Listen on Apple Podcast here: https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/interview-with-frank-rolfe-of-mobile-home-university/id1520681893?i=1000510303093
Welcome back to the Passive Mobile Home Park Investing Podcast, hosted by Andrew Keel. On this episode of the Passive Mobile Home Park Investing Podcast, Andrew talks with Frank Rolfe. Frank has been an investor in mobile home parks for nearly two decades. He has owned and operated hundreds of mobile home communities and is currently ranked as the 5th largest mobile home park owner in the United States with over 250 communities spread out over 25 states. Frank is also a top educator in the mobile home park space through his involvement with Mobile Home University, also known as MHU.
Today, Andrew and Frank talk about everything from current events (COVID-19) and how it has affected the mobile home park business, to lessons that Frank has learned in his experiences in the trailer park business. Frank shares some of the knowledge he has gleaned from his background in business and economics, as well as his insights on what the future holds for the mobile home park industry. Questions include: What happens if interest rates go up? How will a $15 per hour minimum wage affect mobile home park investors? How does inflation affect mobile home park owners? What happens to mobile home parks if the US dollar loses it’s place as the world’s reserve currency? What has been the toughest point in time for the mobile home park business?
Andrew Keel is the owner of Keel Team, LLC, a Top 100 Owner of Manufactured Housing Communities with over 1,500 lots under management. His team currently manages over 20 manufactured housing communities across ten states – AR, GA, IA, IL, IN, MN, NE, OH, PA and TN. His expertise is in turning around under-managed manufactured housing communities by utilizing proven systems to maximize the occupancy while reducing operating costs. He specializes in bringing in homes to fill vacant lots, implementing utility bill back programs, and improving overall management and operating efficiencies, all of which significantly boost the asset value and net operating income of the communities.
Andrew has been featured on some of the Top Podcasts in the manufactured housing space, click here to listen to his most recent interviews: https://www.keelteam.com/podcast-links. In order to successfully implement his management strategy Andrew’s team usually moves on location during the first several months of ownership. Find out more about Andrew’s story at AndrewKeel.com.
Are you getting value out of this show? If so, please head over to iTunes and leave the show a quick five-star review. I have a goal of hitting over 100 total 5-star reviews by the end of 2021, and it would mean the absolute world to me if you could help contribute to that. Thanks ahead of time for making my day with your five-star review of the show!
00:21 – Welcome to the Passive Mobile Home Park Investing Podcast
01:35 – Frank’s background and how he got into manufactured housing
03:30 – Glenhaven in Dalla, Texas
05:38 – Important things passive investors need to know about investing in mobile
06:50 – Value Add versus Stabilized Play
10:33 – Secondary markets and tertiary markets during downturns
13:45 – COVID and portfolio
16:55 – Current state in the market cycle
20:30 – Difference in the market from the 90’s
23:00 – Most difficult time in the business within the last 20 years
26:40 – More about 2006
28:55 – Mobile homes during inflation
34:05 – Current events, the US dollar and the world’s reserve currency
39:10 – How a $15 minimum wage will affect mobile home parks
43:00 – Getting a hold of Frank Rolfe
44:05 – Conclusion
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Links & Mentions from This Episode:
MHU Website: https://www.mobilehomeuniversity.com/
Frank Rolfe LInkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/frank-rolfe-0b6a7024/
Keel Team’s Official Website: https://www.keelteam.com/
Andrew Keel’s Official Website: https://www.andrewkeel.com/
Andrew Keel LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/andrewkeel
Andrew Keel Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/PassiveMHPin…
Andrew Keel Instagram Page: https://www.instagram.com/passivemhpi…
Andrew: Welcome to the Passive Mobile Home Park Investing Podcast. This is your host, Andrew Keel, and today we have an absolute legend in the mobile home park space in Mr. Frank Rolf. Before we dive in, I want to ask you a real quick favor. Could you please take an extra 30 seconds and head over to iTunes and rate this podcast with five stars? This helps us get more listeners and it means the absolute world to me. Thank you for doing that. Alright, let’s dive in.
Frank Rolf has been an investor in mobile home parks for almost two decades and has owned and operated hundreds of mobile home park communities during that time. He is currently ranked, with his partner, Dave Reynolds, as the 5th largest mobile home park owner in the US with over 250 communities spread out over 25 states. But it all began with one mobile home park, Glenhaven in Dallas, Texas. Frank is also a top educator in the space with Mobile Home University. Frank, welcome to the show.
Frank: Andrew, thank you so much for letting me be here.
Andrew: Awesome. Can you start off by telling us a little bit about your story and how you got into manufactured housing?
Frank: Sure. It’s kind of a strange story. Prior to my mobile home park life, I had another life in another industry called billboards, signs along freeways. When you build billboards, you talk to different property owners. You have to be certain in spaces and zonings because it’s also federally regulated. As I was out building billboards, I happened to build two billboards at a mobile home park called Glenhaven on the I-35 freeway.
After I built the billboards, I would occasionally get calls from the guy who owns the place called Ron asking me to go over the manager’s trailer to find out why he wouldn’t take his calls. Since I was always out in the car, checking billboards, renting ad space, then I drove by Glenhaven, pulled in, knocked on the guy’s trailer and said, Ron wanted me to come by and see why you won’t answer the phone. The guy would be like, okay. That was my duty there.
When I sold the billboard business off in 1996, too young to not do another business adventure, I started calling my landowners. I built billboards on to learn about their businesses. I didn’t know if I should be a Dairy Queen franchisee or what I should do.
I called up Ron and on that one call, he changed the course of it all because he said I’ll sell you right now on the phone for $400,000, $10,000 down, and carry $390,000 for 30 years. I said, Ron, the fact that you would sell me this on our very first call together leads me to believe it’s losing money. Yes, it’s losing $2000 a month. He said, bingo.
But I thought I’ll risk $10,000 to see if I can fix the $2000. If I can fix the $2000, and the numbers tie, then what the hell? I’ll own a mobile home park even though at the time, given my stereotype, like all Americans, it sounded horrific to me. Nevertheless, I thought I’ll take the gamble, and that’s how I got into the business. It was completely random like that.
Andrew: Wow. That is just quite a story. Maybe tell us about that. I’ve heard the story through the boot camp. Maybe you can tell us about Glenhaven and what it’s about from that?
Frank: Ron owned it free and clear. He had no financial pressure on it. He had not been well managing it. He lives in California, nowhere near the property. Over the years, he lost interest in it entirely. I had to figure out on the P&L how to get the revenue up and the cost cut.
Revenue was a joke. He was charging a lot of rent like $170 I believe in Dallas at that time which is ludicrously low, hundreds of dollars below market. That was problem A. Problem B was that he has this insane cable thing going where he was paying in full cable for every lot in the park that was half empty.
The cable bill was $2000 something in a month and so I just turned it off. That’s how I solved the $2000 and then I got a humongous break on the revenue because I had half of the lots to fill. They shut another mobile home park down in Dallas downtown. I went to the owner of the park and we cut a deal because he had to get the trailers moved out as part of his agreement with Dallas to resell it to build a home depot.
He sent the people my way and then I didn’t get Glenhaven completely full in one transaction but really close. I think like 30 families. Suddenly, my numbers are working. I got enough revenue. I cut the cost. It’s working and I decided maybe mobile home parks are a new adventure for me. My turn-on was the seller financing. That was a huge turn-on. I was also turned on by the fact that they were so badly mismanaged my-moms-and-pops. Maybe it was a very inefficient market and I could buy things insanely cheap. That’s how I got involved.
On the front end, it wasn’t because I had any great leverage of being in the affordable housing space. It was purely mathematical, purely economic. I just saw an opportunity there and that was what I did.
Andrew: That’s fantastic. Let me ask you this, Frank. What are the most important things passive investors need to look out for when investing in mobile home parks?
Frank: The key drivers of mobile home parks are pretty simple. They’re a very simple business model. Into some of the parts, I put in the acronym of IDEAL. Infrastructure, you need to have good roads, good water, good sewer, good power, good gas, good everything like that because you can’t survive if you can’t retail this to the customers.
Then you have to have the correct density so that the fire martial doesn’t shut down and the people wanted to live there. You got to have good economics, obviously, you would want it. The age of homes needs to be a nice variation of ages so that the majority are paid in full. Then you want to have a good location which to us—everyone has opinions—we like nice suburban areas or the occasional gritty urban parks as long as it’s someplace everyone wants to live. Those are the key drivers in any deal.
If a deal meets those specs and the market is decent, which means it’s large enough and has the correct diversity of employment and the correct kinds of employment, then to us, that’s a great investment deal. That’s the kind of stuff that most people will buy.
Andrew: Yeah, I agree with that. Quick question about the market, there are really two avenues I’ve seen for operators right now. There’s the value add play in secondary and tertiary markets and then there’s the more stabilized play in your primary markets that’s more of a five cap. What would you say is the better play and why?
Frank: They are two very different takes on the model. If you’re going to buy the deal at the five-cap in the well known urban hot market, you’re still going to have some upside on that because we’re all at the mercy of interest rates and right now, people are buying a lot of low cap rates because interest rates are insanely low. I think they will remain insanely low.
I don’t think they will go up a lot, but you do want to have some upside. You want to be able to push through rents, fill some lots, things like that on those buys. A lot of times when you see those things advertised, they are not truly selling it at four or five caps. It’s four or five-cap based on the mom-and-pop and then they don’t tell you there’s a sudden rent raise that comes in that will boost it up a little bit.
The key that makes those work is the existence of conduit and agency debt. People are getting Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac loans at 3% which allows them to buy at 5%. They still have a decent enough spread to do okay but they also have implied that rent raises. Then you have the more suburban, exurban stuff. That’s the majority of the stuff we own. The big play there is you can typically find lots of good stuff at really attractive pricing that’s more mom-and-pop driven if you get outside of the sometimes overheated hot markets.
If you look at our holdings, we’re in a few hot markets but we’re also in other boring places like St. Louis Metro, Kansas City Metro, places that are flyover states, off the chart, nobody cares, doesn’t have a tv show. There are no housewives of St. Louis show I’ve seen out there. Basically, that’s where you can often find the best deals because there’s not much competition in them. Both models are basically sound if you do it correctly.
Andrew: Okay. I think the time horizon is what the big differential is. The value-add deal that you can infill and can submeter water sewer, your rent increases are probably going to be slower in the midwestern type of market versus a hot market like Austin, Texas where you can raise rents faster but your time horizon, maybe 10 years, instead of getting it to a 10-cap year 2.
Frank: Correct. It really all revolves around goals. We sold a park once to a guy and he bought it for all cash which was odd and we said to the guy after it closed, what was your plan with this thing?
He goes, I don’t have any big plans. I just want to get more than I do in the city. He’s just a wealthy doctor and he was getting, at that time, 2% in the city. He was buying the thing and I don’t know at that time if it was a six cap something. That was three times what he was getting.
His goal was perfectly satisfied, but that wouldn’t work for other people. The average person wouldn’t want to buy a park for all cash at 6%. You got to look at your own goals. A lot of those deals that sell, they sell to REITs, people who don’t even have any skin in the game. They just basically work there to get an asset under management fee, an AUM. They just want to grow mainly to often grow the AUM. Everyone has their own goals in life and if the park works for you personally, then that’s fantastic. If it doesn’t work for you, then do it.
Andrew: Yeah, definitely. Frank, how do you see parks in secondary markets and even tertiary markets performing during a downturn compared to those parks that are in a primary market, like we talked about, Austin, Texas, for example?
Frank: We’re seeing the suburban, exurban parks performing amazingly well. Here’s a strange stat for you because we have parks in hot-end and tertiary markets. Our key occupancy gains in the last few years have all been in places like Farmington, New Mexico, Fort Wayne, Indiana. These are not places the average American will say, oh my god I got to invest in them. That is so hot. But that seems to be the deal.
If you look at what’s going on is, the demand for affordable housing has become a nationwide phenomenon. But you do have this what they call the great reshuffle where people are pushing out, wanting to get out of the urban core due to social quarantine, urban unrest, whatever you want to make of it.
We’re pretty pumped. If you look at all of our stats because we’re in 28 states over 200 properties and you rate those based on gains as far as net fill, rent increase, and everything else known to man. Those lesser-known markets perform better on average than the hotter markets. The reason is simple. The hotter markets just don’t have that much upside left in them because oftentimes those have been nearly exhausted.
Let’s just focus on Austin for a minute. We sold our park in North Lamar last year I believe. North Lamar, when we bought the thing, the rents were at $350, $360. When we sold it, it was at $630 and upon the tenants buying it. Austin kicked in the money and the tenants bought it from us using a company called RSC.
The very first thing they did is they raised the rents again to $680. When you’re at a $680 rent in a high-density urban park like that, I don’t know where you’re heading with that. Personally, I’d rather be in a park in Omaha, Nebraska at $300 rent than in Austin, Texas at $680 rent. We’re probably more bullish on those off-the-grid markets because, at the end of the day, it’s an income property.
If you say what’s the best mobile home park in America, that will be the one that has the most profitability. It would not be the parks that you would typically […]. You’d say it’s going to be one of those parks in California on the beach. No, if the guy bought that at a two-cap then no, that will not be the most successful park. It’s all about money. That’s the key. If you’re making money, you’re a hero. If you’re not, you’re a zero. You have a better shot at making money in those secondary markets right now than you do in the primary simply because you’ve topped the airplay. There’s just not a whole lot of altitude left in some of those hot markets.
Andrew: Yeah, I follow you on that. That’s where a lot of our parks are as well. During COVID, collections have remained above 95%. Occupancy has stayed high. Maybe you can talk about COVID and how your portfolio fared during that.
Frank: Just like yours, Andrew. Basically, our collections are typically off about 3% of where they were which is a fraction of our contemporaries. You talk to a guy with unscaled apartments and his collections are off 30%, 40%. It’s not sustainable. They can’t even cover the mortgage.
In a mobile home park, of all the offers I’ve talked to, I talked to hundreds and hundreds of operators, nobody, with a few exemptions, there’s a few of them on certain markets that did get whacked. For example, if you’re in Las Vegas where when they shut the strip down, they literally unemployed the entire city. There’s no way that’s going to work. But in our typical park, our customers are in two camps, either they’re retired or they’re in essential jobs.
We saw really no impact from COVID at all. Our business model is deemed essential. Our businesses were not shut down. We had to adapt to office requirements. We have to be more socially distant. In some states, we have to close the office. We could be open but we cannot allow anyone in which is awkward, but it really wasn’t a big of a deal.
The only thing that really harmed us, as you know, is this whole eviction moratorium. What really bugs me about it is not necessarily the impact. It’s just so insanely unjust. That’s the part I don’t get. When the thing first happened, okay, we were trying to figure out as a nation, what’s the thing to do. I was concerned about COVID because I read the early reports that it did things to your brain like it would cause blood clots in your brain and all this crazy stuff. I thought, oh my gosh, maybe this is like some of these sci-fi movies my daughter watches like 2012, or the Day After Tomorrow. This is truly the end. We’re all going to die from this. We’re all going to have our brains blown up.
After it was decided that our brains weren’t going to blow up, instead of relaxing some of the restrictions, they just kept at it and they kept at it because the government doesn’t want to pay the bill. They’re trying to stick it to private property owners, to house people that the government should be paying. It’s a joke when they bring out these programs like the recent $25 billion will help the landlord bill. I did the calculations. There’s more than $25 billion of rent lost per month in the US right now over the moratorium based on the government’s own statistics. What a joke.
They’re trying to make out that they put landlords in a bad position for it’ll be one year next month and they’re going to make it up to us with a $25 billion stimulus. Wow, that’s a pathetic insult. It’s been the only bad part of it. On the good side, home sales have never been higher in American history than during COVID. That’s because during COVID people found they hated apartments and they wanted some space and they wanted a yard.
I don’t think they’ll ever go back from that. I think people learn permanently, they hate apartments. I think mobile home parks are in just the right position for that because we compete with apartments, but we offer detached houses. It’s been extremely beneficial in promoting our product. The bad effect has been collections and to good effect has been the sales.
Andrew: Yeah, that’s similar to what we’ve seen. Frank, where do you think we’re at in the market cycle right now? Are we at the top? Cap rates are compressed or do you think we still have room to grow?
Frank: I was in the actual cap rate compression. I remember it well in the years of cap rate compression we’re in the 2000s. Cap rates were hugely compressed, about 2003-ish up till the Great Recession and why I say that is, I was selling parks in my earlier portfolio in that era for cap rates lower than interest rates.
If we were to match that today if the rates were 2.8%, you’d have to be selling them for 0.8%. We’re not. There’s still a spread. Now, that’s because the lending community is not as aggressive now as it had been then because, again, everyone buys with debt.
When you have a bubble it’s because banks embrace the bubble. That’s the problem. In our industry, fortunately, since we have this terrible stereotype, banks have never been that aggressive. I see most of our loans. I see very few foreclosures. I rarely get a call from anyone with a foreclosed mobile home park loan.
I think from a banking perspective, we’re not in danger there. I don’t think we’re in cap rate compression. I think the biggest thing you’re going to see is, you’re in this current cage fight between socialism and capitalism and you have a lot of states that want to stick it to you, those who house anyone to do their work for them.
Since Section 8 is bankrupt, they can only take 20% of the applicants, they’re trying to figure out ways to make private property owners a player in a game we don’t want to be involved in. I care nothing about this socialism, capitalism cage fights, not my business. I’m a mobile home park owner but there may be states going forward, blue states particularly, that seize upon rent control. We saw that the last few years, saw it in Oregon, saw it New York. I see that is a danger to the industry.
Then of course, naturally, the bulk of the value in the industry is obviously, in pushing rents. At some point, we will all be full. I mean, we buy damaged parks and fill them. The overall occupancy of our portfolio is nearing around 90%. When we bought it, it was far, far less and at some point in the near future, it will be 100%.
Then there won’t be any further opportunity in filling lots and then on the rents. At some point, we’ll all hit a rent that we all perceive as being as high as it can justifiably be, and that shuts down. We’re nowhere at the top of the market. There’s still plenty of opportunities, but at some point, all those will come together, and then the industry will change enormously.
I think you’ll then see a whole lot of consolidation because the players will be seeking lower yields, but they’ll be willing to buy because the stuff will be in a better quality. There’s still a lot of future left in this industry.
Storage by comparison, which is our closest neighbor, they’re screwed. They’re done. You’re seeing declining rents, declining occupancy. They took the guidance off the motor and they’re way overbuilt. I think they’ve built five billion square feet over the last few years. They’ve ruined every market.
If I was a storage investor, I’d say, oh, my gosh, this is a terrible time to buy. We’re all going to die unless you buy storage out in suburban areas. But in our industry, I don’t have that feeling at all. Even in Austin, Texas, there are still opportunities to buy stuff and make money with it. At the same time, we all have to acknowledge it doesn’t go on forever. We’re not at the end of the cycle, but we’re much farther into the cycle than you would have been if you were buying parks 10 or 20 years ago.
Andrew: Yeah, totally and maybe you could tell us about that. Frank. How different is the business now compared to when you started? What are the main things that have changed?
Frank: Okay. When I started in the mid-90s which my partner Dave also started, as did Sam Zell. Sam Zell got into the business, I think, in 1995.
Frank: In the 90s, banking didn’t exist. That was the first difference between then and now. You take a park to a bank and they just laugh at you. It was all seller-carry in the 90s. Unless you had an amazing banking relationship, it didn’t exist. There was no Fannie-Freddie back then for parks conduit didn’t really give a rat’s rear. That was problem one.
Problem two, since there was no banking, the industry was much more Wild West, free-for-all. People were buying and selling parks with deficient utilities, bad roads, things you could never get away with today. There was no governance. There were no appraisals. It was really the Wild West. Some survived, some died. Some people built business models that would never work. Nobody stopped them because there was no bank, no appraisers saying no, that’s stupid.
The big transition from the 90s to now is the industry was a joke in the 90s. Now it’s like serious business. There’s like professional thought put into it. Lending is available. The quality of the product is better. The mobile home park product is better. It’s just a whole different space today. I mean, it was just embarrassing.
I remember back when I bought Glenhaven and I would ask people, who’s the most state-of-the-art park in Dallas that I can visit to try and emulate? And they’re like, oh, yeah, well, you want to go down Oso Grande. Oso Grande today would be considered just a two-star but it was, at the time, since all parks were in such horrible condition. If you had roads that don’t have potholes the size of a Volkswagen, you were considered a hot operator. It was just a different environment.
The environment now was much better. It was really hard for people back then. It was very risky, with no liquidity. If you bought a park on seller carry and fixed that, you still had to sell it yourself on seller carry. I like it much better now. It’s kind of like when people say, wow, I wish I’d lived in the Victorian Times or the Roaring Twenties. Yeah, but you had no health care. I’d rather have medicine, surgery, penicillin. You got to make sure what you wish for. I like the current era so much more than I like the 90s. The 90s was not my cup of tea.
Andrew: What would you say was the hardest time you’ve seen for the business in the last 20 years?
Frank: Easy answer to that one. Many people are not old enough to have been there, but it’s what happened in 1999. It was called The Great Chattel Collapse. What happened was park owners had been having such an easy go of it. I had to park, for example, up in the Sherman, Texas market, in the past called […] Texas. I had a Palm Harbor dealer delivering me seven homes a month. When you’re bringing me seven homes a month at no cost to me, filling my lot, you look like a genius, and then you multiply that times all the other dealers you could fill anything in the late 90s.
The reason you could do it is they were doing 30-year no-income doc loans on mobile homes. Any idiot could go in, sign a paper, and they got a mobile home. The problem was when you sell that bubble in motion, it ultimately always blows and it blew in 1999. In between 1999 and 2000, we had parks back in my early portfolio, I had parks where I lost to any given year 20%, 30% of the occupancy three possession. They drag the trailers out. They didn’t even call the owner. They just dragged him out, took them to storage yards, and auctioned them. It was a bloodbath. That was the worst. Every day you didn’t know. You’d be like, call the manager. Did we lose anyone today? Yeah, we lost three people today, and you’d be like just ever tanking occupancy. It was absolutely terrifying.
That’s probably one of the reasons today we prefer parks that have older paid-for homes. The other good news is they haven’t done 30-year no-income doc loans since that era because those people were all wiped out.
Let me give you one quick story of how bad it was, Andrew, just to give you an idea, because this sounds impossible to modern people. But during this period, I did all my own eviction work and went to every court myself. I was doing an eviction stand in Corsicana on a trailer that has just come in four months earlier, a brand new trailer. I go to the evictions court and someone is there and they say we speak no English. The judge tells me, well, you have to wait. I have to log in a translator. He gets a translator. I hang out for 30 minutes.
Then everyone else had already left. It was just me, the judge, and the person in the courtroom translator. He asks the person what is going on and then they say, well, you know, I’m sorry, I’m unemployed. I have five kids and my boyfriend has run off and abandoned me. I have no way to pay the bills. The judge said, oh, I’m sorry, ma’am. I have to reel in the landlord’s favor to evict you. She’s like, okay, that’s cool and that was the deal.
I come out of court and I call up the dealer that had just brought in the home. I said, hey, buddy, I was just in evictions court and I don’t know who you sold that home to but he ran off and left his girlfriend in the home. She’s got five kids and is unemployed. She didn’t speak English. He goes, no, that was the customer. I said, wait a minute, you financed a 30-year mortgage, someone with no job at all? He’s like, yeah. I say, how do you do that? I put down that she does garage sales for a living. You are freaking kidding me. That’s how the industry was back then. It was rampant, collusion, fraud, and mess. That was the industry’s dirtiest time and that was back in the late 90s or early 2000s.
Andrew: Wow, yeah. I could not imagine every day worrying about occupancy because now move-outs are very rare.
Frank: Very rare. Absolutely correct. That’s correct. Today, the manager calls you as you’re typically filling a lot, not losing one. It’s a different world.
Andrew: It really is. Tell us about 2006 when everybody could get a single-family home loan. I’ve read some things about how the REITs struggled at that time because they were able to qualify for the single-family stick-built house.
Frank: Correct. Yeah, that was a weird era. Going back to my eviction stories. I go to a guy, we’re going to go to court. I want to offer him cash for keys and he says, well, I’ll just go and give you the home. I’m moving out. I said, well, where are you going? He goes, I’m going across the street to that subdivision. I said, dude, that’s a brick. The sign says from $199,000. He goes, yeah, I’m moving in. I said you can’t even pay the money here. He goes, I got a zero down, no-income doc loan. They go over there […] early.
I was scared, but it was a very short window. They really got wacky on the lending. It was kind of gradual and then a sudden explosion right before the thing blew. But yes, it was terrifying for a brief while to be in the affordable housing business when customers could choose a home and a brick custom home in a subdivision. That was another bubble that blew and I don’t see that repeating itself.
Andrew: How did the parks do? Was it an exodus?
Frank: They did pretty well, actually, because the problem was even in the no-income doc era with a single-family, you still had to have some things go in your way like the ability to have good BS skills. Even though it was no income documentation, served on, you had to like to have at least enough minimum people skills, dress appropriately.
There were a few items required that they couldn’t come up with. There are still some cash items you have to have to buy. You had to have closing costs and many park residents did not have that. Now, that’s because I have always served the affordable housing side so as people with the lowest incomes. I imagine there are many park operators at that time who are trying to sell $40,000 and $50,000 mobile homes to people driving Hondas. Yeah, they don’t go for stick-built things. I don’t think I hit the brunt of that. There were probably markets that were much more bloody. I imagine in Denver, for example, where housing prices are high. The people typically have higher credit. If you were in that market, I could see you getting whacked. I was insulated to some degree.
Andrew: That’s good. A lot of people may not know that you studied economics at Stanford. We’re kind of in an interesting time right now with all this government stimulus and things going on. How do you think mobile home parks would fare if there’s a huge amount of inflation? Or what if the US dollar is no longer the reserve currency? How do you think mobile home parks would fare?
Frank: Again, being a student of economics and a voracious reader today of economic items, the best thing to be in inflation, regular inflation, or hyperinflation is in fact, real estate. Real estate and gold have been the gold standard of the inflation hedge. That’s what people gravitate into.
I’m not worried about mobile home parks from an inflation perspective. Where I’m puzzled in the whole economics is there are so many apparent bubbles right now in the securities industry, namely the stock market and the bond market. It makes no sense. You’ve got companies like Tesla. I know everyone thinks it’s kind of cool. Their new cyber truck is neato looking but you can’t get rid of the simple fact that business is about money. The valuations are about money. Mark Cuban got this bizarre economic quote recently that those don’t matter anymore. We’ve entered a new era. All that matters is what people think things are worth. He wants all of us to unhook from the whole idea of businesses making money that are part of the valuation. That to me is an instant bubble.
When you lose all moorings when you just let go of all the ropes off the dock and you just float out to sea on that principle, you’re going to die. That’s why every day I expect the market to fall 10,000 points or 20,000 points. I’m not sure if it fell 20,000 points. It was still tied back to the old days of PE ratios which traditionally was based on 10. It was considered normal. Today that number is 100. In the case of things like Amazon and Tesla, it’s in the thousands and as an economist, I would rate that as my number one concern.
My number two concern is just the national debt. We don’t seem to have any feeling of guilt at all about borrowing trillions and trillions of dollars. I mean, it’s wacky. I remember back in the days of Clinton, who was a Democrat. We actually had a surplus during that period because we all thought as a nation. We’re not supposed to actually not have debt and now we’ve gotten debt crazy and economically, debt crazy has never had a good ending in all of the years of economics.
The other thing I also will point out as an economics person, which anyone who studied economics in college knows, all economic crashes have occurred or all the big ones have occurred within the first year of a new presidential term. I think a lot of people thought that it was last year that we broke the cycle. No, it wasn’t. Last year was a precursor, but it didn’t do the damage where it needed to be. The stock market did decline. It came roaring back. Home prices have come roaring back.
You have every bubble of my lifetime at the same time. You have massive stocks, massively overvalued single-family, massively overvalued everything, and something’s going to blow. I don’t know what the trigger event will be, but I think the worst is still yet to come in the very near future. I would imagine sometime this year or the worst case, next year.
In fact, if you look at economists, eighty-something percent of all world economists are predicting the same thing. Maybe we all went to be economically skilled at the same spot at the same moment in time. Maybe we have a new world order that Mark Cuban is secretly heading up behind the scenes. But math is math and that’s why Munger, Warren Buffett’s partner, recently said this is the scariest moment in American history economically because none of the charts, the graphs, the science, it’s all completely unhinged.
The US is now driving a car with all the lug nuts missing, with all the tires completely bald, going on a one-inch thick sheet of ice and we’re all pretending like everything’s going good. It isn’t.
At some point, the car is going to blow the tire, the tire will fall off, slide across the ice. That’s why I’m very comfortable with the mobile home park because to me, it’s a gigantic contrarian hedge and that’s why I’m still very happy in that industry because I feel like if I have to be in something, I prefer real estate to gold because gold is not income producing. To me, that’s an easy choice. In the real estate sector, clearly, particularly after COVID, mobile home parks are the best you can do not because I’m in it. That’s just the way the movie ended which no one would have anticipated two years ago.
Two years ago, the rankings of real estate mobile home park owners were considered […]. But now the retail, office, lodging have all been destroyed and even apartments to some degree. We look at utter geniuses utter sheer and utter luck. I’m very happy being in the mobile home park business.
Andrew: Wow. You just drop some golden nuggets there. Somebody needed to hear that. That has been taking some riskier bets. I couldn’t agree with you more. I follow Ray Dalio and he’s been saying we’re on the verge of a civil war for quite a while now.
Frank: Let me give you my quick opinion on that because I ponder on all kinds of things. We’re not on the brink of any kind of civil war. What’s happening is Europe is kind of like America but they’re all separate countries. You’ve got England and you’ve got France, but they’re the size of states and that’s how the US has become. We’re not really a nation of states. We’re just a bunch of countries and I live in Missouri, and Missouri, as a country, has nothing to do with California as a country. I see going forward what would be more important to people rather than living in a nation we live in, what state you’re in. The states are going to become extremely more divergent in their laws, their taxation system, all kinds of items. You really need to match.
If there’s something people should be thinking about beyond mobile home parks, think about where you’re living. If you don’t align with your state’s values, if you say no, the state is not doing what I like, you might want to consider getting the heck out of there. You’ve seen that recently. You’ve seen Elon Musk, who is a huge fan of California, loves California, wrote articles on how much California is the greatest place in the world, and what did he do? He moved down to Austin because he saw the bigger picture, which is that over time, people, even where I am in Missouri, don’t really care about national news at this point.
All we care about is Missouri news. I live in Missouri. Yes, I’m within the boundaries of America, but that’s like saying someone is in the boundaries of the United Kingdom. They don’t care because they live in Scotland versus Ireland or England.
I think that’s the future. We’re not going to have a war. We’re not going to have the state of Missouri declaring war on the state of California but you are going to have a war between where people like to live and locate their business. Those states who have done a bad job of promoting a good quality of life will suffer greatly which you’ve already seen. New York is losing people hand over fist and they’re losing all the affluent people. The affluent people who can afford to leave. They all left. The problem is they’re not coming back.
New York is not going to be able to pay its bills. When you don’t pay your bills, you won’t have police and you won’t have fire and then it will only get worse and it will just keep going down and down. You don’t want to be in New York. Then you’d be like, well, I’m getting out of here. I think you’ll see some giant shifts. People were changing because of the weather. But it’s no longer about the weather. The weather was why they went to California but now, based on politics and economics, they’re migrating out of California. You’re seeing a whole reshuffling of the map is what I say.
Andrew: Yeah, that makes sense. What do you think about the US dollar and the reserve currency? Do you think that it’s at risk?
Frank: The only reason the US dollar is highly valued is that all the other currencies of the world are considered riskier. People have confidence in the dollar. If that confidence should fall for any reason, then you have a real problem because a lot of us are based on our reputation. It’s like the old Warren Buffett who takes a lifetime to build a reputation and five minutes to lose it. That’s why people need to be watchful over what policies we have economically. We have way too much debt right now. We got to cut the debt. When people talk about these programs, it sounds like a turn-on to people like, hey, let’s raise student debt and things like that. Someone’s got to mind the store here.
You cannot give everything away for free and have a happy ending. It’s economically impossible. It’s never worked in world history. For America to do well, for the dollar to remain constant, we have got to start becoming a nation that actually creates a surplus, that cuts a lot of spending. It’s just like a person. Right now, if America came to you to borrow money, you’d probably say no because you can’t even cover your bills. You’ll never pay me back because you’re broke. I think more people need to realize that in the government and voters we have to change our path because we cannot go on like this.
We cannot balloon from $20 trillion of debt to $40 trillion to $100 trillion and just imagine somehow it all works in the end. It has never worked in the end. The problem is you have most of the politicians today are very, very old.
An 80-year-old person does not really have skin in the game because they’re already at the effective end of their life cycle. We need some decision-makers who are maybe a few decades younger who actually have a stake in the business because they actually have kids and care about tomorrow. Because when you’re in your 80s, it’s just a sad fact, you may have some wisdom, but you don’t have the actuarial table of life to really make you a stakeholder. I think that’s another bit of the problem. If you take the deficit up enormously when you’re 85, you’ll never see the unhappy ending of it all. We have a lot of problems in America, not the mobile home park business. The mobile home park business is doing good. America, way screwed up.
Andrew: To piggyback on that, what do you think about this $15 an hour minimum wage and how would that affect mobile home parks? Some say that it would help because some of the service-based jobs would make more, but some say it would have a counter effect. What do you think?
Frank: Let me tell you this. Back when I had the billboard business, my number one advertiser was McDonald’s. I had all the fast foods. I had McDonald’s. I had Taco Bell. I had Burger King, all those guys. Over the years,15 years working with them, I learned a lot about their businesses. I would learn what products were profitable. That’s what we would promote on the sign. I learned when those products weren’t profitable, what price points, we’re on all that stuff.
In a McDonald’s, for example, a typical McDonald’s often has 60 employees. Some of them have more than that but they come in two categories. The adults who are there full-time and the part-time kids. McDonald’s likes the part-time kids because it gets them involved in the community. They don’t really need all those teenagers. They do it to be nice and since they’re doing it to be nice, you need a minimum wage that’s reasonably low or they won’t have that opportunity.
If you raise the minimum wage, I can tell you exactly what will happen. They’ll cut all of that temp labor. They’ll keep all the adults who can run it without those teenagers. You’re going to look at McDonald’s window, you see all these teenagers standing around at the drive-thru window late at night. They don’t need those kids. They could let three or four of them go and so that will be a hard decision. I think people don’t understand the ramifications of this.
If you raise the minimum wage, a lot of people are going to be hurt and it’s a terrible idea. We have a free-market society. You can’t say that 15 hours is appropriate in, for example, West Virginia, where it’s currently at $7.25, or in Missouri, where I am, where it’s currently $10. You have to let the state set that. Going back to my earlier comment, that actually is part of this civil war between the states. If you raise the minimum wage, it makes employment more costly to factories looking to relocate from some of the states that have high wages. That’s what they’re trying to actually do, in my opinion, because if you look at the truth, a lot of manufacturers move to the southeast because of low labor cost. Well, I know, let’s jack up the labor cost and they won’t leave California to move to Texas because they’ll say, oh, well, it’s the same cost if I move.
I think there are all kinds of inherent evil in that plan. I know people say, oh, that’s terrible. People need to earn more. No, the free market has done a perfectly fine job with that. I think the downside of it is far greater than any upside. I don’t think the nation needs to set a level for states.
Andrew: I totally agree with you. I would assume that means that you think it would have a negative effect on mobile home parks.
Frank: No, because my customers are not teenagers. My customers are adults. What you’re going to have are the adults that are not making $15 an hour working at Taco Bell. They’re going to see a certain hike and they’re also going to see an elevation of their status because now they’re more important workers. They don’t have those three extra teenagers. They just have Larry and Larry is now considered by the owner a much more important team member.
I think it will actually help mobile home parks. What I’m saying is for the nation. I wear two hats. I’m in the mobile home park business but I also live in the United States. The nation is going to get whacked with that policy. People will look back and say that was the worst thing anyone ever did and then they’ll have to try and undo it. Then it’ll be torturous trying to undo it.
I think that’s another case of people not looking at the overall impact there. It’s a feel-good sound bite to some people, but those people don’t know anything about business or economics, or anything. I don’t trust their opinion because it’s not going to work well.
Andrew: Yeah, I agree with you. Frank, this has been an amazing interview. I’m sure we can talk for another couple of hours.
Frank: Oh, easily. We could go on for days in fact.
Andrew: I wanted to ask if there’s a listener out there that would like to get a hold of you, what is the best way for them to do so?
Frank: Sure. If you just go to mhu.com, you’ll find me all over that thing. It’s got all of our contact, everything on there. That’s just the easiest way. Just go to the website and you’ll find me everywhere. Even through Google, you can find my number all the time and call me. I always answer the phone. I answer all kinds of crazy questions. I help kids doing college reports on the mobile home park industry due the next day. I try and give them facts and figures. I’ll talk to anybody.
Andrew: He really does mean that. I talked to three new operators in the past month and they were all like, yeah, I talked to Frank. I just called him up and started talking to him. He’s always driving somewhere. Every time they call you and that’s been the same for me. I always appreciate your insights.
Frank: I helped two Ivy League kids do their papers last year.
Andrew: Oh, that’s awesome.
Frank: Seriously. I’ll help anybody.
Andrew: I do believe that and thank you for being so willing to help and share. That means a lot and does a lot for the industry. Thank you so much for coming to the show, Frank. It was a pleasure having you. That’s it for today, folks. Thank you all so much for tuning in.