Are you living under a cloud of shame?
I don’t mean to get too personal here. And I’m not even talking about your personal life, though we can discuss that if you wish…
I’m talking about shame over your investing strategy.
Now you may not think an investment would be something to be ashamed of. But a small number of investors quietly lived under this cloud for years. But no more!
I’m referring to mobile home park investors.
Stigma Surrounding Mobile Home Parks
Mobile home park (MHP) operators used to feel inferior to other real estate investors. There was a stigma attached to this realm, and you can imagine why. With despicable terms out there like “trailer trash,” you’d think these investors would be nuts to own and operate a park catering to these tenants.
I spoke to a mobile home park operator in Anchorage who said she was a pariah at local real estate investing meetups.
“So, what do you in the real estate investing realm?”
“I run mobile home parks!”
“Uhhh… great music huh? And did you taste the boiled shrimp? Gotta run and pick up my dog at the vet!”
But this has changed dramatically in the past five years. I even heard an analyst from Green Street say that mobile home parks are the darling of commercial real estate these days.
The popularity of mobile home park investing has truly skyrocketed. Our own Brandon Turner wrote about mobile home park investing in Forbes. He is investing heavily in MHPs because of the difficulty in finding fairly priced options in other sectors and an array of other reasons he outlines in that article.
But what about buying mobile homes?
There was a popular strategy promoted in decades past by Lonnie Scruggs. It involved buying used mobile homes and leasing them out. It seemed to work in the past, but most investors I talk to run away from this strategy as fast as their legs will move. I spoke about why in this post.
So, why am I writing about where to find mobile homes?
Great question. I have an answer: Because finding mobile homes is one of the most important skills you need to increase the profitability of your mobile home park.
Why? Because the value of the park is a ratio between the net operating income and the rate of return. More specifically:
Increase the numerator, and you will increase the asset’s value. Improve the quality of the park, and you may be able to compress the denominator. Use leverage, and you’ll multiply your returns on equity even further.
Mobile Home Park Investing by the Numbers
So, if you acquire a 100-space mobile home park with 60% occupancy and an annual net operating income of $200,000, the value could be about $2,500,000. That’s $200,000 divided by 8% for the purpose of this example.
You may be able to raise the value by modestly increasing lease rates, passing back utilities to tenants, and filling vacant spaces. Let’s just look at the last one. Assume you leave the first two alone (no rise in rents and no utility bill-back). What if you could fill 30 of the 40 vacant lots with paying tenants?
Assuming no other changes, this could raise your net operating income from $200,000 to $300,000 (50% increase in occupancy (90 ÷ 60) = a 50% increase in income). Using the same cap rate of 8%, this could raise the value of your park to $3,750,000—a 50% increase.
But let’s say you bought the park with 66.7% debt and 33.3% equity. That’s about $1,666,500 in debt and about $833,500 in equity.
At the new value of $3,750,000, your $1,250,000 gain in equity translates to a return on equity ($1,250,000 ÷ $833,500) of 150%. You read that right!
The leverage takes the asset appreciation and multiplies it by 3 times [1 ÷ (1.0 – 0.67)].
So, a $100,000 investment in this park would be valued at $250,000 at the asset level. (Do you see why I love investing in commercial real estate?) And this is before any other improvements or cost-cutting measures.
Benefits of raising occupancy in your mobile home park
In addition to higher income and value, there are at least a half-dozen other benefits to raising the occupancy of your mobile home park.
- When you buy the park, you inherit the current tenants. The prior owner may not have screened them to your standards. You can carefully screen new tenants and create a higher standard.
- The existing park is stuck with existing housing stock. If you do a great job in bringing in new mobile homes, you can raise the quality and appearance of the community. Put a few new homes near the entrance and increase the drive-by appearance.
- You can create a higher rent standard. There are a number of reasons not to raise rents too much on current tenants. Compassion and good business sense are among them. But new tenants in new homes get the new standard market lease rate. And if that’s at market level for the region, it raises your income level and the expectation level of the current tenants (for some future raises).
- A higher total income gives you an opportunity to increase your payroll to hire a better manager and maintenance staff—and to reinvest in the community. This is a benefit to you and to the tenants as a whole.
- You will create a better scenario for refinancing. Agencies like Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac love to lend to mobile home parks—with surprisingly favorable terms and rates. But they want to see a certain occupancy and quality standard to do this.
- You will be a better seller. Higher occupancy and higher standards will attract more buyer competition, a better purchaser, and a higher price. You may even be able to attract an institutional buyer who will pay more than most purchasers.
How to Find New & Used Mobile Homes to Add to Your Park
There are a variety of ways to find new and used homes for your mobile home park.
Here are a dozen:
- Buy new. Buy new mobile homes from a dealer and place them onsite in your park. Then market them to prospective tenants. There are great financing options for you as a park owner. For example, Warren Buffett’s 21st Mortgage provides financing for you while you look for a tenant-buyer and up to 100% financing for mobile home tenant-buyers, as well. I once found a handful of overstock mobile and modular homes and acquired them for dealer cost.
- Become the dealer. This will allow you to buy new homes directly from the factory. This can save a lot on the cost, and you may even be able to sell a few homes outside your park. This also gives you a chance to provide the home at a discount to the tenant-buyer, and you can make a profit along the way.
- Drive for dollars. Drive (or have your staff drive) through other area parks regularly and look for FSBO signs in mobile home windows. Make a deal to buy the mobile home and move it to your park. Plan to pay cash in exchange for their deed on the spot, or have them drive to an escrow agent’s office to get the cash and sign the deed.
- Park closings. Keep your ear to the ground for defunct mobile home parks. I was recently on a due diligence trip for a park in Alaska and heard of a few neighboring parks with failing sewage systems. I checked them out and learned that another park was closing soon. If you have a park near another park that is closing, you can sometimes arrange to move tenants to your park. You may be able to save on moving costs (in bulk) and fill new spaces with tenants that are being relocated. You’re helping everyone. And paying the cost to move the home is usually a big win for you. See the value formula above. In my example, 30 new spaces filled translated to $1,250,000 in value. That’s over $41,000 per lot. You could move the home in and pay the tenant a “signing bonus” and still be worlds ahead.
- Craigslist. You will be surprised by how many homes you can find there.
- The MLS. In Alaska, I found a few mobile homes for sale on the MLS. Even if a home is not in a park when you acquire it, you may be able to profitably move it into your park.
- FEMA homes. The government has contracts to pay mobile home manufacturers to build mobile homes for emergencies. Hurricanes and floods can displace a large number of people, and the government often steps in to help. Hurricane Katrina displaced over a million people in the Gulf region in 2005, and at least 114,000 households were moved into FEMA trailers. These are later auctioned off at a steep discount and they are usually not very old at all.
- Lonnie’s Homes. Some investors attempt the “Lonnie’s Homes” strategy of acquiring mobile homes and becoming a landlord. While it can work for some, many investors find it labor-intensive and unprofitable. (You have to be the right type of person to pull this off, and I know that I couldn’t.) If you can locate someone using this strategy, you may be able to make them an offer on their mobile homes. Move the homes into your park and sell them to new tenants.
- Current tenants. When an existing tenant wants to sell their home, you (or your manager) can assist them by providing a buyer from your waiting list. You can pre-screen buyers who have called in or applied and hopefully you’ll find one that is better than average. By getting in the middle of the process, you can also set the lot rent at the current market level, not having to play defense after the home seller has told them about their lower rent.
- Targeted digital advertising. Geo-fencing is a way to target your Facebook or Google ads to specific locations. Let’s face it… not every park is well-run or ethically managed. (Right, Gail?) If a park has a lot of deservedly unhappy residents, you can geo-target that park and advertise your move-in special. You may need to pay for their move and perhaps even give them a signing bonus, but it could be worth it as we’ve seen. I know one operator who pays up to a $15,000 bonus designed as a college fund deposit. Pretty cool way to love your new tenants, huh?
- Facebook Marketplace and eBay. My firm invests with a successful operator who regularly checks Facebook Marketplace to find mobile homes for sale. And eBay could be another great source, as well.
- Newspaper ads. You millennials should visit a museum once in a while. There is this old technology called newspapers. You see they used to… well, I’m dating myself. Anyway, there are still newspapers, and of course, they are online, as well. Since the population of mobile home parks is often older than me (imagine that!), you can find ads for mobile homes here. Classified trading newspapers are good sources, too.
The Bottom Line
We’ve discussed the power of increasing occupancy on income and value and why it’s critical for mobile home park owners to have multiple sources to acquire mobile homes. We studied the math to back this up. And we’ve covered a dozen great sources to locate new and used mobile homes.
I hope this has been helpful, and if you have more sources for acquiring mobile homes, I hope you’ll share them here. A growing community of BiggerPockets MHP investors would love to learn more!
Join the discussion below.