owned the street – which could take months or years. So Dave DiMarco ran out and located the owner of the 16 square feet, initiated negotiations, and we bought the easement. It saved the day on that loan. No other attorney on earth would have taken that outside the box effort. We knew then that Dave Dimarco was our man.
If you need service like that, then consider using Dave DiMarco on your next transaction. You can reach him at (585) 987-2833. And, yes, he’s the brother of Anthony and Gerry DiMarco – the #1 mobile home park loan brokers in the U.S. This is a family that definitely shapes the industry.
Welcome Baskets Are A Great Idea
When our residents move in to every one of our vacant mobile homes – whether new or used – they will find a little basket in the kitchen. This “Welcome” basket is there to start them off on the right foot, offering items that they will surely need but may of forgotten to pack or buy prior to the move. These baskets cost around $20 total, and they pay huge dividends.
Affirms the resident’s selection of a place to live
Everyone suffers from “buyers remorse” – the self-doubt that comes with any big-ticket purchase. “Did I make the right selection?” “Did I pay too much?” To help offset that natural state these Welcome baskets help them to agree that they did make the right choice and will be happy living in the community. It’s a small gesture, but it has a big impact.
These baskets also immediately create goodwill with the customer. There is always some degree of strain on the relationship between the tenant and landlord, but the Welcome basket essentially says “we care about you having a positive experience in our property” and “we’re not just about the money since we didn’t have to give this to you”. This little bit of bonding will go a long way if the power gets knocked out in a storm or someone at work says “I’m thinking about living in that mobile home park you live in – what do you think about the place?”
Simple and low cost – a “no-brainer”
If these baskets cost $500, you might have to give due consideration if they are really worth the money. But at $20, how can you not do this? And they are super simple to provide. You simply go to the local “dollar store” and buy a large basket and about 16 household items, such as toilet paper, Kleenex, Lysol, etc. Use $2 to buy one pack of tissue paper and one ribbon, and the final $1 to buy a card. Then build the basket and put the card on top which reads “Welcome to [name of the community], from Management”.
If you are selling or renting homes in your community, you are missing out if you are not providing your new residents Welcome baskets. You should start today.
Why We Love Clayton’s CASH Program So Much
As many people know, we are the largest users of 21st Mortgage/Clayton Home’s CASH program in the U.S. We have around 1,000 homes in our parks under this initiative. So why are we such huge fans of CASH?
- It allows you to fill your vacant lots with no money out of pocket.
- You are not the home owner: the customer is the buyer and 21st is the lender.
- 21st Mortgage handles all the paperwork, so you do not have to be SAFE Act licensed.
- 21st does a terrific job of screening applicants, and has very low defaults.
We’re not alone in our excitement for this program, as the number of homes ordered under CASH has more than doubled this year from a variety of park owners, both large and small.
For more information on this program, call Candice Doolan at 800-955-0021 ext 1735 or email her at [email protected].
Why A Mix Of Home Ages Is Best In Any Park
Virtually every community you drive through is almost like visiting a mobile home museum. There are flat roofs from the 1950s to 1970s, round roofs from the 1980s and pitched roofs from the 1990s and up. And we prefer that type of distribution of ages – we like that better than situations where all of the homes are new. And there’s good reason for that.
Homes that are “paid for” rarely leave the property
One advantage to older homes is that they have no mortgage. As a result, they never leave the property. At a cost of between $3,000 to $5,000 to move a mobile home from Point A to Point B, a resident can never afford this – but a bank foreclosure department can. With the repo man the only danger to a home leaving the community, a “paid for” home is your safest form of revenue.
Residents that don’t have a mortgage are more able to pay their lot rent
A home without a mortgage also derives a resident who has more expendable cash flow, so they are much better prepared to handle life emergencies. A car repair or medical bill will not derail the payment of lot rent. A “paid for” home represents a very dependable customer.
Greater pride of ownership typically in older homes – and more cash flow to keep them up
Some of the nicest homes in our communities are the older ones. They reflect the best care and maintenance and also the highest levels of “pride of ownership”. There are various explanations for this, but clearly the fact that you own the home free and clear is a huge driver to being willing to make significant capital investment in such issues as carports and landscaping. And not having a mortgage makes these additions possible from a financial perspective.
But there are benefits to having some newer homes, too
As much as we love old homes, we like to have some newer homes in a community, as well. It represents an affirmation that the property is desirable for new homes, and that the city will let us bring new homes in. It also is seen favorably by appraisers that the property is adaptable to new home sizes and designs, and just lifts the property aesthetically. A park filled with old homes but with new homes on either side of the entrance will see a higher appraised value than one without the new homes.
The ideal mix for most properties
So when you add it all together, what do you get? The ideal age of homes is a mix of old and new. The older homes represent stability of income, and the newer homes represent superior aesthetics. If you have vacant lots to fill, place the newer homes in the most visible lots to show them off – typically corner lots or the lots nearest the entrance.
But some lenders have not learned this yet
Although most lenders have learned the benefits of older homes – including the big New York conduit ones – the new “agency” lenders (Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac) still prefer newer homes and even demand doublewides in the mix on some properties. So if you are going to seek “agency” debt on a mobile home park, you might get a tighter handle on their current home age requirements.
Old mobile homes are stable homes. They pay their rent and demonstrate superior pride of ownership. They never leave your property (although residents may rotate in and out over time) and represent a totally consistent revenue stream. But having some new homes in the mix is even better.
Don’t Miss The Next Live Event
The last MHU Investor’s Club Live Event was in our conference room in Denver, CO, where we met with our key staff members and heard the latest strategies on everything from home sales to collections to buying used homes. If you would like to be a part of these events, contact Brandon at [email protected] or at (855) 879-2738. Our next Live Event is going to be a tour of a park that we have just purchased and is in total turn-around mode – so we can walk around and discuss the plans and watch things being done.
The Importance Of School District
One of the key drivers in making a good deal a great deal is an outstanding school district. Mobile home park customers are extremely aware of school district and desire to live where their kids can attend the best schools possible. One of the biggest amenities you can offer customers is a good school district.
A huge draw for customers
When I got into the mobile home park business, I never thought that school district would be of any importance to my customers. My first park, Glenhaven, is in a terrible school district and I had no idea that it mattered. But all that changed when I bought my park in East Texas. I ran the ad in the newspaper and my phone rang off the hook – and every single call only cared about one thing: the school district it was in. Apparently, to get into that school district you had two basic choices – either a $250,000 brick house of the mobile home park. So the property attracted a much higher class of customer than Glenhaven had ever seen. I went from minimum wage customers to bank tellers earning $30,000+ per year, and I knew I was on to something. Dave experienced the exact same phenomenon in his first few park buys.
A reflection of community culture
Great school districts are created by many factors. One is demographics but another is the culture of the community. Mobile home park residents – despite often lower incomes – often are very attentive parents and flock to areas that are family centered. Good school districts have focused parents and that spills over into everything from high-school football to the drama club. All of this is extremely attractive to mobile home park residents.
An attribute of more desirable city features
Cities that support great school districts typically also have low crime, high property values, high levels of education and superior amenities, such as city parks and recreation centers. So the school district is often the end result of other attractive features. I’ve never seen a great school district in a bad neighborhood, although I’m sure it exists. Most of the time, the most desirable part of town is where the best schools are found.
A huge part of a successful supply/demand equation
If you assume that good schools are desirable, and that good schools are rare, then to own a mobile home park in a good school district yields a valuable asset. Typically there are only maybe three or four mobile home parks in that school district, so you have extremely valuable supply/demand issues. In my park in East Texas, there were only three mobile home parks of any size in that school district. Over time, I purchased all three and had a monopoly – you had to live in one of my parks if you could not afford a brick home. That was a great position to be in, and lot rents went up significantly as a result.
School districts rarely diminish. I have never seen a school district decline from great to bad. It’s a very stable attraction that lasts for decades. If I had to bet on a school district or a certain employer – such as Google – I’d bet on the school district. Employers are not geographic specific, and are subject to moving. But school districts – the cumulative sum of students, teachers and parents – are immobile.
School districts are a huge driver to mobile home park demand. Don’t ever underestimate their impact. They are a great sign of many positive market attributes. A desirable school district always seems to equate to a profitable park deal.
Why Mike Renz Is The Only Name You Need For Phase I Environmental Reports
You can’t buy a mobile home park without doing a Phase I – you could lose everything if it turns out to have environmental pollution on it. So who do you choose to do the report? We choose Mike Renz. Mike is the consummate professional and his range of knowledge is unparalleled. Here’s an example. We were buying a mobile home park and it failed the Phase I. Most people would have given up, but Renz knew that something did not seem right. It seems that a disgruntled manager had called the EPA and claimed that the owner had been operating an illegal land fill at the back of the property, yet Renz saw no evidence of this on aerial photos. So he did some quick borings and found the claim was a lie and the EPA removed it from their database. Case closed and park purchased. That’s the reason that we refer so many people to Mike Renz. Have you ever seen the “Beard of Knowledge” character on the show Pawn Stars – the guy who is a walking encyclopedia of all trivia? Well, for environmental issues, Mike Renz is that guy.
You can contact Mike Renz at (614) 538-0451.
Applying The Scientific Method To Community Ownership
Wikipedia defines “scientific method” as “systematic observation, measurement, and experiment, and the formulation, testing, and modification of hypotheses”. Smart mobile home park owners engage in this behavior 24/7, and their business is always improving as a result.
Keep an open mind – never pre-judge
The initial starting spot for many new concepts comes from simply having an open mind. Never think to yourself “this is the ultimate collections method” and then tune out any new information on that topic. The mobile home industry itself was born from a curious manufacturer who asked the highway department if it was possible to build something on wheels that exceeded 8’ in width – the standard for RVs – and the 10’ wide mobile home was created. Equally important is to never pre-judge the results of ideas without testing them. If the Wright Brothers had followed common wisdom, they would have stuck with the bicycle industry.
Don’t be afraid to try new things – as long as you measure the results
Sam Walton was once walking through a WalMart and a clerk ran up and said “how come the walls are grey – we’d sell a whole lot more if they were a bright color?” People were shocked that this department clerk would ask such a question, but then Walton responded “you know, you might be right. I want you to paint the walls a brighter color, and compare that month’s sales to the month prior. If they go up, then we’ll repaint all the stores that color. But if they’re flat or decline, you have to paint them back.” That’s always the right attitude. Sam Walton lived by the motto “try it, test it, fix it” and that’s how we was able to build a dime store into the largest retailer in the world.
Never get emotionally involved in decision making
One of the worst things you can do in life is to make decisions, not based on fact, but on emotional issues like who’s idea it was to begin with or what’s your initial guess at the outcome would be. This is particularly true when doing due diligence on a mobile home park to buy. You have to be able to look at the information impartially and not because “I need this park for my 1031 and my time is running out” or “this park would be perfect because it’s so near my house” or “I spent so much time in due diligence, I have to have something to show for it”. Scientific method is all about coming up with a hypothesis, testing it, and making a conclusion – and you will corrupt this process if you don’t remain impartial.
Park owners and buyers who practice the Scientific Method always have superior results to those who don’t try new things or measure their success of failure. While all of them may not be the Theory of Relativity, even the smallest idea – properly tested and analyzed – can have a huge cumulative effect.
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