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Interview with Jeff Cook of Cook Properties NY

Listen on Apple Podcast here: https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/interview-with-jeff-cook-of-cook-properties-ny/id1520681893?i=1000643543891

SHOW NOTES

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 interviews a previous guest on the show, Mr. Jeff Cook, the CEO of Cook Properties NY, the largest owner and operator of manufactured housing communities in New York state.

Jeff Cook’s career began as a project manager at a market research firm before venturing into real estate by acquiring multi-family properties in Rochester, NY starting in 1997. In 2008, he expanded into purchasing his first manufactured housing community. Since then, Cook Properties has experienced remarkable growth, boasting a mobile home park portfolio of over 100 communities comprising 7,000+ lots.

In this episode, Andrew and Jeff Cook reconnect to explore Jeff’s recent endeavors since his last appearance on the show. They delve into his remarkable scaling strategies in today’s market and discuss the mobile home park industry’s future outlook. Jeff also shares his insightful approach to building a team from scratch, offering a wealth of knowledge for aspiring, emerging, and experienced passive mobile home park investors alike.

Andrew Keel is the owner of Keel Team, LLC, a Top 100 Owner of Manufactured Housing Communities with over 3,000 lots under management. His team currently manages over 40 manufactured housing communities across more than 10 states. 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. Check out KeelTeam.com to learn more. 

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 500 total 5-star reviews, 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.Would you like to see value-add mobile home park projects in progress? If so, follow us on Instagram: @passivemhpinvesting for photos and awesome videos from our recent mobile home park acquisitions.

Talking Points:

00:21 – Welcome to the Passive Mobile Home Park Investing Podcast

03:54 – Scaling a team and growing pains 

06:54 – Finding the perfect Manufactured Housing community Acquisitions and Management team

08:50 – Mobile Home Park acquisitions and the growth of Cook Properties

11:24 – Mobile Home Park evictions and rent control in New York State 

15:50 – Pivoting in the current Mobile Home Park market

18:30 – Staffing appropriately if you’re going to scale up in the mobile home park asset class

21:52 – Raising capital quickly

23:56 – How were mistakes addressed?

26:00 – Mobile Home Parks can cash flow well, if managed right

28:53 – Ground-up Mobile Home Park development

36:00 – Being good stewards of the Mobile Home Park Industry and making the right decisions 

37:31 – Getting a hold of Jeff Cook of Cook Properties 

38:02 – Conclusion

SUBSCRIBE TO THE PASSIVE MOBILE HOME PARK INVESTING PODCAST YOUTUBE CHANNEL: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCy9uI3KGQmFgABsr9lUtRTQ

Links & Mentions from This Episode:

Jeffery’s email: jeffcook@cookproperties.com 

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/PassiveMHPinvestingPodcast 

Andrew Keel Instagram page: https://www.instagram.com/passivemhpinvesting/ 

Twitter: @MHPinvestors


TRANSCRIPT

Welcome to the Passive Mobile Home Park Investing podcast. With your host, Andrew Keel. This is the podcast where you can get the education you need to invest 100% passively in a highly profitable niche of mobile home parks. 

Andrew: Welcome to the Passive Mobile Home Park Investing podcast. This is your host, Andrew Keel. Today, we have a special guest who’s been on the show previously in Mr. Jeff Cook, the CEO and CFO of Cook Properties, the largest owner operator of manufactured housing communities in New York state.

Before we dive in, I would like to ask a real quick favor. Would you mind just taking the extra 30 seconds to head over to wherever you listen to this podcast and leave a review? This helps us get more listeners, and it means the absolute world to me. Thank you so much for leaving that review of the show. All right, let’s dive in.

Jeff Cook started his career as a project manager for a market research company and only began purchasing multifamily properties in the city of Rochester back in 1997. Jeff purchased his first manufactured housing community in 2008. Since Jeff was last on the show in January of 2021, Cook Properties portfolio has grown substantially. They now own over a hundred communities, totaling over 7000 lots.

When he was on the show in episode 36, He had around 2000 lots and only 26 parks. We’re excited to talk about the scale that Jeff has taken on and some of his growing pains he experienced during that massive jump. Jeff, welcome to the show.

Jeff: Thanks, Andrew. I appreciate it. It’s good to be back on again. It seems like a lot longer than just a couple years ago, but time is right, right?

Andrew: Yeah, totally, man. Would you mind just reminding our listeners about your story and what it was like to start investing into manufactured housing communities back in 2008 of all times?

Jeff: Sure. Just one thing too. I got to correct you on the description. We actually have a CFO, Scott Mulcahy. Not that he would care, but I can’t spread myself that thin anymore, which is a little bit of a theme for us probably throughout this podcast.

I started buying parks back in 2008. I had recently sold all of my apartments in the city of Rochester. We had gotten up to about a hundred units and just felt the time was right to sell. We timed it right. We sold way before the big crash and started moving into more commercial and mobile home parks, manufactured housing communities.

I bought the first one, like you mentioned, in 2008. I quickly fell in love with the business model. Whereas my background was in apartments, so there was a lot of touch, a lot of management. The first community that I bought was not a lot of touch and not a lot of management. It was primarily seniors. It was a newer community built in the 1990s, a lot of double wides and 40-storage units.

Like I said, I just really fell in love with it and just started buying more and more. It really just quickly scaled up to the point where we are now. It’s been quite a ride. It’s certainly been enjoyable. I love it. I love running the business. love acquiring properties, love fixing them up and getting them to a point where we can refinance them, pull some cash out, and buy something else.

Andrew: That’s fantastic. Two years ago, till now, you’ve added 5000 lots, started a fund. What don’t we know about jumping to that next level of mobile home park management, ownership, et cetera?

Jeff: I don’t know. I like to think I know everything, but I also know that I don’t know everything. It’s a continual learning process. I never cease to be amazed about some of the things that I see not only in our parks, but with our own employees and with our team.

I remember when we were scaling. This was probably maybe seven years ago. Up until that point, my office was at my house. I wanted to hire an assistant to help with rent checks, phone calls, and what have you. It was me and my brother at the time. My wife said, if you’re going to hire an employee, you need to move out of the house and find your own space. I said, okay.

We bought a little office building down the street, and we had a tenant who was an electrician. He said, Jeff, and I’ve heard this after since then, he’s like, the hardest part about running a business is the employees. It’s difficult. It’s difficult to have a good sound team. It’s just with personalities and everyone’s different.

We like to think we’re all people and we are, but at the same time, everyone is unique. Everyone has their own trials and tribulations. It’s difficult to get everyone to do what it is that you want them to do.

After that, we moved out of that small office building very quickly within six months and moved to a new office building, where I am right now across from the airport. It’s definitely difficult to scale.

I think one of the other things that I wanted to touch on, and that we talked about it, Andrew and, I’m sure you remember because I mentioned this, I think, when I saw you at SECO. Was it SECO?

Andrew: I think that was the last time. Yeah.

Jeff: SECO, yeah. I was still in the process of scaling and wasn’t quite there as far as my staff and our team. We were in Denver, me, you, and a couple of other guys, meeting with some potential investors. You asked me about what my payroll was. I don’t remember the exact numbers, but I do remember your face. Your face was like, you’re woefully understaffed.

I don’t think we talked about it, but we certainly exchanged looks. In my mind, I was like, I’ll be fine. We weren’t fine. We were definitely way understaffed, especially on the call of the middle manager and leadership side of things. That quickly became apparent over the next probably 12 months or so after we were in Denver. It’s been a ride, but we did end up staffing up and got the leadership that we needed to bring into our building.

Andrew: What did that process look like, Jeff? How did you find these people? Are you hiring local people that come to the office every day? Is it remote? What did that all look like?

Jeff: That’s a good question. It was difficult in the sense that up until two years ago, a little bit more, I was doing more or less everything myself. I was at the top of the pyramid. I still am, but it went from the top of the pyramid all the way down to the onsite manager. So there wasn’t a lot in between.

A lot of it was me giving up control, delegating authority, letting other people make decisions. I had formerly always made by myself. That was difficult, but at the same time, like I said, Andrew, we were so woefully understaffed that I was very forthcoming about what I needed. I was like, come help, come help.

Fortunately, we hired some really, really good people, most of which are still with us. We did most of that through a local executive. I’m a big proponent of being in the office for the most part, so I wanted people that were local. We hired some people that had some commercial real estate experience, but no one had any manufactured housing community experience. A lot of them were from the apartment sector. There was certainly a learning curve, not only on my part, but also on their part. It took a little while, but it was quite the process.

Andrew: With adding 5000 lots, how could you not be understaffed? To grow that fast, I think it’s just natural to just be understaffed and try to build up to be able to sustain that. Tell us about that big acquisition. That was from our previous recording. How did that come about? You put the fun together. How was that capital raise? Are you coming out with additional funds? Where is Cook Properties at today?

Jeff: Back in maybe spring of 2020, we started raising a new semi blind fund, Cook Properties fund 2020. We ended up raising about $26 million dollars. We purchased $65 million in manufacturing housing communities. There are 1500 pads across 12 communities throughout New York State, primarily Western New York. Go bills, by the way. Go bills.

We did that. We acquired all the properties. We finished closing on the last one in the fall of 2021. Even before we closed, we had a wonderful opportunity to acquire a local operators full portfolio. That portfolio consisted of 2300 pads across 55 parks. We were going crazy there for a little while while we got our feet on ourselves. Again, we staffed up. I hired a CFO. We hired a couple of guys in acquisitions. We hired a VP of tax, we hired a controller, we hired a CEO.

Andrew: Let me just interject here. You have an in house attorney just to handle your evictions in the state of New York.

Jeff: We do not. We’ve contemplated that all the time. I think we have five different firms right now that we use throughout New York State. We have a couple big ones, one in particular, actually I just saw them this morning, who fortunately has offices all throughout New York State. We’re doing a lot of evictions, for sure.

Andrew: We have one community, which we talk about all the time over there in Buffalo. Since we’ve bought it back in 2020, we’ve had the same three tenants that have never paid, and the previous owner had problems with these same three tenants. Now it’s a 55-lot park, so it’s still cash flows well, but it’s the same three tenants that have never paid.

We go in front of the judge, and he just keeps extending it. He’s like, oh, this family has kids. We’re just going to extend it another six months. It’s just unbelievable. It’s frustrating. It’s like, okay, well, are you going to take that off of our property taxes, Mr. Judge? It’s just frustrating.

I’m just curious, because obviously you have cracked the code somehow. You have a big portfolio in the state of New York, but we are holy moly, this is some headwinds. Maybe you can just talk about just the New York state struggles of ownership, evictions, and things like that up there.

Jeff: It sucks. There’s no doubt at all. It’s certainly a struggle. It’s one of our biggest pain points. But given where we are, there’s not a whole lot we can do about it as far as just playing the game.

I wrote myself a note, Andrew. I’ll send you our contact throughout that way. He’s really good, by the way. We work it. Our attorneys have to fight for us, because depending on the judge in a particular municipality, they may do what you just described, Andrew. They just may just keep kicking that can down the road.

Although it’s not in writing and no one has said this to us, we have a feeling that we’re getting a lot of pushback from the county to the judges, trying to keep residents in their homes. If they do get evicted, they’re likely going to be requesting county services.

There’s just been such a, a flood of evictions over the past year. Don’t forget, we couldn’t even evict and it hasn’t even been a year yet. January 31st of 23 is when we could actually bring a case to court. Again, it’s been a long process, but we are in pretty good shape as far as evictions.

Our residents came and got attuned to a lot of bad habits as far as paying their lot rent and their water bills. A lot of it’s a matter of just retraining. Unfortunately the judges and just New York State in general are not being super helpful or cooperative.

Andrew: A couple of times, we help the tenants get on community rental assistance programs. They paid six months of back rent. We just had to hold their hand to get them signed up and things like that. We’ve been really hands on with it. It’s been a struggle. That’s why maybe those portfolios you were buying, maybe you probably got a good price, because people are trying to leave the state of New York.

The other big thing is rent control. How do you guys look at rent control when you look at a property for a long term hold? To me, that’s scary, because I want to buy something that I can consistently add value to and beat inflation ideally. How do you guys look at that? Do you have any tricks to overcoming 3% per year in the state of New York?

Jeff: Yeah, it is a certainly concerning. We can do 3% rent increases by right, regardless of anything else. We can go an additional 3% as long as we can document the capital expenditures for those 3%.

We spend a lot of money on our parks. We’re always trying to improve them or at least tread water as far as capex. Being up here in the Northeast, we get hammered with it snow, ice, and salts. We’re constantly fixing roads, broken water lines, and sewer lines.

Getting to that 6% is not an issue. We’ve done 6% on the past two on our 2nd year right now. We’ve had a little bit of blowback, but again, we’re able to document it and live within the state legislator and the governor signed back in the summer of 2019.

Andrew: That’s awesome. I hit you with a couple of cons there, but one pro, I always look at the U-Haul top growth cities and top rent growth cities across the country. They come out with that report every January, and Buffalo, the MSA, was the top area for rent growth out of the whole country. I’ll have to find that, but I was just super surprised. The demand for rentals in Buffalo is the strongest. It’s a strong market. It comes with headwinds, right?

Jeff: For sure. Yeah, certainly not without struggles and difficulties. We can’t get our homes into the parks quick enough. It really comes down to a matter of resources and how quickly we can do the work to get that home ready. As you know, the last thing I’m going to do is be sitting on a home that we’re paying floor plan on. It certainly has its struggles.

Andrew: Yeah. Let’s talk about interest rates rising in the last few years. It’s been tougher to put deals together. We’ve come across a lot of sellers that are just stuck, and they want 2021 pricing. How have you guys pivoted and dealt with that?

Jeff: We’ve been slow, Andrew. We only bought two properties last year. One was a small park, and then we also bought a good size storage facility, but they were both off market. Interest rates still definitely have been difficult in the past couple of years. Fortunately, 90% of our debt is off fixed low interest rate, long term debt. We did have a couple of floaters that we’re in the midst of refinancing right now. All of our debt will be fixed here within the next 90 days or so, which we’re very excited about, happy about, and certainly a weight off of our shoulders.

Andrew: Did you guys have to buy a rate cap on those floaters?

Jeff: We did. Yeah. One of them was actually for the fun. I remember when we were buying the property and we were putting on that variable debt, I was saying to myself, I don’t know, man, we’re not going to need a rate cap. The bank, of course, made us get one. I’m glad that they did, because otherwise our rate would have been extremely high. Floating rate that is definitely a scary thing, especially in these volatile times. But like I said, within 90 days, we’ll be all fixed. We’ll be fixed rate on everything.

Andrew: That’s awesome. Yeah, just de-risk.

Jeff: Just de-risk it, yup.

Andrew: We’ve never done one of those floaters, and I know a lot of the multifamily guys are really big on them. Some of them are just getting creamed right now.

Jeff: For sure.

Andrew: Did you have to buy that rate cap upon acquisition, or did you have to buy it when rates started going up?

Jeff: No, upon acquisition.

Andrew: Okay, because I know that just got more expensive as time went on.

Jeff: It’s tough. You try to predict the future and you look back. Just over the past three years, and you’re like, 10 years from now, Andrew, we’re going to look back. We’re going to be like, wait, what do you mean there was Covid, and then rates went up 300% over the past two years. The world shut down for almost two years. Real estates for the most part, as long as you had fixed rate debt, is still coming through. Yeah, crazy, crazy time.

Andrew: Maybe the world in New York shut down for a few years, but down here in Florida, we were still eating out at restaurants and having a good time at the beach.

Jeff: Yeah, that certainly was not the case. Like I said, we could only evict as of 12 months ago.

Andrew: Jeez, that is so crazy.

Jeff: We are tried and tested here in New York state.

Andrew: That’s for sure, especially how cold it gets up there. Tell us a few mistakes in mobile home park investing that our listeners could learn from.

Jeff: Probably the biggest one is what we just talked about, and that is making sure you’re staffed, if you’re staffed appropriately, if you’re going to scale. Before we got into a situation where we were understaffed, my attitude was always, we’ll bring on the properties and then we’ll staff up. It’s tough because which way do you want, the chicken or the egg first?

An ideal situation, you’re staffing up as you’re growing. I think we just grew so rapidly that was really impossible almost to be at the staffing level that we needed and utilizing our current cash flow to pay for those salaries, because we added a million dollars in salaries within six months. Obviously, if I could go back, I would have done it differently, but we didn’t. That’s certainly one mistake that I wish I hadn’t made, but again, it’s something that we’ll never do again.

I think more degrees of mistakes, obviously, is not a hundred percent percent black and white, but always doing your due diligence, making sure you’re peeking under the ground, checking out your utilities, which of course we always have done. Maybe in some degree, we should have done more versus less. Scoping your sewer lines, checking your water lines, checking water bills. Checking bank account statements to make sure that the receivables or the payout, what’s coming in is what the seller says is coming in.

Andrew: That’s a big one right there. That’s a tough one.

Jeff: Checking pads, making sure you can bring homes back into a community after a home leaves. Or if you have vacant lots, what’s the process? How difficult is it going to be to get new homes in there?

We find it’s very municipal specific. We might have one community where they’re like, yeah, just pull a building permit and go ahead and bring the home in. Whereas other ones are just much more difficult about what they want to see from us.

Andrew: Yeah, and what they allow for sure in terms of age of home. That’s a big one in the markets that we invest in. They put a limit. They’re like, hey, you can only bring in homes that are 10 years old or newer into this community. If you don’t do your due diligence beforehand, you don’t raise enough money to bring in new homes. You’re in trouble.

Jeff: Exactly, yup.

Andrew: That’s a good one.

Jeff: I think another thing too, and this is not so much about running parks, but maybe as far as capital raising and acquisition, is always over raise at least a little bit.

Andrew: Have a miscellaneous budget.

Jeff: Yeah. It’s much easier to say, hey, let’s raise a little bit extra money, and we’ll see how things go over the next six months, and we can return it. Yeah, it’s going to hurt the IRR a little bit, the cash on cash. Andrew, as an investor yourself, who wants to have to come up with more cash later on down the road? I, myself, and I know most of our investors, would rather be on the conservative side and gets maybe over-raised, and then just get that capital return back again 6-12 months down the road.

Andrew: Yeah. That’s interesting. You raised a lot of money really fast. How did you go about doing that? You know, what type of terms did you have to offer, because that had to be a huge undertaking? I know your background when we spoke in Denver was more acquisitions and looking at new deals to completely pivot and say, hey, I don’t need to worry about acquisitions right now, I need to raise capital in a big way. What did that process look like?

Jeff: Fund 2020, like I said, we raised about $26 million. That fund is closed, but it’s still operating, of course. We got another five to six years left on the horizon for that one. That one, we were at an 8% pref, 80/20 split. I was pretty aggressive on that because again, we had to raise so much capital quickly. We haven’t raised any LP.

We haven’t raised a whole lot of LP money since then. Our big 2200 pad acquisition, we actually went with a JV partner. There, I think we rate a high single digit IRR hurdle, which was good at the time. Again, when we closed on that rates, we’re in the low fours. Again, we’re trying to do more larger deals. We’re really looking more towards the institutional capital raising and not so much on the smaller LP side.

Andrew: Got you. Just talking to those passive investor, limited partners right now, maybe they’ve invested in one or two apartment syndications, but they’ve never done anything in the mobile home community space. What advice would you give them knowing what you know now and all the dynamics that go into a deal, the deal structure, the properties themselves, a blind fund, like asking someone to put money in without knowing the actual real estate that will be bought? What advice would you give them? Maybe come from a place of, hey, if you were going to invest passively, what would you want to know?

Jeff: Probably the first thing is a track record, see what their track record is. How have they done in the past? What successes and what failures have they had? With the failures, Andrew, how have they responded? How have they handled those?

Especially in these days right now, these times where interest rates are so volatile, a lot of sponsors are having a lot of difficulties, because some of them have floating rate debt, or their debt is expiring and they have to go get new debt. Maybe they need to bring in some more equity from their  LPs. Maybe they have to sell.

Things were really good for 10-12 years there from the great recession just up until recently. I think it’s important to understand how they react and again, how they handle those types of situations. I don’t know if we’re going to go back into a 10-year run, 10 year stretch, where we had a lot of wind behind us, wind in our sails. Track record’s extremely important.

Andrew: To piggyback on that real quick, I was listening to this podcast. It’s like a CBRE update podcast this morning. He said, the biggest problem right now is syndication shops, operators like yourself and myself, that they’re not doing as many deals, so they’re not getting acquisition fees. They’re not getting that income to be able to pay staff, pay the internal team.  That, for some shops, could cause them in either to do bad deals.

They’re like, don’t pencil out, because rates are now way higher than they were last year or the year before, so they force it on some stuff. What are your thoughts on that? Do you think that there’s some relevance to that in today’s market?

Jeff: Yeah, I’m sure it’s happening. I don’t have any firsthand knowledge, but again, I think it goes back to track record, because you don’t want someone forcing a bad deal just to get those fees. We don’t live off of our acquisition fees or disposition fees. It’s not super important to us.

I don’t know on your end, Andrew, but I feel like we’re looking at more deals than we ever have in the past. We’re pulling the trigger on so little. I feel like we’re looking at 1% of the deals that even make sense these days.

Andrew: Yeah, we’re looking at 8 ½% interest on our recent deal. If we can’t underwrite that by end of year two to get that to an 11-cap, it doesn’t work. We’re looking at deals and they’re just not working.

Thankfully, I think at your scale and my scale, we have enough lots to cover management fees and things like that. We don’t need the acquisition fees. Thank goodness. Also mobile home parks cash flow very well if managed right. Thank goodness we’re not in some of the other asset classes. That’s good.

Jeff: Speaking of just of the beauty of manufactured housing companies, like I said, I fell in love with the asset class about 15 years ago, 2008. We’ve never had any issues with overall cash flow. Our collections go up and down a little bit, especially during Covid to a certain extent.

Right after all the funds got shut off, we had a little bit of a dip. They performed very, very, very well for us over the past 15 years. We love manufacturing housing communities. We are actively looking for more. Again, like we said, it’s tough to find them and tough to get them these days.

Andrew: Tell us like, what the perfect park looks like that you guys would buy right now. Is it value add? What type of work are you doing to these parks that you buy? Are they more stabilized? Are you infilling? What does that look like?

Jeff: We do a little bit of both. We certainly wouldn’t buy some of the stuff that I bought. My first couple of parks, we probably wouldn’t buy them now because they would be too small. But ideally, we’re looking for 50-100 pads or more, of course, public utilities. We’re not scared of septic, but we pretty much have a no go on well water for the most part.

Andrew, anything at the right price, of course, we’ll certainly take on. But ideally, we want to be in that 70%-75% range as far as occupancy so we can get bank financing, but there’s still some meat on the bone for us to add some value. As far as in being in New York state, we actually will go down to as little as 25 pads if it’s close to something we’re already on.

Andrew: Nice. Before we started recording, you said you’ve expanded your footprint now. You’re actually doing a ground up development of a mobile home community down in South Carolina. Would you mind just telling us about that process? This is your first one, so what have you learned? Is it something you’re going to plan on doing more of?

Jeff: It’s exciting. It’s very exciting. We’ve done some quasi ground up development in New York State, where we’ve taken some greenfield land that has been next to some of our parks, and then we’ve expanded the parks. We had to go through all the permitting process, the town board meetings, and what have you to get full municipal approval. This is just a little step beyond that.

We’re looking in states of South Carolina, Georgia, North Carolina, Tennessee, where there’s tremendous growth, tremendous job growth, tremendous need for affordable housing. That’s how we landed in South Carolina.

We bought a piece of land a couple of months ago just south of Greenville. It’s a smaller park. It’s only 30 acres. We have permits for 80 homes to go in there, and we should be breaking ground in March. We’re just finishing up the final contracts with the site contractor.

Andrew: What headwinds did you face in that process, and how long have you been working on it?

Jeff: That one wasn’t too bad. We’ve been working on that one for about nine months. We’ve had a couple of other failures, where we’ve gone significantly really far down the road and then got shot down at the final municipal approvals. This one was easier, because there was no elected officials involved in this one. It was more just administrative through the planning department.

All the way from the first meeting until the last meeting in the community in the Greenville area, they were very favorable and very much approving of the manufactured housing community concept. Some of the other municipalities weren’t so favorable and welcoming to us. There’s still big stereotype out there, Andrew. We tell them what we want to do and they’re like, oh, no, we don’t want trailer parks.

My first comment back to them is, yeah, of course, we don’t want trailer parks either, and that’s not what we’re building. We’ll show them really nice pictures of what we’re doing. We show them what we already have and how nice our current communities look, but it’s really difficult to change old stereotypes. It’s going to happen. I think it’s going to take more time and some more pressing the officials like we’re doing right now.

Andrew: Got you. How do you finance something like that? Are you using a local bank, or do you use more Wall Street money, something like that?

Jeff: For this development, we closed on the land with cash. Then we found just a private money guy who is coming in with us on the equity, someone that we’ve known that has some MH knowledge and experience, actually quite a bit of knowledge and experience. Financing, same thing. It was just a private financier who, again, had some information and had some knowledge about manufactured housing.

I think given this is our first fully greenfield development and the fact that it was outside New York state, it was a little difficult to get financed. I think once we get this one going, it’ll be easier for us on the next one around. It also doesn’t help that it’s a new thing for a lot of banks and the fact that rates are so high. Construction interest rates are 9%-11% and the fact that we’re out of state. A couple of big things are going against us, but we were able to pivot and get what we needed.

Andrew: How are you going to bring the homes in? What’s the plan there? Are you going to have tenants buy their own homes and bring it in? Are you doing all brand new homes? How are you planning on doing that?

Jeff: Yeah, we’re going to do all brand new homes. We’re focused on a sales model. We’ll bring them in on spec. We’ll probably bring in about 10-12 at a time and then sell them. They’re going to be primarily single wides in that $100,000 range. Of course, rental models are our plan B, but our first option and first goal is to sell the homes.

Andrew: Cool. Just at a high level, what type of returns on a development deal? Do you guys plan on doing more of these? Is that something that you think is the future of manufactured housing?

Jeff: I do. I do think it’s the future. On this right here, we’re only looking at around a 2x on our money in five years. Again, it’s not something that I’m going to jump up and down about, but we’re happy to be moving in the direction that we want and to get it done.

I really would like to see more of a 3x on our money, at least in the mid twos. I think we’ll get there. We’ll get there eventually, maybe a little bit of help on interest rates and also a little bit bigger community. Eighty homes is not a huge scale. But again, we just want to get started and get going. We’re okay not making a ton of money on this one. We’re just happy to get it going.

Andrew: Cool. Coming up with just the last couple of questions here, how has your fund performed, the big one that you guys took down in 2021 with the large amount? It was 4000 lots  or something like that.

Jeff: Yeah, it was 2200 pads. It’s doing okay. It’s not performing up to where we expected it to, but still just a couple of points under expectations. Our biggest hurdle was after New York state, the federal government shut off the call to Covid money, and then we had to start evicting. We had a pretty good lapse, a pretty good slowdown in collections.

At some point in different municipalities, it was taking us six months to get in front of the judge to do an eviction. Some of our communities, if a resident gets six months delinquent, and there’s no resources for them to pay their back rent, they’re not going to pay.

That along with inflation and interest rates have caused some significant headwinds for us. We’re in a much better spot than we were nine months ago. It was a little difficult time. Again, just really focusing on the basics of occupancy collections, vacancy, and making sure that the residents were paying the rent.

Now we finally have the courts more or less behind us. Our other residents see their other neighbors getting evicted. That’s been helping to get people back to saying, hey, if I want to stay here, I got to pay the rent. I think Frank and Dave, I don’t know if they trademarked it, but they coined the phrase no pay, no stay. That got forgotten for a year or two during Covid.

Andrew: Yeah, definitely. Jeff, what do you think is the biggest threat to mobile home park investing?

Jeff: I’m a little concerned here, and I think it may be an opportunity for some of the more experienced operators. There’s a lot of the syndicators and sponsors that got into the game here over the past couple of years that don’t have the same experience and track record that me and you do as far as being able to handle some of the ups and downs in the market. That’s a little bit concerning to me and to potential investors.

You and I have been around for a decade or more. Being able to handle the tough times is extremely important to be good stewards of our investors money and to make the right decisions.

Andrew: Yeah, I think that there’s a narrative there. It’s like, hey, if they’ve been burned by another operator, they may just think that the whole asset class is trash and it’s not sustainable. I think it’s not a complex business. I was telling someone this just this morning. It’s not rocket science, but it does take a lot of elbow grease and follow through.

It’s amazing in that fact, but you got to keep your eye on the ball, because if you don’t do your quarterly inspections, you can drive through and, and the community will get messy really quickly. The same thing with collections, for sure. Jeff, dude, thank you so much for coming on the show. Really grateful. If any of our listeners would like to get a hold of you, what would be the best way for them to do so?

Jeff: Yeah, they can reach out via email. It’s a jeffcook@cookproperties.com.

Andrew: Awesome. If you had one last bit of information, Jeff, for interested passive mobile home park investors before we sign off, what would that be?

Jeff: Track record and experience. I think we’re heading into some turbulent times, like I said earlier. The track record and the experience will get that through.

Andrew: Awesome. Thanks again for coming on the show, Jeff.

Jeff: Thank you.

Andrew: That’s it for today, folks. Thank you all so much for tuning in. Again, I want to remind you, please leave the podcast a review. It’ll take you 30 seconds, and it means the absolute world to me. Thank you for taking the time to go and review this episode. Thanks so much. Have a good day.

Would you like to see mobile home parks values and projects in progress? If so, follow us on Instagram @passivemhpinvesting for photos and awesome videos from our recent mobile parks acquisitions. Once again that’s @passivemhpinvesting on Instagram. See you there.

https://keelteam.com

Andrew is a passionate commercial real estate investor, husband, father and fitness fanatic. His specialty is in acquiring and operating manufactured housing communities. Visit AndrewKeel.com for more details on Andrew's story.