Cooper from Texas is a serial entrepreneur who started buying mobile home parks and now owns four with a couple more under contract. All of these are in South Texas which is where he lives. In this Lecture Series Event, Cooper reviews how he got into the mobile home park business, how he found and financed each park, what his lessons learned have been, and why he’s still buying more. The host is Frank Rolfe who not only taught Cooper at Boot Camp but also serves as the “human encyclopedia of all things mobile home park” according to the New York Times.
If you have been “on the border” of whether or not to explore mobile home park investing, then this event should help you in that decision. And if you’ve ever wondered about buying parks along the US border of Mexico, then this discussion covers that topic, as well.
The information is fast and fact-based and, unlike the national news, positive in nature.
On the Border of Buying Parks and Buying Parks on the Border - Transcript
Frank Rolfe: Welcome everybody to our lecture series event. This is Frank Rolfe here with mhu.com. We're gonna be talking about something we've titled "On the border" which has a... It's a double entendre. Number one, on the border about buying a mobile home park. And number two, on the border because that's where our guests Mobile Home Parks are. We have with us, Cooper down in Texas. He's been in the business now for about two years. You can see by the cowboy hat in the background, he's definitely a Texan. And, Cooper, are you here with us?
Cooper: Yes, sir.
Frank Rolfe: Great. Well, let's just jump right into it, Cooper. So what were you doing prior to buying a the Mobile Home Park? What is some of your background prior to buying a mobile home park?
Cooper: So quite a bit. I grew up in the family car business. So we were... I'm a fifth-generation car dealer. And in the '90s, we went broke and sold the franchises off, kept the body shop businesses. And I eventually took those over at around 30 years old, expanded them, and then we sold to Caliber Collision back in 2015. And I took my portion of the money and started a wrecker/repo business. And since then, sort of on my path to entrepreneurship, I've started... Sold mobile businesses since then. Dumpster business, roll-off dumpsters, powder coating business, multiple things on my way to here.
Frank Rolfe: So you're kind of a serial entrepreneur by nature?
Cooper: Yes, sir. I have been the last 10 years, it seems like.
Frank Rolfe: Got it. And have you always lived in Texas? Are you a Texas native?
Cooper: Yeah. Born and raised in Corpus Christi, Texas. In my 20s, I actually moved to Mexico. I've lived about six years total between Mexico and Costa Rica. Five years in Mexico, then a year in Costa Rica, in my 20s.
Frank Rolfe: Gotcha. Okay. So what first attracted you to mobile home parks? I mean, you're clearly in the automotive business through and through, why parks? So what... Where did you get the first idea ever to even think about a mobile home park?
Cooper: I think it sort of came from just real estate in general. Interest in real estate, which makes years ago part of why I actually left in the first place. I got introduced to "Rich Dad Poor Dad" at age 20, 21. I read the book before moving to South America. But when I came back, I invested with my dad in some rental homes. Had some rental homes throughout my career. And after... The last business that I had was a dumpster business. I had it with some partners, and we had multiple locations across Texas. Too many chiefs, not enough Indians. And so I sold my share back to them during COVID and was kind of looking for my next career move. And you've met my partner, Rooster. And Rooster is a residential appraiser and home investor. He's got about 40 homes or so in our area.
Cooper: And so I went to him just to talk about what he thought I should do or interested in real estate and topics like that. And he said, "Man, have you ever thought of mobile home parks? I've been reading a lot about them. I heard a lot about them." And I said, "No." And I looked... Researched them and looked into them and read about them for about two or three months, took your class and just loved them and just been on fire ever since. I tend to jump in feet first and to learn to swim afterwards and that's exactly what I did about with mobile home parks.
Frank Rolfe: Do did you have any kind of negative stigma or baggage about mobile home parks? I mean, in my first one, the very first thing that came to mind when I bought it was, I needed to get a concealed handgun license. I mean, did you have any negativity about it, or was it... Were you okay with the product line?
Cooper: I think it I was okay with the product line. I've always used car dealer... Used car salesman, dumpster guy, repo guy, sort of those kind of businesses were maybe unattractive or seemed to be unattractive with stigmas. I'm sort of attracted to those I guess. So I didn't really have a problem with it.
Frank Rolfe: Gotcha. And tell us about the first park. So you go to boot camp, you start looking at parks, very first park you found, how did you find the first park?
Cooper: The first park I found was on Craigslist and pretty much it might have been the weekend of taking your boot camp. I started looking and found one on Craigslist, called him, I think, during a break. And he answers... His name was James Stevenson, in La Feria, Texas. And we talked briefly, and he liked what I had to say 'cause... Qualifying me over the phone that I could buy a park, and we hit it off. And I think Monday or Tuesday I was in South Texas meeting him at a Whataburger, which I think he appreciated 'cause he had been getting calls... Hundreds of calls, but nobody actually took the time to go meet him. So I drove down there and met him at a Whataburger and a couple months later, we closed.
Frank Rolfe: Tell me, there's nothing more in Texas than meeting him at a Whataburger. Right?
Cooper: For sure.
Frank Rolfe: We don't have this in Missouri. Alright. So... And what attracted you to that first park? What... Was it the location, was it the economics? What was the thing that really turned you on about it?
Cooper: The location, for sure. It's right on 83, right in the Valley, which is the artery of the Valley, going from Harlingen to Macau. So, location for sure. And really past that I think I was just in love with the idea of finding a park and the opportunity to buy a park. Looking back, it was definitely... Yeah. I was thinking, I was just excited. But the location for sure and the idea that he actually might be selling one to me.
Frank Rolfe: Gotcha. And so the park itself was roughly how many lots?
Cooper: About 80.
Frank Rolfe: 80. So pretty decent size and was it... And what was the occupancy like?
Cooper: Occupancy was strong. And that plus... 90% plus. And even during COVID he didn't have a lot of issues, so about 90%.
Frank Rolfe: So your turnaround plan, I assume was to boost rents and maybe submeter water sewer, or what was the plan?
Cooper: So, it was already sub-metered, and he was already billing all back. The rents were low. The rents were $225. And so we definitely raised rents. Our first rent raise was actually $90. We took it from $225 to $315 and we lost three... And we lost three people, and they were all in RVs. They were long-term RV people. They went to a park down the road. But...
Frank Rolfe: Right. And if you look at it... If you took 80 occupied and raised it up, roughly 100. Right? That's $8000 a month.
Frank Rolfe: My math is correct. Right? Straight out of the shoot. And out of that, you lost three RVers, which you can replace with probably now three more RVers, if you haven't already replaced them. So how much more have you raised the rent since then? That was your first...
Cooper: We have not. So we waited about six months or so to.
Frank Rolfe: Okay.
Cooper: We waited... We kind of... Based on your advice, we improved the park quite a bit. It was scary. [chuckle] I had some friends in the Harleton area drive through it. It's a very low-income park, and I of course saw a diamond, and everybody else saw the turd. And so we redid the roads, trimmed trees, painted houses, cleaned it up. I mean, dumpsters for days were coming in and outta there. So we did a lot of work first. We threw a big party, tacos, a bouncy houses, and then eventually raised the rents.
Frank Rolfe: Got it. And the park, did they have any other issues? Any big CapEx items? Obviously, road improvement... Does it have a clubhouse or anything else?
Cooper: No. No clubhouse. We converted an old storage unit to the maintenance storage room just to store the lawnmowers and things. The trees... It's got a lot of trees, and we haven't done the fence yet. I tried to do the fence initially, and in the Rio Grande Valley... Even... I've been doing business down there for 15 years. I speak Spanish. I... The first guy I hired to do the fence screwed me, if I can say, screwed. [chuckle] So I lost some big money there. But the trees, it is covered in trees. And I had no idea what it'd costs to trim trees. I do now, but...
Frank Rolfe: Right.
Cooper: It's probably $60,000 and... To trim the trees. It's about eight acres... Is the park. So the trees galore. So that was the big CapEx for us.
Frank Rolfe: Gotcha. And how did you... If it was kinda rough on the front-end when you bought it, how did you finance it? Was it a seller finance?
Cooper: No. It...
Frank Rolfe: Did do you get a bank loan?
Cooper: It was a bank loan. I'm blessed, one of my business partners, is multiple businesses, huge net worth, and his bank relationship helped us get this deal done. So there were about 60 park-owned homes as well. And...
Frank Rolfe: Holy smokes.
Cooper: So the... His relationship with the bank certainly helped.
Frank Rolfe: Have you been selling those park at homes off, or you gonna...
Cooper: Yep. Yeah.
Frank Rolfe: Keep those as windfall?
Cooper: No. We sold them. We've... There might have been probably 68, actually. We've sold about 60. The...
Frank Rolfe: Wow. Okay.
Cooper: $3000, $4000, $5000 homes. So... And we've got a wonderful manager who came from Mobile Home Park down there, and she had experienced selling homes with another group. So we come right in and sold those immediately.
Frank Rolfe: And is that... Have you done a second part since that? Or are you selling that first part?
Cooper: No. Yeah. We've done an RV. So we've got four parks total. We've got another park down the road.
Frank Rolfe: Okay.
Cooper: In Mission, Texas, right next to your Mission Bell. We literally share a fence. We bought an all-age family park there, and we have an RV park in Corpus Christi that we are currently remodeling. And we've got two under contract. We should be closing on a smaller RV park, which is on the water right across from our current RV park in Corpus Christi. And then we have a contract under a pretty big park in Harlingen, Texas.
Frank Rolfe: And then the one down in Mission, how did you find that one?
Cooper: That one came across the Mobile Home Park store, one of the early... I'm signed up with early thing and I always look for Texas when I get those emails, and it said, "Mission Texas," and I called the guy until he answered.
Frank Rolfe: Gotcha. And on that deal, what was the model on that? What kinda turnaround plan was that? Was it... Again, raising rents or filling lots, or what were you gonna do on that?
Cooper: Yep. A lot of raising rents. There are about 20 or 30 lots we need to fill. There was about an acre that he didn't do anything with, or two acres that he hadn't done anything with. And then we've had... That one has been very challenging. We've had... Each parks has its own challenges. The first one was kind of the... The one La Feria was a lot of the... Just kind of getting to know the repair process, and fixing up some homes to sell them, and then redoing the roads and figuring out how to do all that without just spending a ton of money.
Cooper: And then, this one, we... In Mission, there was... We did a lot of due diligence. We actually walked the park, knocked on doors, met every resident, got phone numbers, walked inside the homes. A lot of parks on homes on this one as well, had our manager in La Feria do the same thing. Walked the park, make sure that the residents were actually there. So he didn't actually deposit any money into the bank. All the rents he collected were cash, and he had a catering business, and he just put it all towards the business. So he had really no records of actual rents.
Cooper: And so we put a stipulation or a contract that he had to deposit X amount of money orders into the bank and for closing. He hit all those marks, but unfortunately, once we closed in the last... We closed in January. We've had some occupancy problems. I guess he just had people in there that... They weren't as long-term as we thought. So it's currently about 50% occupied from when we bought it.
Frank Rolfe: Is that... Was that one also bank finance?
Cooper: Bank finance as well.
Frank Rolfe: Got it. Okay. And then your third property is an RV park, is that correct?
Cooper: Yes. And then... I'm sorry. Then we have another one down the road in Flour Bluff, Texas. It's more mobile home. It's a mix, but it's a long-term park. More mobile home than RV. It's a mix park.
Frank Rolfe: Gotcha. So the third... The RV park then, what have... What are your thoughts on RV Park versus Mobile Home Park now that you've done both?
Cooper: Well, I'll tell you, they're totally different. People like to... People hear mobile home or they hear RV, and I think everybody thinks RVs, but as you know, they're absolutely different for a short-term versus long-term. The big learning curve there, is that the software is different, the clientele is different. I don't think we'll do other RV parks that are... This one's around the corner from my house. So, in an area that I know or we know is gonna be booming near the water, up and coming area in Corpus Christi, etcetera. I don't think we'd do one on anywhere else, but this one who is a no brainer for us. But so far, we really like it.
Frank Rolfe: Gotcha. And then, the third mobile home mobile-home park, how big is that one?
Cooper: The... It's about 55 pads, and...
Frank Rolfe: Yeah. Okay.
Cooper: And the rentable, about... Probably 53, 52 rentable pads. And that one was... Has been a lot of fun. We... That was full of... So we bought that park from some gypsies and the gypsies apparently were on trial for murder and they tried to...
Frank Rolfe: Nice.
Cooper: Yeah. We found this out after we closed, but before we closed we needed... Because of the appraisal was taking too long, we needed to extend the option and... Of due diligence and they wouldn't... They refused. We were probably 60 days in and they were getting a lot of attention. It's another great part of Corpus Christi, we believe. And they were getting a lot of calls, a lot of attention, and we knew some realtors that were sniffing around it. And this one I'd found off market. I just called and had to get a hold of them right before they were gonna sell it. They were literally gonna meet with Marcus & Millichap two weeks before I found them, or after I... Yeah. Two weeks... Yeah, I found them two weeks before their meeting and they were gonna pull the contract. And they said they had to go leave town. They'd be back. Of course they were gonna... They'd keep a deal in place, everything was gonna be fine.
Cooper: So I knew that was all BS and thanks to my financial partner, we ended up closing in cash and then just refinancing it a couple weeks later. But turns out after we closed, their son was still in the park and he was on drugs. He wasn't paying. And I went to go talk to him and the manager said, "Well, you know that the parents are murderers. Right?" "Excuse me?" She said, "Yeah. Yeah. You can Google them."
Frank Rolfe: Got it.
Cooper: So we Googled them right there. And sure enough, somewhere in the Dakotas, they had a... They paid an insurance deal. They... Some other gypsy was involved, and the mother-in-law had an insurance policy. So they split the insurance policy with the people that killed her. And it turns out the guys that killed her went to jail. They were let off as long as they gave back the insurance money and got probation. They actually did not even go to jail.
Frank Rolfe: Wow. That's a bad story.
Cooper: Yeah. [chuckle]
Frank Rolfe: Okay. So what about your what about your fifth... So we have mobile home park, one, two, RV Park, three, mobile home park four...
Frank Rolfe: Is the fifth property, mobile home or RV?
Cooper: The fifth one on our contract right now is all mobile home. Yeah. And...
Frank Rolfe: All mobile home. Okay. So you're... It sounds like you're preferring the mobile home park model to the RV park model. Not that you have to choose one or the other, but so far...
Cooper: Yeah. Absolutely. Yes. We are. We like it a lot better.
Frank Rolfe: Okay. And then as far as the structure, you obviously have a manager in each park, I would assume. And do you have any maintenance people in the park's at all?
Cooper: Yes. We have a maintenance person in every park.
Frank Rolfe: Okay. So you have a manager and maintenance person. And then do you have a regional manager or district manager or someone that is the buffer between you and those on site people or does it just all go to you?
Cooper: It went all... It all went to me until recently. I just brought on... We brought on another partner about a month ago. Two months ago. And he's jumped right in...
Frank Rolfe: Got it.
Cooper: And he's helped take a lot of that off of me. So we've been working together, but lately he's been taking most of it, for sure.
Frank Rolfe: Okay. So, but before you brought that person on, how much time a week were you spending managing those properties, would you say?
Cooper: I've been... It's... I don't know about the hours, but it was certainly a full time job.
Frank Rolfe: Gotcha, and now that you have this person, how much time do you spend?
Cooper: Same. It's...
Frank Rolfe: Just on the management. Not on finding new things, just management side.
Cooper: Less, [chuckle] I don't know 'cause we're working it together. He's sitting in the room... So he's fantastic, but he's younger and so we're trying to work it together so he can learn and we can learn and then eventually kind of work side by side as opposed to together all the time. So we're trying to branch off of that, but less than... I don't know. Never quantified it.
Frank Rolfe: And then as far as finding new deals, are you doing all the new deals looking yourself, talking to sellers and stuff or...
Cooper: We are... His name is Tyler. Tyler and I, and then my wife's actually our realtor and she's been helping as well. So it's a team effort.
Frank Rolfe: And the... Obviously, you've been focusing on South Texas. Right? That's what we call this on the border kind of. Will you stay in that footprint or are you gonna venture out beyond that or do you just like that niche.
Cooper: Right now, I certainly like South Texas. There's enough parks, I think, for us to keep us busy at least the next couple of years and maybe learn more and more about this business. There's a lot of stuff in Houston or East Texas. I don't see us going outside of Texas. I think for sure we wanna stay in South Texas as much as we can.
Frank Rolfe: Gotcha. And a lot of people read and see about all the immigration issues in Texas with the Mexican border, etcetera. Does that really impact you guys? 'Cause I get asked that all the time on our park in Mission, and it really has no impact on us at all. Do you feel any issues from that?
Cooper: I don't think any issues. We certainly get because we're all age family parks, we certainly get some calls and we wanna do background checks and can't do background check because they're not a citizen in the United States. So we do get that pretty often. But that's about it. There's really no issues, but that, that does happen.
Frank Rolfe: Right. And then do, do you know when each of these parks was built? Are they all older or newer or what roughly, what decades? Decades do they span there?
Cooper: The first one I think was about 40 to 50 years old. The seller did a really good job though. He had just the last 10 years, we did a lot of the plumbing. We did a lot of the infrastructure. The other one in Mission, it's about 20 years old. The one in Flower Bluff, the Gypsy Park, which had that one's, I don't know how old it is, but it's probably 40, 50 years old. And that's a septic, that's our only park with septic. We try not to buy anything with septic or well water. But this one in the part of Corpus Christi it's at, city sewer is right around the corner. So one day we'll do that. But they're all probably 40, 50 years old except for the one in Mission back home, yeah.
Frank Rolfe: Gotcha, any awkward stunningly strange moments in due diligence on them? Anything weird pop up? Any kind of weird piping or anything?
Cooper: Yeah, the Gypsy Park, there was so all the plumbing is the, I don't, can't remember the type of name for it, but it's the gray PVC and not the white. It's basically the electrical PVC.
Frank Rolfe: Right.
Cooper: They put in all...
Frank Rolfe: Okay.
Cooper: All gray PVC, that's been a lot of fun, they fenced off...
Frank Rolfe: Got it.
Cooper: Gosh. Mounds of trash. They basically just took trash, just put it outside the property line and just put a nice brand new fence in front of it. They fenced off septic tanks without lids. That one has been a learning curve, for sure.
Frank Rolfe: Got it. How would a Gypsy family come to own a mobile home park in Texas? They were just kind of passing through and...
Frank Rolfe: Or was it were they the family of the original developer perhaps, and stuff?
Cooper: No, so they bought it from a guy that I knew, actually and he's a realtor in town. They bought it two years ago. He owner financed for three years ago. He owner finance it to them and they have a paving company which is fairly Gypsies as well. And they went in there and lived in it and spent time and repave the roads with their paving company and moved all the trash outside the property line. And they had another one in town I found out later too. They'd sold a smaller one as well but at the same time we bought ours. So I think that's what they do you know?
Frank Rolfe: Right. So what's been your... In managing those properties? What's been your worst day ever and your best day ever? Obviously, your best day ever was probably when you raised the rent 90 bucks on the aiding spacer. But what was your worst day ever where you thought of, crod?
Cooper: We had a pitbull bite. A girl like that a kid in that La Feria park. And turns out it was not that bad but that phone call that I got the manager saying "Hey, we just had a kid get attacked by a pitbull." The...
Frank Rolfe: Right.
Cooper: The things... Excuse me, that was the well there's been two, we've had two pitbull incidences but that was bad. Then we had a pitbull attack my manager's husband as well in one of the... In the Flour Bluff park from some tenants that were evicting because of their pitbull and they let it out of the house and it attacked the manager. So those are two pretty bad days when I got those phone calls.
Frank Rolfe: And that probably explains why insurance companies don't want dangerous breeds of dogs in parks anymore.
Cooper: Yeah, exactly.
Frank Rolfe: 'Cause that's not the business model anyone's supposed to be involved in. So what have been some of your lessons learned from being in the park business? 'Cause you've only been in it a couple years now. You obviously got in a big way. What are some of the things, for example, what are the main differences between how it really works from how you thought it would work? And let's even break that down into bite size pieces. So as far as the customers, what are your thoughts on the customers now that you've been in the business prior to what you thought they might be like?
Cooper: You know, different in a good way. You never what you're gonna hear about low income 'cause that's basically what all our parks are to a degree. But you never know what you're gonna get into. But like anyone else they're just good people that want somewhere to live. All the things that you point out with that they want a yard they don't wanna live an apartment. What, I guess I knew but hearing it from people and that's their choice... They're absolutely choosing to live there. There's maybe a few people that have to but, you know one of our managers for example, she chose to live in the park and she says, "I don't have to live this way." Her husband works in the oil field. She's had a career prior to us and they just like... They like to live in the park. So that's sort of been one of the positives I think for me is that to hear people actually tell me that, like I chose to live here and this is why and that's really refreshing.
Frank Rolfe: Right. What about selling the homes? Has that worked out like you thought when you had all 60 something homes to sell? What's the reality of that been like compared to what you thought it might be?
Cooper: You know, that went a lot better than we expected. The manager certainly helped. We bonused her pretty big. I actually text... I texted you about two years ago or a year and a half ago and I just confirm with you kind of how much to pay and your belief is to pay them a lot of money because it sure saves you a lot of money or makes you a lot of money in the long run. And so we pay, we have it tiered where if it's five a month or 10 a month it tiers up to a 1000 bucks, can be a 1000 bucks a home. And so they're motivated and I didn't expect them to be sold that fast but they're motivated and she's motivated, did a heck of a job.
Frank Rolfe: What about repair and maintenance? How has that worked out compared to what you thought it might be like?
Cooper: 1 That was a nightmare. I had no clue the park going home maintenance would be, 'cause the first we didn't just start selling immediately. We got our feet wet and then waited a few months to get everything ready, the contracts, etcetera. And prior to that to get the homes ready to sell was a total nightmare. We use Rent Manager but at the time we didn't take enough time. That's on our list now to use Rent Manager for repairs and maintenance on the homes. But we had a software within the company we were using. So that helped. I organized it and made it efficient and streamlined as best as possible. But son of a gun, that was thousand dollars a month and hours and hours of my time dealing with that, for sure. I didn't know how much time that I was gonna take in Mission.
Frank Rolfe: What would you say the average repair and maintenance was per home? It'd be a couple hundred dollars a month per home or what do you think it was?
Cooper: To fix those homes, average?
Frank Rolfe: Yeah.
Cooper: I'd say 2000 bucks. A lot of the flooring was, yeah, anyway there was a lot of issues but I'd say 2000, per home.
Frank Rolfe: Okay. And then what about your manager? How have you found your manager so far? Did you, well first off, on any of the properties did you retain the one that came with it?
Cooper: Just one, the RV park. And she's actually now the manager of the right down the road, the mobile home park as well. She's been fantastic. The other ones know, the very first park in La Feria. She actually worked for me in a previous company and I had hired her from a mobile home park. And when I was getting into this business and looking in South Texas, the Rio Grande Valley I first thought of her. So before we closed and went and met with her and said "Hey, I wanna steal you again from whatever you're doing, get you back in the business. And she was ecstatic to be back the mobile home park business. She loved the people loved the business loved the sales. So she was really excited that she was getting back in. And she's been great. The park at Mission, I feel like I'm using nightmare that word a lot. That's been tough. We're on our third manager now in Mission. And that's been a challenge. But, yeah.
Frank Rolfe: What attributes from your best manager are important to you now when you're looking for managers? What is the important skill a manager has to have to succeed, do you think?
Cooper: If the parks we're buying with the value add and the selling of the homes, maybe organized comes to mind because if, like this park in La Feria now that it's pretty much stabilized or will be the next couple of months. Her job from a day to day basis has absolutely shifted. She's got no more homes to sell. We're not fixing any homes anymore. Occupancy is good. So... And then we're about to go to no money orders, pay online, so her job is drastic gonna change. But in the other parks we've had a challenge as being organized from sending out notices to making sure they follow the process and the home repair process that we've created to evictions. There's just a lot going on with some of these parks that we've bought with some value add to 'em where we've had issues with them not being organized. They're just sending out notices with the wrong dates on 'em to collecting money and putting it to the wrong tenant. Those kinda things, which are small, but hugely important as you know, that's a big deal when you do things like that incorrectly.
Frank Rolfe: Have you added any amenities into the parks at all?
Cooper: We did laundry in our Flour Bluff Park, which was a big hit. It was a bit of a process going through it, but there's old kind of, igloo building that we remodeled. It's cool, we're gonna paint it and maybe put a mural on it, but at first glance it looked like something we could easily just seal up and it was concrete floor and had a plumbing connection, but it ended up being a lot more project than we thought. But the laundry's been a huge amenity there. The other park's not yet, though it hasn't, La Feria doesn't seem to be in need. We've looked at some playgrounds area. We've looked at different stuff at that park. But it's fairly, it's a dense park. The seller, he's got homes. He stuffed 'em in there, so not a lot of room for a lot of things, but, so no, not really just the laundry.
Frank Rolfe: Did you adopt, no pay, no stay evictions from the onset or did you initially try and do some payment plans here and there and realize it didn't work out or, how has collections gone compared to what you thought about?
Cooper: We definitely did no pay, no stay. This park in Mission has been a challenge. Didn't expect that one, but, yeah that's been a challenge. We're constantly battling that one, we have made some payment plans, but I don't think many of 'em have worked out. They maybe gone two or three months and then kind of fallen back into it again. But we're now, especially with the new partner Tyler, with everything we have going on, he's on it. It's something we do every Monday then every Wednesday. And another thing back with the manager being organized that we've got right now, 10 or 20 people that owe money in that particular park and add that to their other duties and it can become a lot.
Frank Rolfe: Did you buy any of these prior to COVID or did they all come after March of 2020?
Cooper: They all came, let's see, what are we in now? Yeah, we closed man, Frank, I don't even know what year I'm in, but we closed La Feria April of last year.
Frank Rolfe: Okay, so you're a post COVID?
Frank Rolfe: Post COVID group here. Did you find any spooky weirdness during your diligence with COVID and all of the courts being shut for evictions and all that stuff. I don't know in Texas if you had that much impact or not. In some other states, we still actually still can't fully file evictions, unfortunately. So did you have to deal with any of that or you're good to go there?
Cooper: No. They made it easier 'cause everything was on zoom, so the eviction's been fine. And we're not fighting for the money back, we just want possession. So we really haven't had a lot of problem.
Frank Rolfe: Okay. And let me ask you this, you've obviously been in a number of different businesses, right? You were in the autobody business with the car dealership business, autobody business, the towing business, this business, I'm not sure what other businesses, how does this business rank against the others? Which of those businesses did you like the best and worst? Where's mobile home parks fit into that spectrum?
Cooper: My personality and my ADD, the body shop collision business really fit me because there was just so much going on and this business fits me I think as well. So I like this business more. Every day there's something new, a lot of problem solving, which I love. Yeah. Every day is something new. It's not the same, it's not an office job, it's not a 9:00 to 5:00. And being able to travel around and see the parks, meet different people, even the tenants talk, the tenants, all those things really fit. A lot of my business experience and some of the skills I've gained. And then my personality as well. So I would say I love this business. I'm glad I'm in it.
Frank Rolfe: How far is it from your farthest park to your house?
Cooper: About two and a half hours.
Frank Rolfe: So I'm assuming you're kind of a hands on guy, I'm assuming you're out there quite a bit. Is that correct?
Cooper: I was before, Tyler. Now Tyler, I was going down at least once a week, and staying for a couple of days. Okay. And now Tyler goes, I'm down maybe now twice a month instead.
Frank Rolfe: Got it.
Cooper: Before I was quite a bit.
Frank Rolfe: You think at some point you may even scale back from that once the turnarounds get fully finished, you still... On that first part, you still have a turnaround there. You've raised the rent. Is there anything left to do on that one for the rest...
Cooper: We gotta finish that fence that I got screwed on and we're painting. So we've done the program where, so we've offered a credit to the rent credit if you paint your home. And that was a big success. We're doing 500 bucks and at 50 bucks a month at over 10 months. And then we're now we've got a superstar maintenance guy there who we're gonna promote when we close on the park in Harlingen to be the maintenance director over all the parks down there. But he hired a helper and so now we're offering people, look, you buy the paint, we'll paint the home. So that's been a huge success. So we're now painting homes, skirting homes, and putting porches on the things. And we plan on probably refinancing early next year. So the fence and then finishing up kind of the touch up on the homes.
Frank Rolfe: What's your plan at filling vacant lots? 'Cause obviously homes are, are way expensive right now, hard to come by and when you find them, they're really pricey what's your, what's your plan to fill lots at this point?
Cooper: No, we just, with Tyler coming on board that, really allowed us start doing that. So we just started doing that about a month ago, really kind of looking hard at buying homes, bringing them in. We found a used one so we sort of fumbled our way through it, but we ended up, we got it to our park and got it set up and, we haven't skirted it yet. It has some issues. We need to probably spend upon 2000 bucks, remodeling the inside. But, trying to find used homes where we can, which is, you know, is almost impossible, but we have this park coming up in Harlingen is gonna have about 10 or 15 vacant lots that we're gonna need to fill. So, that's an... Newer homes, they're all in the 90's in 2000 some 2018 homes. So, we're talking to 21st Mortgage about getting on their program, their cash program, to bringing in, some new and used homes. We were actually at the whatever that conference was there, and met a nice guy from 21st.
Cooper: But that's our current plan other than, this used home we got, recently was nine grand. So, you know, we bought that one for nine, brought in the park and, but these other homes being 30, 40, 50, 100 grand, they're gonna help ask 21st for help.
Frank Rolfe: Got it, and I assume your affordable housing demand is high in all those markets, right?
Cooper: For sure, yes.
Frank Rolfe: Right. So it's probably just an issue of trying to match home price to customers financial capability, right?
Frank Rolfe: Got it.
Cooper: There's a huge shortage of homes. I mean, in the Harlingen area, we've done our research there, talked to the realtors, looked at the data, and Corpus Christi, there's especially is as well. We've already got some hits on that home we just brought in, we do need to fix it up before we move somebody in. But we put out our ads for, the homes we're trying to sell in Mission and I'd actually made a bet with Tyler on the number of phone calls we were gonna get. What was our number? It was like, it was like 75 calls the first day, we just said, three bed, two bed, a three bed, two bath and two bed or whatever we said, it's homes for sale, 75 calls.
Frank Rolfe: Right. Do you have any hurricane exposure down where you are? I mean, Corpus Christi's obviously a, on the Gulf Town. Do you, are there any hurricane concerns you have?
Cooper: Yes, we certainly have exposure there. We're working on a hurricane, kinda evacuation plan or at least something to hand out to the tenants if one comes. But yeah, we definitely we're, we had Hurricane Harvey hit us in 2018. That was a pretty good one, so yeah, we definitely, we are exposed to hurricanes, for sure.
Frank Rolfe: But as far as water sewer goes, it sounds like you're, you only exposure is just the one septic system, correct? With city water inching inching your way, correct?
Cooper: Say it again, you broke up. Say it again.
Frank Rolfe: Oh, I said, as far as water and sewer, though, your city water and sewer, there's no concerns there except you have septic on just one property, right? With city, sewer kinda heading that direction, correct?
Cooper: Yeah. Yeah.
Frank Rolfe: Right. So that...
Cooper: And that, I mean...
Frank Rolfe: And as far as non, I'm sorry.
Cooper: I'm saying, I'm now pretty much a septic expert. That one was, that was a gypsy park and I had no idea what I was getting into with those septic issues. I had a guy test it. I mean, I had a septic company come out and long story short, that was, we're still dealing, we're, that is our biggest battle right now is dealing with these darn septic tanks. Pick that part.
Frank Rolfe: So, So it sounds like, you know what, I often talk about the problems with private utilities and with rental homes. It sounds like you, you would pretty much agree with that premise?
Cooper: Yes, for sure. It was tough you promote that or you talk about that being the best. And then as you know, with the mobile home market, mobile home part market, just being as hotter than ever, everybody's looking for those type of parks. So we were just trying to look at something different and I thought I could handle it. [laughter]
Frank Rolfe: And I guess you have one, you have one, one master metered electric park, right? Your RV park is probably master metered electric, or is that sub-metered?
Cooper: So that would've sub metered. So they're all, they're all sub metered actually for electric, we're...
Frank Rolfe: Okay, got it.
Cooper: We added some at that park.
Frank Rolfe: Okay, but...
Cooper: But for the most part it was.
Frank Rolfe: Okay, so the power company bills people directly or do they bill you and then you have to bill them back?
Cooper: The power company bills them directly, yeah, you're right. The RV park, we get bill right in the RV park, but yeah, on the other park's bill directly to them.
Frank Rolfe: And, and so, but on your RV park, the master metered power's working out okay as they typically are 'cause RVs don't pull that much power, so that's quite okay.
Cooper: Yeah, and it's... It works fine.
Frank Rolfe: And no master metered gas at all?
Cooper: No, we don't have any gas.
Frank Rolfe: Good, okay, and then as far as let's say you've got a home in there that doesn't look as nice as you'd like it to be. You had mentioned, you're not adverse to like giving people paint and things like that, when it comes to a customer with a terrible, terrible looking home, maybe your entrance, what have you tried or tested to try and get them to finally clean up their act? Do you sometimes do it, and bill it back to them, or how does that work?
Cooper: Yeah, the area around their home, we just, we just did it. We brought in dumpsters and we tried to encourage them to do it. And then we eventually sent out a notice and said, "If you have these items outside your home, we are throwing them away." And we didn't really build back specifically. We just that point raised the rents eventually, as far as their home themselves, paint's been the biggest issue. So we're doing that, Hey, we'll paint it for you if you buy the paint, but other than that, we haven't had, I guess that hasn't been really, a big focus except for that one park. So really the paint's the biggest solution that we've been doing for that.
Frank Rolfe: Got it, and would you do it all again? In other words, if you had to do it all over, would you have gone bought the mobile home park, that first one, or would you view, bought a different kind of business or what are your thoughts on that?
Cooper: I'd do it all again and then some, yeah, this has been fantastic. I mean, yeah, back to the earlier answer, I love it. I think this is the perfect thing I've done a long time. I hopefully do this for a lot longer time. I don't see us really slowing down in the, hopefully make this, new career and stick with it.
Frank Rolfe: Well, it sounds like the first part was kinda the textbook. The most common question I ever get is how you make $100,000 with one park and that you kind of did that. I mean, a 80 at 100, and then that your value enhancement is probably a million plus from that so that was kind of your textbook park, which is odd that you find that on a Craigslist of all places. But again, it shows how moms and pops are so incredibly fragmented.
Cooper: Yep that's, it was almost, it you know, it was obviously a good thing, but it certainly gave us maybe a little bit of false confidence, that first park kind of worked out, you know, saying so well, I mean it obviously had its own struggles and it had its own set of problems, but it sure made me think, well, hell, we could do this. And then we get the gypsies and then we get this occupancy issue. So we're eventually finding the biggest hurdles. But to that first park was definitely confidence booster.
Frank Rolfe: And then what are your future plans? Obviously, you're only two years in and you've got four done, one pending. So how big are you gonna try and grow to be? Is there an ultimate plan? Are you just gonna keep buying as much as you can? That's, that you like or what's the plan?
Cooper: Yeah, I've always thought big, dream big, crazy. So yeah, get as, get, continue to grow, we've got a number of 250 million in parks in mind over the next five to seven years. And we talk about netting a million a month. It's sort of the eventual goal and maybe that's 5000 pads at a 6% of expense ratio or whatever that is, that it's next expense ratio with our debt service. So we've got fairly big goals. I don't know if we're crazy or not, but you gotta have a goal.
Frank Rolfe: So to reach those kind of figures though, you'll probably ultimately have to expand out of your current footprint, even if you're still in Texas, you have to do the whole state, right? At that point? Pretty much.
Cooper: I think so. I mean, you know, we have... I just know that's the goal, but we're gonna take it park by park, but you would know better than me. I was hoping to stay in Texas, but we gotta get outta Texas, if it's what we gotta do.
Frank Rolfe: Yeah. Are you adverse to other states around Texas? Are there any other states in, near Texas that you like better than others? Are you more of a New Mexico, Oklahoma, Louisiana kinda guy, what are your thoughts?
Cooper: No, I mean Louisiana is a fun state, but I understand that's a tough business in Louisiana. Oklahoma probably wouldn't be bad maybe, so that might be the first place to go if we gotta get outside of Texas.
Frank Rolfe: Right. And then just from a lifestyle perspective, compared to the other businesses you've had, how does this business rank, for example, in terms of stress, is mobile home parks more stressful than having a giant chain of auto body shops? Or is it more stressful than having PO company? I mean, to me personally, I would find it to be less stressful because I don't really understand auto body. But when I've been in auto body shops, which there's many in my small town, they look terrified. Like, I don't even know what these guys are doing. They're like literally parts laying on the ground. I don't even get how you could even put the car back together. It looks really hard to me, hard to get parts. From what I understand, you have issues with customers, paint doesn't match, you're behind on schedule. I can't get to work. So how has mobile home parks fit in the stress level between these? So if you tried a different, been in a bunch of different businesses, how does it fit as far as stress level...
Cooper: Compared to the body shop business? Definitely less stressful, you're right, there's a lot of liability going on. If we're putting roofs back on and welding the roofs on and then we gotta trust that that roof's gonna stay together if they ever get another wreck. And then you deal with insurance companies. So, yeah, this business is definitely less stressful, I've traditionally always come to an office, so I come to an office if I'm not traveling, looking at parks. But I guess, I didn't really have to, I could do this all from my phone if I wanted to from most places, as you mentioned, the hands on part, I want to be hands on. I wanna meet the managers or meet with the managers and meet the people. But if I didn't want to, I guess you don't have to. So from a stress level, you know the, what are liabilities we have in the parks, we've got, as long as you're doing the right things, you're not allowing the aggressive breeds, the background checks. You don't get somebody messing with kids or those kind of things, you know, you've got three or four things that could really hurt you and as long as you're covered and you got insurance. So there's a lot less to worry about in this business, so to speak, if you're doing it right.
Frank Rolfe: And obviously you're entrepreneurial by nature. So getting in the mobile home park business had nothing to do with you trying to be the master of your own destiny, 'cause you already have been doing that for a long time. But talk for a minute as far as for those who've never had their own business, whether it's real business or mobile home park, little bit about time, for example. You know, to me one of the big benefits of the mobile home park industry is it's kind of free form, right? There's not a lot of things you have to be at a certain time. You have calls, you can move 'em around. So as a result, I was able to be at all of my daughters sporting events, every single one. You know, I hit every game, every practice. I was the lone parent who often drove the small town private school team to their volleyball game or whatever the case may be. How has it fit in with you as far as time? I mean, I know you're married, do you have any kids at all?
Cooper: No, no kids. I just got married last year.
Frank Rolfe: No kids?
Cooper: No kids yet, but working on it.
Frank Rolfe: No kid issues yet. But from a time perspective, how has mobile home parks and your time, has it been a happy relationship between time and the park business? Or does sometimes, does the park business get in the way of what you wanna do with your time? Or how does that work?
Cooper: Yeah. It doesn't really get in the way 'cause to your point, I'm, so, I'm used to this. I'm used to getting the phone calls late at night, working the weekends but as far as the business sort of fitting with my time and my schedule, it fits fine. 'Cause you're exactly right, if I'm gonna meet a manager or there's not really much holding me to do anything, any specific day unless you choose to do it. So you can move things around and have a pretty flexible schedule you know, I'm sure I stole this from a book or from somebody, or maybe from you, but I work for freedom. You know, I like money, I want money, but I certainly I do this for freedom and for eventual more freedom. So mobile home park business definitely fits in with that.
Frank Rolfe: And then other than the bad gypsy experience, most, most of your sellers, I assume, have been pretty good people. Has the industry for the most part, been nice people, so far?
Cooper: Oh yeah, for sure. Yeah, you know, we're questioning the guy that sold us a Mission park with the whole occupancy thing. Where did he have some people in there? Like paid actors. But, you know, I don't think it was...
Frank Rolfe: We've had the same thing happen before. He probably had zero, zero collections system. So he basically just had just a giant, you know, pile of dead beats that he had carefully curated. Correct. I mean, we bought a park in Decatur, Illinois that had a hundred and, gosh, what was it? 130 occupied. And we thought that when we enacted no pay, no stay, we dropped to a hundred, we dropped what we had done to 60 because this guy had over the decades, literally curated the biggest bunch of loser dead beats you have ever seen in your entire life. I mean, when these people ran off, they barely could even fill the pickup truck, right? I mean, it wasn't like, uh, Beverly hillbillies with a pile with a rope over the top. It was like literally their entire possessions were an old mattress and a chair. Right, and it was pretty, pretty awful. And we knew that going in. So I mean, we knew it was a tough, crummy clientele, but that's probably what happened to you, was, he just, you know, some of these moms and pops are just so bad at business that they just literally in town probably everybody couldn't pay their bill, or is they said, Where do I live? I can't pay my rent. Oh yeah. Go to the trailer park. The guy's an idiot, just move on in. Probably is what happened.
Cooper: Yes, I think it's exactly what happened. I mean, he was, he was collecting rent on the 22nd, on the 15th, if he ever did at all. And you're right, he never thought to even try to evict them or kick them out. So I think that's exactly what happened when we got stuck.
Frank Rolfe: Right. Well, so, so it sounds like you, you had only been in it for two years. You've learned a lot, some of the adventures going pretty good so far.
Cooper: Oh yeah. I'd say great so far. Definitely learned a lot. Um, still learning. But yeah, we've, yeah, learned a lot.
Frank Rolfe: So if somebody was watching this and they're on the border of trying to decide between mobile home parks or something else, uh, what words of wisdom or encouragement would you have for them to do, mobile home parks or not do mobile home parks?
Cooper: You know, I think it's, uh, choose what kinda mobile home parks you want to get into, whether it's, senior parks, family parks, value-add parks, and in our experience, the value-add parks sound really good and they can be, you know, they take some execution, but they're not as easy as they sometimes sound, especially on the podcast and different things, even talking to other people. It's depending on what your challenges are in those value-add parks. They're major challenges and, and they take, you know, again, blessed to have the financial partner that we have. If when you find that you're wrong, you're paying for it and you need to be prepared for that. So just kind of decide what kind of park you want, and then you can stick to that.
Frank Rolfe: Well, what, what does your family think about you being in the park business? I know my family was just absolutely horrified, perhaps still today is horrified, but have your family members said, "Oh my gosh, you're kidding me. You're in the trailer park business." Have you had any friends or family who have questioned your intellectual abilities by being in the trailer park business or how's that working out?
Cooper: No, maybe, maybe privately away from me. Possibly, but no. I've got a wonderful family and I work with them. You know, I have worked with them. We have another business together. And so they, you know, I think they know me pretty well and based on all those stuff I've done, and again, sort of my personality, I think they went, "Oh, yeah, okay. That makes sense." I think they get it. And then, you know, telling my dad about it when he first kind of said, "Well, tell me about it." And I walked him through the numbers and the eventual payoffs and the values, and I, you know, walked him through all that. He went, you know, "Hell yeah, that sounds great." So, I catch him bragging to his friends about it where I'll see them somewhere and "Man, your dad was telling me about the business you're doing. That sounds great." So, you know, for the most part, I think they're good with it.
Frank Rolfe: If you had bought a body shop business instead of that first mobile home park, how long would it take you? Or how hard would it take to make a body shop make a hundred grand a year over what it was making when you bought it? By comparison.
Cooper: A lot harder. I mean, just...
Frank Rolfe: The single body shop.
Cooper: Yeah, a lot harder. I mean, your margins in the body shop business, if you're doing a good job in the body shop business, you should be netting somewhere around 12 to 15%. The Caliber Collisions net and in the 2022, because they're buying paints in bulk and they're buying parts in bulk and etcetera. But, you know, the, just the manpower, the equipment you need nowadays, and the space, the paint, all that, it would take years and years and years. I mean, you know, if you had a small body, so, a small body shop would say doing 50 to a 100,000 gross a month, um, you know, you can do that math, so it would take a while. It's, that's a tough business.
Frank Rolfe: All right. And so in summary, I guess then, the park businesses has so far so good to work well for you, it kind of fits into your lifestyle that you enjoy being your own boss, getting out in the field, always something new, different, challenging going on. How many people in your regular everyday life do you ever meet? Maybe among any social organization you're in, high school reunion. How often do you meet anyone else who owns a park? How, I mean, in my small town for example, there are only three other people that own a mobile home park in my entire town of 6000 people. So it's probably the rarest thing in the entire town. I could probably pick anything else and there'd be more people that have done it. If I said, Who here has skydived? Probably more than more than four people total. So how many people have you met who are park owners in your day to day existence?
Cooper: Well, never before this, if I did, I didn't know it. I've met some since because I tell somebody what I'm doing in... Corpus Christi, 3000 people, but it's still a small town and they say, Oh, do you know, so and, so? Oh, do you so and so? And turns out, my dad grew up with one... With a gentleman here, his dad who's was in the park business, he's now in the park business. He has several parks. It turns out I did know one, but prior to this, and it's really since, I guess I haven't met anyone new that is in the park business anywhere.
Frank Rolfe: Right, you see, that's... I just wanted to end, with that as much as it's, great of you to be on here to share your experience, but park people are so few and far in between. There's kind of like this fraternal order of park people, and people are very open and honest with it 'cause it's just so weird. It's like... In my small town there's a, we've a little private airport. It's not much of a private airport. It's just a... It's four posts with a metal top on it. And then there's a cornfield that they mowed into a landing strip, that's the entire airport and it has a wind sock. And people will do these flying events where they'll fly in to our town in these little crazy dangerous looking little private airplanes. A lot of them date back to the 1920s, crazy stuff, biplane, single wing jobs.
Frank Rolfe: But they're like, they have their own fraternal order and they don't even know each other. They just all fly in randomly. And then they'll like hang out and we'll go, to lunch or dinner together because they figure anyone who flies an airplane that crazy is their kind of person, right? That's, what this industry is all about. So, here we've got you, in Texas, me in Missouri, and we're just like having an open conversation because what the heck, anyone watching this must be insane enough. So there really is... Why hold anything back, because we're never gonna know or see anyone anyway that we probably know, Frank.
Cooper: Yep, well, so actually... Something funny on that, I was just thinking about one of our bankers, we took him to lunch to tell him about you. This is very... The very beginning and Rooster and I take him to lunch, we start telling him our plans and he says, I own a park, so he had...
Frank Rolfe: No way.
Cooper: He had like a little 30 spot park, in a rougher part of Corpus Christi, that he had bought a couple years ago and he recently sold it in the, let's call it the mobile home park boom. And, but yeah, out of nowhere, I had no clue. He said, "Yeah, I show up once a month and collect the rents and talk to the manager. It's a nice little easy deal for me." He had no park on homes, on city utilities and, just a nice easy monthly income. So that was interesting.
Frank Rolfe: Yeah, I, had the same thing. My first banker from my billboard business back in the 80s. I sold the business in '96. The guy called me up about five years ago, never seen him since '96 to let me know that that entire time he had owned a mobile home park and was calling me. Now he's getting way up in years, he's probably 80. And he wanted to get some tips on selling it, and it was just so randomly weird the entire time he'd been my billboard banker. He actually was a mobile home park owner, and that he would reach out to me again decades later, I just thought the whole thing was very strange.
Cooper: That's interesting.
Frank Rolfe: But, Cooper, we really appreciate you taking the time to be here. Again, you didn't have to do it. You volunteered, people watching this are, gonna really appreciate the fact that you, were here and were willing to share of your time and your experience. And if anyone watching this has any questions or wants to reach out to you and they emailed us, could we forward the email to you? Maybe you'd respond if someone has just some generic questions on, Hey Cooper, it's... Are you still enjoying it? Things like that. Would you be open to that kind of thing?
Cooper: Heck yeah, I'd love to... I think, the more owners and people in this business, I'm sure there's some way or form and maybe you could point me in the right direction, But I think we should all be communicating more and help each other. That's... Other businesses I was involved in, that's how I learned, talking to other owners and managers. And that's... Hey, what'd you do wrong? So, yeah.
Frank Rolfe: Totally agree. Well, people, we promised you it'd only be an hour. We're just at about the hour mark. But again, we really appreciate you, coming on and being so generous with your time to give people the straight scoop, no sugar coating, just how it is down there in South Texas, in the mobile home park business. So again, that pretty much wraps up, the... This MHU lecture series event titled On the Border with Cooper down in Texas. And, thanks everyone for being here. We know you have a lot of choices with your time. We respect that. Hopefully, you learned a lot from this and we'll talk to everyone again real soon.
Cooper: Thank you Frank, appreciate it.
Frank Rolfe: Thanks Cooper.
Cooper: Alright, take care.