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Interview with Jefferson Lilly of Park Avenue Partners

Listen on Apple Podcast here: https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/interview-with-jefferson-lilly-of-park-avenue-partners/id1520681893?i=1000639088732

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 one of America’s largest mobile home park operators, and one of his mentors in Mr. Jefferson Lilly from Park Avenue Partners.

Jefferson is a mobile home park investing expert and educator. He is the General Partner at Park Avenue Partners and has acquired over 43 mobile home parks across 15 states since 2007, totaling over $81 million in asset value. Jefferson started the mobile home park industry’s first podcast and the largest group on LinkedIn dedicated to investing in mobile home parks. He holds a B.A. from the University of Pennsylvania and an MBA from the Wharton School of Business. 

Jefferson was also a speaker at the SECO conference for mobile home park community owners, back in September and he had a couple of great sessions including one on valuing mobile home parks in 2023.

Jefferson is back on the show after almost 3 years since our previous recording with him on episode #33 and in this episode Jefferson discusses with Andrew how his current mobile home park portfolio is performing, agency debt versus CMBS financing, and he shares a couple of golden nuggets, tips and advice, for new mobile home park investors. 

We are fortunate to have Jefferson Lilly share his expertise with us on today’s show!

Andrew Keel is the owner of Keel Team, LLC, a Top 100 Owner of Manufactured Housing Communities with over 2,500 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 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

01:06 – Introduction to Jefferson Lilly

02:09 – The rise in interest rates

04:38 – Assuming agency debt for a loan when purchasing a mobile home park

09:00 – CMBS vs agency debt

13:42 – Jefferson’s journey into the Mobile home park industry

16:02 – Jefferson’s current mobile home park portfolio

18:00 – Mobile Home Park team members and managers

23:55 – Due Diligence: Outreach and test ads

24:57 – Scaling and prioritizing for your mobile home park business

30:31 – Jefferson’s perfect mobile home park

32:17 – Resources for new mobile home park investors

33:35 – The Mobile Home Park Investors Podcast

34:50 – Mobile Home Parks and their recession resilience

37:46 – Do your homework and jump in

38:50 – Reaching out to Jefferson Lilly

39:56 – Conclusion

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

Links & Mentions from This Episode:

Park Avenue Investors: https://www.parkavenuepartners.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

Andrew: Welcome to the Passive Mobile Home Park Investing Podcast. This is your host, Andrew Keel. Today, we have one of America’s largest mobile home park owner-operators and one of my mentors, Mr. Jefferson Lilly, from Park Avenue Partners, back on the show after almost three years since our previous recording, which was back on episode number 33.

Before we dive into that, though, I want to ask you all a real quick favor. Would you mind please taking an extra 30 seconds to head over to iTunes and rate this podcast with 5 stars? This helps us get more listeners and it literally means the world to me. I literally check these reviews daily. I’m just super passionate about it. So thanks for making my day with that review of the show. 

All right, let’s dive in. Jefferson is a mobile home park investing expert and educator. He is the general partner at Park Avenue Partners, and he has acquired over 43 mobile home parks in 15 different states since 2007. That’s totaling over $81 million in asset value.

He started the industry’s first podcast and the largest group on LinkedIn dedicated to investing in mobile home parks. He holds a BA from the University of Pennsylvania and an MBA from the Wharton School of Business. Jefferson, welcome back to the show.

Jefferson: Andrew, thank you. Great to be back. I can’t believe it’s been three years. Time flies when you’re having fun.

Andrew: That’s right. I know you were a speaker at the SECO Conference back in September and that was really awesome. I loved your session on valuing mobile home parks in 2023. Maybe we can start there. Interest rates have gone up. Maybe you could just touch a little bit on what’s changed in the mobile home park investing world.

Jefferson: I would say the biggest change has been the rise in interest rates. Fundamentally, there’s still all the same demand for affordable housing and it’s still hard to find good employees. That hasn’t changed, but the cost of money sure has. 

We’ve seen some change in pricing upwards, cap rate revisions, downward pricing on some deals. I certainly wouldn’t say the market, the sellers have capitulated. We continue to see some very mediocre deals, small towns, private utilities from brokers that are saying, okay, now it’s a 5½ cap instead of a five. We just can’t make that work when our cost of capital is now something over at or over 7%. 

That said, we have made two acquisitions this year. I believe we made four at the end of last year, so that’s all been during the period of higher interest rates. We paid cash for a couple of the three of those five properties. We think we got them at about an eight cap on lot rent only. We’re going to be getting those refinanced, pull some money out, make some subsequent acquisitions.

We’ve also passed on a lot of deals. We’ve structured seller carry at 5% fixed for 10 years on one of those deals. We have also assumed some CMBS financing with about another 5 years to run fixed at 5½. We’ve structured some cheap debts, either structured or assumed it. We’ve had no debt, again, just pay all cash for a couple of those properties while we improve them and find other things to buy.

Our rate of acquisitions has slowed since, say, three years ago. It’s a more popular business than ever, more buyers than ever, and the cost of capital on the debt side is higher than ever. 

Andrew: That’s great feedback. Thank you for that. I think that’s a recurring theme is more seller financing, trying to ask for that, assuming debt. I’ve never actually done that where you assume alone. Is that like pulling your hair out, fingernails on a chalkboard? 

Jefferson: Oh, that was insane. It was CMBS that we assumed. Now, I know a little bit about arranging CMBS debt. I’ve probably arranged somewhere, borrowed something over (I think) $40–$45 million worth of CMBS. When you structure it, it’s never easy, but you can get it done in about six weeks. Everybody’s incented to get a deal done because your mortgage broker is getting their commission on arranging the debt.

When you assume debt, there’s no mortgage broker payout. It’s just a big bureaucracy. The debt’s already been sold over to a mortgage servicer. Most of our debt, unfortunately, is either Wells Fargo or PNC, Midland, both of which are massive bureaucracies, but don’t get me up on that soapbox. 

Long story short, you’re dealing with an attorney who bills by the hour and has no real incentive to actually get the deal done. That was so slow, plus then they require a more thorough (I think) resume, background check on me than when I’m just initiating the debt. They wanted a more thorough, competitive summary of all the parts within 10 or 15 miles, which is not something that I believe anybody has ever asked for when we initiate brand new CMBS.

It seems to me there was another thing or two, some additional legal opinions. Anyway, it took six months to assume the debt. Again, we typically can structure the debt in six weeks roughly when it’s brand-new. It was an extremely lengthy process. Everybody was saying well it’ll probably take three months, could be four. We pushed it as hard really as we could. they would come back with additional inane requests for legal opinions.

Anyway, it was about six months, and we were pushing it pretty hard. Your listeners should know that if it’s below market debt, it might be worth sticking around for six months to get below market debt. It is a pain in the butt. 

Andrew: Painful, yeah. That’s fantastic, and the seller was willing to allow that six-month period which is like…

Jefferson: Yeah. I think we had in our contract, just that we had—I don’t know what it was—the standard 30 days for due diligence. Then it was basically just, and however much longer it takes to get the debt assumed. 

There wasn’t any bad blood. The seller could just say oh, assuming CMBS has taken more than six weeks, I’m out of here. We’re in it together for the duration. We’re married for at least six months while we both figure out how to assume transfer the debt from you to me. Anyway, we got it. 

Andrew: That’s smart that you put that in the contract and you figured it that way.

Jefferson: Yeah, and the properties have some upside. Again, I think we got those around an eight cap on lot rent only. There’s some upside. This was last year. There are still four-some odd years of runway in the debt.

Long story short, this will effectively give us a chance to refi part way through our 10-year partnership. It’ll hit right in about the five-year mark. Presumably, we will have improved the property values and we’ll (of course) have paid off that debt. I suspect we will be able to borrow some additional money, and either make a subsequent acquisition or pay that money back to our limiteds roughly at the five-year mark.

That’s a little new for us. Most or all of our other debt is CMBS. It runs 10 years, our funds run 10 years. For most of our other debt, there isn’t really an opportunity to refi and get some cash back to LPs before the fund matures.

But again, that was another reason—in addition to the low interest rate—we wanted to stick around for six months and go through the brain damage of assuming the CMBS financing.

Andrew: I’ve only done one CMBS refi into a CMBS loan. I’m curious why you have such a heavy allocation as CMBS versus agency debt.

Jefferson: The agencies have standards. That’s it. I’m a little tongue-in-cheek, but that’s not entirely inaccurate. We do always try to get agency debt. We’ve looked a little bit about trying to get the really cheap debt, which is direct from an insurance company. But frankly, most of what we buy has some hair on it. Some combination of higher than 20 % vacancy and/or certainly with park-owned homes, between vacant and park-owned, we’re over 20%. 

I think we have gotten a couple of quotes from the agencies. They’ve just been higher than CMBS has been. The market’s always changing. The last time we were establishing, creating new CMBS debt, that’s the way it was. 

Again, generally, we’re buying stuff that’s, as we call it, value-add and often the agencies and certainly the life co’s don’t want to lend on anything other than really the most perfect of parts.

For better or for worse, we’re getting less than perfect parts at a less than perfect price. We keep our operations in-house, so we would rather pay a lot less for a park that’s got some hair on it and fix it, then frankly be able to sell it on to a buyer at the end of the fund. Then it’s a fixed park, and then maybe that buyer can get the fancy agency or life co debt on it and pay us handsomely for it when it’s time to exit.

Basically, we roll up our sleeves. Probably three quarters of our parks, again, have some higher than ideal amount of vacancy or park-owned homes. That’s the way we play the game. 

Obviously, Sam Zell did it very differently and was buying perfect parks. I’m not the most successful mobile home park guy, but that’s the way we play it. We buy the good, the bad, and the ugly, and we fix it. 

Andrew: That’s fantastic. To circle back, we were talking about deal flow and brokers sending out deals. On LinkedIn, there’s an appraiser, Chuck Scherbeck. He puts out an MHC listing rundown. This week, he went through the top brokerage firms and how many removed listings they had. 

Marcus and Milichap removed four listings, Sunstone removed one, Capstone removed six listings, Newmark removed one, Northmark removed two. There are sellers that are just not being unrealistic (I think) with two years ago, what they thought they could get for the property they’re still trying to get those pricing, and deals aren’t trading, right?

Jefferson: Right. Never hurts to ask. I’ll just mention those couple of deals where we assume the CMBS, those came from removed listings from a very well-known mobile home park brokerage firm who shall remain nameless. They failed to get it sold at whatever they had whispered into the seller’s ear that they were going to sell those at. 

Long story short, we went back about a year later. Honestly, I had just assumed the properties had sold. I went back to the broker and said, hey, I had heard they hadn’t sold. He sheepishly said, yeah, they didn’t sell.

In the interim, I didn’t circumvent the broker. I said, hey, if you want to get your listing, there’s a commission in here for you, you had the listing. But my price isn’t going to be what was on the cover of the offering memorandum, but send me an update. The seller had spent a year bumping rents and infilling, and then my price was lower. A year after that brokerage firm yanked that listing, I bought it. 

Not all sellers have continued unrealistic expectations. It’s always worth going back on those pulled listings, I would think, and just say, hey, where can we get a deal done? There’s no panacea for finding deals, but that’s just where those couple of deals have to come from was a failed, pulled listing.

Andrew: That’s great. Yeah, there haven’t been many of those in the last five years. They’ve been flying off the shelf. That’s great that you’re able to get a couple of those wins.

Jefferson, would you mind reminding our listeners of your story, just briefly, and how you got into manufactured housing communities?

Jefferson: Sure. If I woke up from the concussion, it just seemed like a good idea to get into the mobile home park business. I probably used that joke on podcast 33.

I had been out here. I live out here in the San Francisco Bay Area, and I had moved out after business school to do the whole dot-com thing in 98. Went through the boom and the bust, my stock options were, we’ll just say volatile as far as what they were worth. 

I wanted to have just some passive side income, and I thought initially that I would buy an apartment building. Then just being on LoopNet and filtering for multifamily properties, I was not looking out here in San Francisco. I knew to find cash flow, I was going to need to be looking in the greater Midwest. I was looking at Lubbock, Texas, Peoria, Illinois, and on and on. I would see 99 apartment buildings then—this is back in 2005 pricing—at an eight cap, and then mobile home park at a 10 cap.

I thought, that’s absurd. I’m not buying a freaking trailer park. I would delete the search results. I did that again and again, kept getting hit over the head. Probably after the 5th or 10th search result, I finally thought, well, gosh. I guess mobile home parks are multifamily and would have stable site income. And if they’re cheaper, why wouldn’t I buy one? 

Then I started researching it. It clicked like, oh, compelling asset class, competition is limited, generally the tenants do their own repair on their homes. You have lower repair and maintenance pretty quickly. Once I opened my mind to the possibility of buying a mobile home park, it clicked why it was in fact—and I think still is—the superior asset class to apartments. It was part planned and just part dumb luck that I ended up in mobile home parks.

Then I bought the first park, still working my day job in tech. Even then, it was about another year before I left tech and started doing mobile home parks full-time. 

Andrew: That’s so fantastic. And maybe you can tell us about your portfolio now, how you operate that, and what that looks like. 

Jefferson: I bought cumulatively, as you indicated, somewhere around 43 parks. About half of those were from my earlier Park Street Partners partnership, which we’ve now wound down. I’ve sold off approximately 22 of those. I have right around (I think) 21 parks right now. We’re building back up basically at Park Avenue. Those are in (I believe) eight different states, mostly the Midwest. 

That said, we have bought one park as far north as Fairbanks, Alaska. We bought three parks down at the way southern tip of Texas down near South Padre Island and Rio Grande Valley. These are winter Texan parks that are about half RV and half MH. Mostly we’re in like the Dakotas, Iowa, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Montana now, and over into Idaho. So, generally the greater Midwest and Ohio. 

That’s where we’ve found real estate is more affordable, certainly than out here in San Francisco where I live. We keep all our operations in-house. We’ve got a VP of operations. We’ve got two regional managers, we call them asset managers. Then, most all the parks, there are a few that are clustered and have one manager across several. Basically, every park has its own onsite person that either lives in the community or lives probably not more than 10 minutes away to be our onsite community manager.

Then we’ve got now an accounting manager that we’ve just brought on three months ago. We’ve long had a bookkeeper in the third world doing basic debit-credit bookkeeping stuff, speaks English fluently. He’s been a great asset to the team. 

Then we’ve always had our legals out of house. We’re not big enough to really employ a full-time or even part-time attorney. We just deal with folks mostly on a spiky basis when we buy a park and we’re negotiating, we’ve got contract entitlement, easement issues. We have a bunch of billable hours. and then that goes away until the next deal. 

All in all, between full and part-time, I think we’re at right around 21 people here at Park Avenue. On average, about one person either full- or part-time per property, again adding up all the regional managers, the onsite managers, throw in a couple of finance/accounting people. That’s about the size of it. 

Andrew: That’s fantastic. What would you say is the toughest hurdle, Jefferson, recently in your mobile home park investing?

Jefferson: I would say it’s been finding community managers in a couple of towns where it’s proven difficult to do that. By name, that’s been Roswell, New Mexico. If there are any good, intelligent, reasonably hardworking folks in Roswell, New Mexico that want to help us build a park and expand the supply of affordable housing, please be in touch. 

I had a similar experience in the previous partnership down in the way southern tip of Illinois down in Carbondale, where the experience was unlike anything we had had anywhere else. It just didn’t matter where we advertised, what we did, what we were willing to pay. We just could not find a really good, stable community manager.

We’re now looking to import and maybe pay to relocate somebody into Roswell in New Mexico, which won’t be cheap. All the usual things that work in all the other properties and locations to find good managers just don’t seem to work there. 

Anyway, I think we’ve got a couple of properties like that where it’s proven difficult. Generally it’s the people stuff, although the higher interest rates haven’t helped us on the acquisition side. Those are the twin challenges, I’d say that we’re dealing with right now.

Andrew: Finding good onsite managers is tough to find, but if you find them, it makes your life so much easier for sure.

How has your strategy changed if at all, Jefferson? Given 2023, the higher interest rates and things, is there anything you could put your finger on that’s like, hey, now we’re exploring more of this, or we’re open to park-owned homes now, or, hey, we’re looking at more septic or well parks. Is there anything specific you’d say has changed?

Jefferson: Not dramatically. We just find ourselves walking away from more deals or getting outbid on them, given that pricing is still relatively high and hasn’t really fully capitulated. That’s not really a change in strategy on our part. We still buy stuff at fair prices that we can turn around. There have been fewer of those, but I’d say fundamentally, our strategy has not changed. 

For instance, we continue to believe that we are not going to get into the rental game. That’s just too rough of a business, too difficult of a tenant base. Again, I think we bought right. We don’t have to do anything for a buck just to try and meet our debt service coverage ratios. 

We have decided we’ll grow more slowly, turn away rental tenants, and insist on just having folks with say 10 % down who are going to do a rent-to-own agreement. We’re probably growing a bit slower. That’s again, not specifically a change. We’ve stuck to our guns. I know some other folks have decided to start renting and more power to them, but we have not made that change.

Maybe I’m a stick in the mud, but not much of our strategy has changed. Acquisition base is slow, but not much has changed with our strategy.

Andrew: What is your buying criteria? What’s a typical deal look like? 

Jefferson: We have bought, on average, parks that are almost 95 pads, maybe is roughly our average acquisition size. They have typically been within five miles of a super Walmart. They’ve been in markets where the average house price is over $100,000. 

Again, we want to weed out rust belt places—Toledo, Ohio and Detroit—where the average house price is $60,000. We’re going to be bringing in brand new houses for $60,000, maybe $70,000. We can’t compete with a site-built house that’s at that same price. 

That’s been most of it. We do run test ads. Pretty much honestly, our test ads have always panned out where we’ve been buying within 5 miles of the super Walmart, where the average house price is over $100,000.

Our Montana deal that we did back in June is our smallest market to date, just a town of about 5000 people. That’s Glendive, Montana. It seems to be very healthy. It does not have a super Walmart, but it’s got all the other housing dynamics, seems like a fairly stable economy, reasonably high household income. 

Again, I think we bought that park right. We’ve got some upside in rents and billing for water. There is no perfect deal. Despite not being within five miles of a super Walmart, that one has most everything else that we look for. We felt the pricing on it compensated for the hair on the deal. 

Andrew: Totally. Go back to your test ad question. How many outreaches or leads a week are you looking for to tell if it passes the test ad mark?

Jefferson: We typically are putting an ad up on Facebook and we generally also post on Craigslist. Craigslist has been basically getting worse over the years, but we do post there. We’ll often get a burner phone number, so we can easily track the inbound calls. Or again, just inquiries written, typed message inquiries off Facebook. We’re looking to get about 20 a week. That’s what qualifies as being acceptable.

Andrew: That’s awesome. Jefferson, what mistakes have you made in mobile home park investing that we could learn from? 

Jefferson: I got into the business too late. When I did get into it, I took too long to scale up basically to start raising outside capital. The first couple of deals I bought were just my own personal savings and some bank debt, but no outside capital, no limited partners. After doing the first deal on my own for a year and then having at that point a short but still a track record, I probably should have moved more quickly to raising outside capital. 

Probably shouldn’t have bought that first park. I do still own it. I fixed it, but that’s the one that had the sewage lagoon that went bad. Even though I had in writing from the Department of Environmental Quality that it had been built to code, it had not been built to code. I would certainly advise any first-time buyers to not buy anything with private utility like a sewage lagoon. 

Out of those other 40-some odd deals, we’ve only ever bought one other park with a sewage lagoon. We had it checked out by an independent company, and it was part of a package where we would not have gotten the other better deals had we not also taken that property.

Again, there are very few really, really hard and fast rules. You need to know the rules well enough to know when to break them. I would say I should not have bought that first park with a sewage lagoon, but every park since then has been better. You can’t do worse than a park on dirt roads with a sewage lagoon. Everything is going to look like, wow, this is such an awesome deal.

Andrew: You don’t know what you don’t know, right? On your first one. If you were going to passively invest in another mobile home park fund or a syndication or something like that, what would you look for, knowing what you know now? What would you prioritize? How much time would you spend? What would that look like? 

Jefferson: I would look for funds that are like mine, which are relatively few and far between. Specifically, I don’t charge any acquisition fees. I don’t charge divestiture fees. I don’t take any salary. I don’t even put my cell phone bill through Park Avenue. I just get a split of profits. We’re 50-50 with our limiteds. 

That means, by the way, by not taking acquisition fees, there’s a lot more money to go into buying real estate. But I’m a big fan of alignment. When I see other funds that are charging an acquisition fee, that means those general partners are motivated to put in a topping bid, pay ever more higher price for a deal. That means they get a higher payday right up front. I would not be a fan of that.

I’ve also seen a couple of other funds where their management company takes some hidden fees. For instance, rehabbing a mobile home. Their document says they can charge reasonable and customary management fees. Maybe they’re putting $5000 or $10,000 into a house. 

But then the general partners are saying, well, I’m going to take a $10,000 reasonable and customary fee. All that gets reported to the LPs is, oh, that house costs $20,000 to rehab. Well, no, it costs $5000 or $10,000. The general partners pocketed $10,000 off that house. We don’t do anything like that. 

I would look for another fund that, again, charges no fees, has great alignment with the LPs, and is not back-dooring profits to the general partners. I want to see the general partners getting paid the same day and the same way every quarter that I am. 

That’s my worldview. That’s my soapbox on how and why I’ve structured Park Avenue, both for better and for worse the way it is. We’re all about alignment with our investors and not taking fees. 

Andrew: That’s really cool. How does the initial capital get paid back? Is it just 50-50 from the beginning, or is there a capital event where they get their initial capital? How does that work? 

Jefferson: The LPs all have preference to me at the time of liquidation. I’m not getting half of everything. I get half of the profits. Heaven forbid, I put a million dollars worth of investor money into a deal and I only get back a million, well, that’s all their money. It’s not that I get half of that. I get half of whatever I create, half of the profits. 

Andrew: Over the 10-year horizon.

Jefferson: Yeah, and then we’re splitting earnings along the way, 50-50. That’s obviously just the net earnings, collect the rents, pay your bills, whatever is left every quarter that we split 50-50, even in advance, of course, of my limited is getting their money back. That’s profit. 

Again, when we sell or refinance a property, when there’s a capital event not earnings, 100% of those proceeds from a capital event have to go back to the limiting partners. 

Andrew: Cool. I don’t think I’ve heard of another firm that has that kind of structure, so that’s interesting. Jefferson, what does the perfect mobile home park look like in your eyes and why?

Jefferson: It would be something larger, over a hundred pads. It would be likely out in the Midwest. We’re sure it would be on the beach in California. Speaking realistically about what we might buy and what listeners to this podcast might be buying, it’s going to be something over a hundred pads, again, in a healthy metro, within five miles of a super Walmart, and it’s going to have virtually all tenant-owned homes.

We love to see some ability to upgrade the parks. Obviously then we also bump rents, but if there’s something to be done, maybe bringing in a jungle gym, swing set, something for the kids, or doing a barbecue pit, one of our properties, one of those winter Texan properties down near South Padre, we’re putting in a pickle ball. That seems to be all the rage and maybe I’ll get to play a little pickle ball down there.

We love parks when we can do stuff like that, build a community around a pickle ball court, a barbecue pit, what have you, and just make it even better for the residents, better for us, and better for our limiteds. Of course they have to be priced reasonably. That’s our perfect deal. Maybe what you’ve got, Andrew. We do pay referral fees.

Andrew: There you go. Yeah, if I find one of those, I’m taking it down, though. What mobile home park investing resources would you give to a new mobile home park investor looking to get started, educating themselves on the asset class? Do you have anywhere you would point them?

Jefferson: A couple of thoughts. Certainly, I’d send them to your podcast. I’d send them to our podcast, which is simply called Mobile Home Park Investors. I have also gone to the Frank and Dave boot camp. I would probably advise that.

I would also advise that if they do that and it still sounds interesting, do what I did. I then put together an unofficial advisory board of about 10 guys that all owned mobile home parks. I would then ask them a lot of dumb questions. I would send them deals as I was looking at them. 

That helped me a lot to have people actually in the business then telling me like, this is a great deal, this is an awful deal, or this deal I don’t know, but the issue is X. Jefferson, if you can figure out X about this deal, then you’re going to know if it’s a good one.

Just having that advisory board (I think) is crucial. I would strongly advise folks to network around and create their own unofficial advisory board for them.

Andrew: That’s great advice. Is there any hope that you’ll start recording Mobile Home Park Investors Podcast episodes again soon?

Jefferson: Could be. I’ve just been so busy getting the new funds invested. I might. What I’ve been thinking is if I do more episodes, we’ll probably just call it Mobile Home Park Investors 2.0. The first 120-something podcast that we have out there covers a lot of the basics of why to get into the business. And then again, we interview some interesting folks like Jim Clayton, who sold his business to Warren Buffett for a billion dollars. 

I would think the new one would focus really on operations and just be more really about how do you hire, how do you incent employees, how do you set up your accounting systems, how do you market. I think that’s what I would focus the content on if and when I can find time to get around and do some more of those.

Andrew: That’d be fantastic. I’d be a subscriber because that’d be a niche. No one’s talking about that. There are more and more operators out there that are scaling and getting to that level, 500–1000 lots. It’s tough. You’re sacrificing cash flow to hire employees, which one do you hire first. That’d be really awesome, Jefferson. So fingers crossed. 

Jefferson, what do you think is the biggest threat to mobile home park investing? 

Jefferson: I would say it’s government. What I’ve seen getting into this business back in 2007, right before the 2008–2009 housing crash, was that it survived that recession pretty well. Of course, I was in the business in a far larger way in 2020–2021 with the COVID recession. Frankly, this business has survived both pretty much with flying colors, certainly better than virtually any other real estate niche. 

What we’ve seen then in places that have, for instance, introduced rent control or other places where there are really excessive regulations around zoning density, if you want to do anything with your park, you’ve got to bring it up to code. You’ve got to make the streets twice as wide. You’ve got to build a public park that’s 25% of your land. 

These government regulations which so far are more at the local than the national level, but those regulations when and where they’ve occurred have really had a detrimental effect on the business. Your ability to grow, your ability to offer affordable housing must do these regulations effectively mean you’ve got to offer a mobile home at 50% more. 

We’ve seen some regulations in Oklahoma where you have to offer the home. The only way the economics work with the new regulations is that you raise the price about seven times. Your $70,000 mobile home has to be about a $480,000 mobile home because of government regulation.

I don’t think it will, but that’s what could kill the business. That is certainly what can slow it when you have really excessive rent control or other zoning, and density regulations being brought about by government.

We’re unfortunately a minority. Only about 5% or 6% of Americans live in a mobile home park. There might be another 5% in a mobile home on their own land, but you’ve got a very small tenant base and unfortunately they don’t vote. 

There aren’t very many of us park owners, and when you get government bureaucrats wanting to just pass legislation to help people, often the unintended consequences can be quite destructive to affordable housing. That’s I think the biggest risk is probably local government regulation. 

Andrew: I agree. Jefferson, what’s one last bit of important advice you would give an interested passive mobile home park investor before we sign off?

Jefferson: At some point you do your homework, and at some point you’ve got to just jump in and make a decision, again, whether it’s to buy a park or to invest in a fund. I’ve seen some folks out there make the mistake of analysis paralysis. They’re just constantly researching. 

There’s nothing wrong with doing research on the space and on funds, but if you find yourself year after year you still don’t know enough to make an investment, then you’re probably kidding yourself a little bit. You just don’t want to invest or you’re afraid of taking action.

I would say don’t get caught in analysis paralysis. Do your homework, but get that done over a couple of months or something, and then pull the trigger, make an investment. It’s a pretty good business, whether you own a park directly or whether you choose to invest in a fund. It’s a pretty good business to be in. That’s my thought. 

Andrew: Yeah, the fundamentals are there for sure. Jefferson, thank you so much for coming on the show. If any of our listeners would like to get a hold of you, what would be the best way for them to do so? 

Jefferson: Just drop by our website. It’s parkavenupartners.com. At the top center of the website is a button that simply says click here to join our mailing list. Please do that. We don’t sell our mailing list. 

Honestly, I don’t send out anywhere near as many emails as I should. That’s probably only five a year or something, but it’ll keep people up to date on the parks that we’re acquiring. They’ll be notified about our upcoming funds, so just click that, join our mailing list. 

Then I believe down at the bottom of that page is both our phone number and also just an intake form. If somebody wants to reach me, they could just type in their name, email address, write in a question and click send. And that comes right to me. I’m not too hard to find, parkavenupartners.com. 

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

Jefferson: Okay, Andrew. Thanks for having me. We’ll see you in another three years. Hopefully sooner. 

Andrew: Sounds great. That’s it for today, folks. Thank you so much for tuning in.

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.