Listen on Apple Podcast here: https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/interview-with-steve-case-active-mobile-home-parks/id1520681893?i=1000629203611
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 Steve Case, Active Mobile Home Park Investor/ Owner and Founding Member of SECO.
Steve Case has had an illustrious career within the mobile home park industry and he has been an active investor in mobile home parks for over 24 years. Steve Case is also one of the founding members of the SECO conference for mobile home park operators.
Steve Case’s mentors and educators have been some of the greats within mobile home park asset class, including Lonnie Scruggs (‘Deals on Wheels’ author). Steve has been involved in all areas of the mobile home park industry, including: education (he started MHU and sold it to Frank Rolfe and Dave Reynolds), he also has served on the board of the Georgia Manufactured Housing Association, he formally offered consulting on the construction of the Community Series manufactured home & advised financial institutions on the creation of chattel community owner finance programs from the purchase of manufactured homes.
The SECO Conference, which Steve co-founded, is one of the most popular annual mobile home park investor conferences. This conference in 2023 was located in Atlanta, GA and is for mobile home park owners and operators. SECO is a great place to network, explore, learn, and share ideas about the manufactured housing industry.
Steve Case’s mission is to help educate and inform all involved within the mobile home park investing community. Today Steve Case shares his tips, stories, and advice with us all on this value-packed episode on the Passive mobile home park investing podcast.
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
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.
00:21 – Welcome to the Passive Mobile Home Park Investing Podcast
01:41 – Steve Case’s origin story and journey into Mobile Home Park Investing
05:25 – Steve’s love for educating and the story behind SECO
08:05 – Military traits that transfer over to investing in mobile home parks
09:45 – The difference between a turn-around mobile home park and a turnkey trailer park
14:00 – The difficulties faced in turn around value-add mobile home parks
16:00 – Mixtures of tenant-owned homes and park-owned homes
18:23 – The importance of taking your time to understand the market
24:48 – People, promises, and places
29:02 – Steve’s perfect mobile home park looks like this
31:00 – The need for affordable housing and the evolution of the mobile home park asset class
34:45 – How bad investors mess with the manufactured housing community industry
40:31 – Getting hold of Steve Case and/or SECO conference
42:10 – Aligning yourself with the right group of people
44:40 – Conclusion
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Links & Mentions from This Episode:
SECO Conference: https://secoconference.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/
Andrew: Welcome to the Passive Mobile Home Park Investing Podcast. This is your host, Andrew Keel. Today we have an amazing guest in Mr. Steve Case.
Before we dive in, I wanted to ask you a real quick favor. Would you mind 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 means the absolute world to me. So thanks for making my day with that review of the show. All right, let’s dive in.
Steve Case has been an active investor in manufactured housing communities for over 24 years. He has been involved in all areas of the industry including education, serving on the board of a manufactured housing association, consulting on the construction of the community series manufactured home, and also being a founding member of SECO, which is an industry-wide conference. He’s even gone all the way to advise financial institutions on the creation of chattel community owner finance programs. Steve, we are really excited to welcome you to the show today.
Steve: Well, thank you, Andrew. I appreciate you having me on. Very few subjects I love to talk about, and this would be one of them. I’m excited and hopefully I can give some information, some tidbits, and stuff to put in people’s toolkits that will help them in this area.
Andrew: I don’t doubt it. I’m sure you have a lot of golden nuggets to share with the listeners. Would you mind starting out by just telling us your story, Steve, and how in the world you got into manufactured housing?
Steve: My story is a little bit unconventional. Actually I was an Air Force pilot and spent 20 years in a great job. In 1999, which was about six years before my retirement, I moved to the middle Georgia area and decided I really didn’t want to be an airline pilot when I finished with the Air Force, so I started poking around and I actually went to a real estate conference in the fall of 1999 and met two people. Unfortunately, both of them are gone, but it really impacted my direction.
One of them was Lonnie Scruggs, who wrote the book Deals on Wheels and several other books, and a gentleman by the name of Ernest […] who had some training and some called huge profits in mobile home parks at the time. I met them, read their material, kept in contact with them, and started investing in parks in 1999 while still in active duty.
About a year later, I started into self storage, which Ernest was also an advocate of, and then I retired in 2005, but I built a portfolio of parks up before my retirement in 2005, and stayed in the industry. I was counting before this show, Andrew, […] but 18 parks that I’ve bought, sold, or owned over the past 24 years.
Along that frame in 2005, myself, another gentleman, Corey Donaldson started up mobilehomeuniversity.com. We started doing some training nationwide at events called Mobile Home Millions. We did some boot camps and had a couple of home study courses for about four years.
We stopped in 2008 for a variety of reasons. My kids were getting in that age group where they have ball games and so forth so I want to be a part of that. Of course, we know what happened in 2008, the economy slid a little bit. Probably at the time, I had 10 or 12 different properties and different asset classes. I just didn’t have time to manage them or to really put a lot of effort into them. I made the decision I was going to stop the educational piece.
I went on to sell Mobile Home University Frank Rolfe and Dave Reynolds, which they’ve taken to a much higher level than what Corey and I had. Then I got on the Georgia Manufacturing Housing Association Board for a few years to help formulate some policies here in the state.
I’ve always loved training. I used to do four ship formation training in the Air Force on a T-38 so that spilled over rather well in training on this asset class. I’ve always loved it.
Also in 2008, myself, Spencer Roane, and David Roden started up this little group of local park owners called SECO, which has now grown into a rather large event, which by the way starts next Monday, this September the 11th. It’s for small- to medium- community owners, is what its primary focus is, where we give our knowledge along with the other speakers—you’ll be there, I know, speaking on a topic—and helping them be successful in the industry.
It’s been a good ride. I’m not as active in the acquisition part anymore. I’ve got my property. My portfolio is pretty much the way I want it now, just turned 60. I’m on the back burner, but I love helping people in this industry.
Andrew: That is fantastic. I would say one thing that seems to be a recurring theme is that you’re an educator, you’re a trainer. I know we’ve been working together a little bit on SECO and getting ready for that. Is that just a natural inclination you have to just help the next generation? Or is it just something that you’re just really passionate about.
Steve: Since the time I was in the service training people to fly, I always loved that part of the aspect. That was the best job I really ever had while I was in the Air Force was the T-38. I was a formation instructor there in Mississippi.
I’m also, Andrew, very cognizant of the next generation. I talked about my mentors and there were more than just Lonnie and Ernest. How they spent so much time training me and helping me be successful, that I think I owe that to the next generation. I think we all do that are successful in this business. It’s been a passion to help those that are really willing to go out, get their hands dirty, and work. And I enjoy doing it.
I enjoy seeing what we used to call the light bulb come on when somebody finally gets it and understands it. It’s just been fun. It’s been a passion of mine just mentoring a few people, and I’m just hoping I can be a small part of their success.
Some have been really successful. As a matter of fact a couple of the guys speaking at SECO, I had the opportunity to mentor many, many years ago, and they’ve much more surpassed my success in the industry. They’re going to be speaking this year. But I remember when they were brand new, newbies we called them, and they’ve done well. Ben Braban and Jefferson Lily, two of them.
Andrew: Oh, wow. That’s so awesome. When I first got into the business, Jefferson had a podcast and I would say he helped me get into the podcast. Him and Kevin Bubb had a couple of great podcasts that helped me learn the business. Just wonderful.
I’m just so impressed that you learn directly from Lonnie Scruggs, because for those that know my story, that’s how I got into the business. I accidentally got two mobile homes in Ocala, Florida tied up, was able to buy those, got on YouTube, and stumbled across some videos of Lonnie doing a live event. That’s how I learned to do the deals on wheels model and got into manufactured housing. That’s fantastic that you learned from him.
Steve: Lonnie was a super guy. Those of you that never had an opportunity to meet him or get to know him, he was just a jewel at heart. Probably those videos you saw were from some of the events he spoke at every year at our Mobile Home Millions conference. Just a great guy, very down to earth, simple. He made it very, very simple, which I’ve always tried to portray keeping it simple. I’ve been blessed over the years to have some great guys that I could rely upon and learn from.
Andrew: I love that. I wonder from your years being an Air Force pilot, you said 20 years, what did you carry over? What attributes did you carry over into your commercial real estate business that you think really mattered?
Steve: I think probably two that stick out to me. One of them is a checklist approach. One of the things that I’m trying to do at SECO this year with the educational piece is to help people not make mistakes when they’re buying operating mobile home parks. The biggest mistakes that I see people making right now in the past four or five years are due diligence and not understanding how to value a deal.
Ernest had taught me years ago to come up with a checklist for due diligence because I did it all myself. That checklist approach, making sure I checked every box, making sure that I didn’t miss something, was a big key.
Also with my management, the largest park that I owned at one time was 360 pads and probably the smallest was 40. When I had managers on site, I didn’t micromanage them. I gave them the ability to give me new ideas, new changes, new ways of doing things. I empowered them. I tried to get them to believe it was their property. They were running it as their own, as an owner, and that seemed to help. I got much more buy in. Those two things, empowering people and the checklist.
Andrew: I love that. When I played football in college, my defensive coordinator was a huge fan of the Blue Angels. We always did debrief meetings after every practice, after every game, exactly going over the checklist of hey, what went right? What went wrong? That’s fantastic. I love that.
Steve, what do you think is the toughest hurdle for investor operators to overcome in mobile home park investing?
Steve: The biggest hurdle that I’ve seen—I don’t know if you would call this a hurdle, I think it’s more of a barometer of easy success or tough success—is to find a property that meets your investing style. I see a lot of folks who want to get into this industry, but they’ve got to understand the difference between a turnaround park and a turnkey. They really don’t know the difference.
Well, there’s a huge difference. You know that. You’ve been involved in both. A turnaround requires a lot of work, a lot of capital, but the payoff is big at the end, usually. Turnkey, you’re going to pay more for it. Maybe you only need to tweak a few things. They really don’t understand.
If someone that’s not ready to put their boots on the ground and to do a lot of work, ends up buying a turnaround mobile home park, the chances of success are slimmed and very slim. But if you know that going in and that meets your style, my entire career, the first part of it was nothing but turnaround parks where there was no money made for years or a lot of cases until I sold the property.
I think that one of the biggest hurdles for the actual investor, is to understand what fits your lifestyle, what fits what you’re looking for, and go out and try to find that property. Obviously everybody wants a turnkey property because it’s easy. They’re harder to find. But the better opportunities are in the turnarounds, if that’s what you feel like you can accomplish. If not, please don’t buy a park that’s a turnaround or you’re going to be sorely disappointed.
Andrew: That’s great advice. I was going to ask the next question, which is how has your strategy changed through the 24 years of owning parks? It seems like you started with the turnarounds. Did you mature into more stabilized assets?
Steve: Yeah, it was funny. Like I said in the beginning and you said in my bio, I got involved in both industries back when let’s say that the big equity groups or the big money wasn’t in it and that was health storage and that was MHC. Probably the first six or seven properties that I purchased were all turnarounds, empty lots, had to do rehabs, and had to put homes in there.
Fortunately I had other income, so I didn’t need the income from the properties. I would, in virtually every case before I got it full or got done with it, end up selling it. Sometimes I would 1031 Exchange into another park or I would put it in storage. At that time when I put my money from MH into storage, I bought a property that was cash flowing and much easier to operate and so forth.
In the beginning, it started that way. Then probably about 10 years ago, I decided I’ve done enough of that. My storage portfolio has grown pretty good. I’m going to just look for more mature turnkey-type operations that I just need to tweak, and that’s where I settled.
I have three communities now. That’s pretty much all that I want. Actually, I have two. We just sold a small one. It’s 147 pads, two communities, they’re local. I’ve been fortunate enough from all investments to have it paid for, so it’s a really good cash flowing for both properties. That’s pretty much where I’m at. Unless something local comes up, which is a couple that I would buy in the local area, I probably am not going to be acquiring anymore.
It changed from a lot of work, a lot of travel because I kept everything in the Southeast, but some properties were four hours away. A lot of capital needs using private money, which you’re going to talk about at SECO, how do you finance some of your homes, and a lot of infill.
Andrew: Can you tell us a little bit about that? About these value-added turnaround parks, what’s the hardest part? You’ve been boots on the ground, hands on with these things. What’s the hardest part of these turnaround parts in your opinion?
Steve: The hardest part was assimilating the team that would do the entire thing. In other words, if I had a home that needed to be demoed and sent out and then I needed another one that came in one, I had to locate the home, back then it was some used, few new. Now it’s pretty much all new, very few used.
Getting the team to get it in the decks, the whole thing, getting it all set up where I can either rent it or sell it, there are a lot of moving pieces. Getting the permits, electrician hook, and everything. You know what I’m talking about. The plumber, the deck guy, that was really the toughest part of putting all that together and orchestrating it. You have one guy who doesn’t show up that impacts two or three behind them. That was always the most difficult part for me, was assimilating all those people together.
You got to remember, I was a hands-on guy, so I did most of this myself. I had managers on site. A couple of times I had maintenance guys in some of the larger properties but they pulled permits and all that. That was not what they did. That was the most difficult part for me, doing all of that.
Andrew: Yeah, infill is tough, especially by yourself, and it’s not like that’s your only job because like you, property management, just the day-to-day management, we handle in house. Did you handle that as well?
Steve: I did. I never used a management company. I even went as far as handling the receivables and payables in-house myself which was a lot of work, but I finally farmed it out and now my son’s involved in business. He’s got an accounting degree, so he oversees all of that now for the properties we do have. It’s a lot of moving pieces if you’re trying to do this yourself.
Andrew: Totally. Tell us your philosophy on tenant-owned homes versus park-owned homes and through your time in the business, which has been more profitable for you?
Steve: Unfortunately I’ve never owned a park that’s been completely lot space rent–only or tenant-owned homes. I’ve had a mix. As a matter of fact, the properties that I have now, believe it or not, are very few tenant-owned homes, a lot of park-owned homes, rentals, because that’s the market we’re in. Late model rentals, but it’s what I call my horizontal apartment complex. It works out fine because the property is nice and everything.
I’ve done lease options. I’ve sold them outright. I’ve sold some of them through the 21st Mortgage program. I’ve done a lot of different programs on sales of homes.
I came to find out in my market, in the Southeast market—Georgia, Alabama, South Carolina, North Carolina—that the lease option or rent-to-own–type programs seem to not work as well. In other words, the amount of homes I got backwards just as much as the rentals once you looked at the costs and everything.
I’m probably not the best person to ask on tenant-owned homes, but all of the tenant-owned homes which I’ve never had a park that’s been more than 20%–30% tenant-owned have been fine. I just haven’t been able to find that property that has all tenant-owned homes or a majority of them.
Andrew: Sure. I know it is common in the Southeast to have a lot of park-owned homes. I know a couple of other operators. I think proximity is key. You need a maintenance crew. You need a close portfolio and a good team around you to be able to manage those at a high level. It’s just probably way different, expense ratios and everything.
Steve: Yeah, it’s much different. I’m very blessed. I’ve got a great team here now. My head maintenance guy is one of the best hires I’ve ever had. He’s been with me for four years. He’s a fantastic guy. Don’t have to worry about him at all. I know when he calls me, which is very seldom, maybe once every three or four weeks, that it’s a serious problem that he can’t solve that he needs help with. And I pay him very, very well.
Andrew: That always helps for sure. What mistakes in mobile home park investing have you made that our listeners could learn from?
Steven: Several, but of all the properties I have had, there’s only been two that I want to say haven’t worked to my expectations. Neither one of them did. I lost money on them, but I spent a lot of time with very little effort. The main factor was it was in a market that I didn’t take the time to understand who lived there. What I mean by that is income levels, amount of homeowners versus renters in the area.
I went in thinking, okay, I know that property is cheap. I know the rents are cheap. I know 25 miles away, the rents are 40% higher so I’m thinking there’s no reason I can’t get them up to close to that. Then once I arrived on the spot and after six months to a year, I realized that people don’t have the money to pay those types of rates, that’s why the rates have always been that low.
You piddle around for a while, you try everything you can think of, and you finally realize that when the average income level down here is $19,000 per person, that’s all you’re going to get, X amount. That’s the biggest mistake.
I’ve done it twice where I thought I did good due diligence on the market in the area, but I didn’t go deep enough. That’s what I would tell people, especially if you’re unfamiliar with an area, to double check, triple check to make sure there’s enough income, enough people that can pay your rental rates or whatever you’re selling the homes for, even though 25 miles away it’s 50% higher, because down here, income levels can change drastically within 10–15 miles.
Andrew: Wow, that’s great advice. How would you check that? Are you getting on best places and looking at rental rates for a two bedroom apartment and estimating off of that?
Steve: I used to use City-Data. It was a website I would use. There are some and I’m not sure of the names, but there are a couple of companies that you can call. I know that the due diligence partners are going to be presented at SECO. They’re going to talk a little bit about how they check what service they offer for, what the income levels are, and unemployment and all that sort of thing. They’re using private companies, probably paying for the data.
What I used to do is just go on City-Data, check that, and go to the Chamber of Commerce website for that city or town. A lot of times that information will be on there, medium income, that kind of thing. Unemployment, that sort of thing.
Andrew: One thing I liked about City-Data is that the best places don’t offer is they give you a percent of the population living in poverty. Anything above, I think 15% or 20%, and they give you like a national average, is what we call high risk and something that we’re going to need to get at a better cap rate or we’re not going to be able to increase rents as much as we might have thought if we’re over that 15% or 20% number.
I find that a lot of the Southeast has those pockets like you’re talking about, of percent living in poverty. One thing that’s interesting about this because I’m on a list of repos from the manufacturer. I think it’s like from a big manufactured housing repo email list that emails me when there’s going to be an auction. It’s what all the brokers get that sell the individual homes. On that list, every month I review it, and it seems like two states out of all of them have the most repos across the whole country. Can you guess which two states those are?
Steve: I want to say Alabama and Mississippi.
Andrew: That’s what it is. Alabama and Mississippi. I’m always cautious about entering those states. We’ve seen some good deals, because it’s like every month, literally 75% of the list are homes from Alabama and Mississippi that are being repoed.
Steve: A lot of times, prior to six or eight months ago, the retailers were snapping those up before you could get your hands on it because the deliveries were slow. They were able to sell used homes, get them financed and all that sort of thing. But now you could probably pick up those.
Andrew, here’s the thing. It ties in with me not really doing my due diligence properly. In those two markets, I couldn’t even go out and buy a home all in at $20,000 and make it work. This was 8–10 years ago. Let’s pump the numbers, maybe it’s a $30,000 transaction today. If you can’t get more than $525 a month or $550 for a lot of rent and a home, you can’t afford to get that house. That’s what you have to be careful of.
I talked to somebody about four weeks ago that was buying a park in the Southeast and I said how are you going to infill? They said with new homes. I said, really? On $700 a month all in, you’re going to be able to put a new home in there? They said, yes. I said, how are you going to do it? Well, we’re going to sell the home.
I said, okay, how are you going to sell it? Well, we’ve got lenders. I said no, you’re not going to get any chattel financing. The banks have all run for the hills. They’re not loaning money right now. You’ll have to in-house finance it. If your lot rents’ $450, a new home at $250 a month, that’ll take about 48 years and six months to pay off.
Andrew: Do the math. That’s not going to work out well.
Steve: It just doesn’t work. That’s the biggest mistake I’ve made. Fortunately for both those properties, I didn’t lose anything. One of them I sold at break even though I spent four years on it, but that’s okay, it was a good lesson learned.
Andrew: Thank you for sharing that with us. That’s good stuff we can walk away with. Steve, what do you think are the most important things that passive investors—we’re talking people that are investing passively into a syndication or a fund—need to look out for when investing into the mobile home park asset class?
Steve: I’ve used passive investors in the past for park acquisitions. I’ve used them for home purchases. I think it’s really three Ps: people, promises, and places. People—who are the people they’re investing with or what person or group of people are they investing with? What’s their track record? Can you take a look at a little bit of their personal life? Is it straightforward and it’s not a lot of drama? The deeper you can go, check the people.
The second thing would be the promises. What are they promising you? Be very, very careful. You and I both saw these pro formas and prospectuses giving you all this pie in the sky based on the perfect storm. Well, the perfect storm is done. You need to go through the most conservative storm to figure out what your “return” may be or may not be.
I’m afraid that what’s going to happen here soon with this interest rate situation is there are so many equity groups out there that have raised hundreds of millions if not billions of dollars for all kinds of asset classes. They’ve made a fee going in when they bought the property. They make a fee managing it and they own a piece of it with little or none of their own money into it.
When these things start to go south, which they are going to—this will be the third time I’ve seen this happen in my career—the people left in the bag are going to be the investors. Of course, they’re going to go back and try to sue and everything else, but I’m sure they signed their life away with all these documents and so forth. They’re not going to get their money back, so be careful about the promises.
Then the places. I highly suggest that, just like what we talked about a few minutes ago, if this group is investing in a property, let’s say somewhere in South Carolina, they do a little research on their own to make sure that part of South Carolina is investable. Even though this equity group, or partner, or whoever’s going to be doing it, it’s not bad to look and see where your money’s gone.
Andrew: On that, for a good market, do you have a couple of metrics that you recommend people look at? Population growth, median home price, anything like that, that if they were just going to spend five minutes real quick to look at a couple.
Steve: Not really any criteria. I’ve always kept in the Southeast so I’ve been pretty familiar with all the markets I’ve been into. I haven’t invested outside. I know secondhand, other than the two we talked about, they were small towns in the outskirts areas of Georgia, but I would say, even Frank has said this before, less than 100,000 population is probably a red flag or at least look at it.
I have self storage properties in areas less than 100,000 that do fine, but I would say population. I would look at maybe population growth. Is it growing? Believe it or not, there are some areas in Alabama, Mississippi, and Georgia that are losing people over the past censuses. You’re probably more in tune because you’re more active now on the acquisition side on what to look for on that side.
Andrew: Yeah, you’re spot on though. Population growth, you want to go where there are people, there’s net migration positive instead of the other way, I think is important. Being in an MSA with diverse employment is really important. You don’t want to go to a one horse town. I learned that the hard way, too. That’s one of my mistakes.
I bought one where there was one employer and it was a big Smithfield farms, pork plant. If they stop hiring, put the brakes on, or cut some people or just stop production for some reason like during COVID, it can put people in trouble. That’s important stuff, so thank you for that. I like that. The three P’s, that’s really good.
Steve, what would, what would you say the perfect mobile home park looks like in your eyes?
Steve: Perfect? All tenant-owned homes. City utilities billed directly to the tenant. They have to go down and sign up for water, sewer, all that, electric. City-maintained streets and lights. The roads maintained by the city and also growing economic areas would be the ideal park.
One of the parks that I have now almost fits every criteria, which is good. It’s a rental market so that particular property is 108 pads, which is completely full, but the city maintains the streets.
They have to go to the city for the utilities and so forth and it’s a newer park. It was built in 1999 so it’s less than 25 years old. But there are only nine tenant-owned homes. The rest of them belong to me, so they’re rentals.
Andrew: If it’s in a good market and you’re able to rent the homes for over $1000 a month.
Steve: We have a waiting list and our average stay’s about 2½ years. It’s been a really good property. One that I plan on keeping for a long time. With all these calls, I get nine a day and want me to sell to somebody, I just stop answering. It’s a great property. It’s one that I keep. I think it’s the nicest park. Our MSA is about $150,000 and it works out really well.
Andrew: That’s great. Sounds like a legacy asset, so kudos on that. That’s fantastic. Steve, what do you think the future of MHC investing looks like? Obviously interest rates are high right now. They went up really fast. Everybody’s talking about a possible recession, but they’ve been saying that for a year or two now. How do you see MHPs fitting in? And do you think that based on our tenant base being that affordable housing type of tenant, that we could get hurt. Maybe you can touch on your experience from prior sessions.
Steve: One is we need a product for affordable housing. It’s becoming a bigger and bigger political issue. Demands should always be there. I think it’s going to stay there. We’re not building any more parks. They’re very few. It’s not like the self storage industry. It’s its own worst enemy right now because it’s building, building, expanding, expanding because it’s easy to do.
Well, we can’t do that. We’ve got this limited amount of product out there in the MH space, which is good for us operators. I think affordable housing is going to be there. In 2008, it stayed there. The people that bought homes that couldn’t afford them ended up back in our parks. It changed the dynamics. They didn’t want to buy anymore. All they want to do is rent. They were really burned out from the buying experience. That’s what converted a lot of us to landlords instead of selling things on lease options, rent-to-owns, or owner financing.
As far as the parks themselves, I’ve seen an evolution, if you want to call it, of what’s happened in the industry. Back when I started, the last thing you told your friends and family is you invested in mobile home parks because they would frown and look at you like you’re crazy.
But due to Frank, and I’ll give Frank the entire credit for all this, he got big money into the industry. Some of these, it was Blackstone and all these guys, billions of dollars got pumped in. All the equity groups showed up, the aggregators.
The medium to large parks are all sought out by these groups and I’ve seen them getting swapped back and forth the last five or six years between this group. They buy a portfolio of 12 from this group and so forth. For the small to medium operator like I am, those larger 100 spaces and above parks are pretty much going to be swapped over the next few years between all these groups.
Where does that leave us? That leaves us with the mom and pops, the smaller properties, 50–70 pads, that kind of thing, maybe 30 pads, maybe accumulate three parks with 15 here, 20 there, and 25 there in a small market area. Those opportunities are still going to be there. You’re going to have to be creative on how you get them done.
One of the sessions that Ben Brevin and I are doing is called creative dealmaking. I had to learn creative strategies back in the day because there was not a bank anywhere in the Southeast that would loan anything on a mobile home park. I had to figure out how to get the money to buy these parks. Creative deals, relationships, if you make them with the mom and pops, you’re going to be able to buy the deal. I think that’s where we’re leaning.
There are going to be some fallbacks from the interest rate spikes. There are going to be properties going to end up in financial institutions hands, but I think if they’re the larger properties, 100 space and above, they’re going to search out maybe groups like you or others that have larger portfolios to pick these up. But I’m specifically talking to the small guy right now that maybe doesn’t own a property and wants to own one, or has one and wants to have two or three. We’re going to have to search out after the smaller stuff.
Andrew: That’s great.
Steve: Transactional data. I think Maxwell Baker told me or said the other day, that’s down 57% this time last year. Transactions are really really starting to decline.
Andrew: And it makes sense. It’s harder to get deals to pencil right now with interest rates above 7%. It makes a lot of sense, definitely. Steve, what do you think is the biggest threat to mobile home park investing?
Steve: Us, the investors. I really do. Andrew, when I started back in 1999 and 2000, we just went through this green point issue. You may be too young to remember that, but that was the same thing where they were loaning money on mobile homes to people that should never have bought them. A lot of fraud going on and so forth. At the time, if you owned a park, the retailers would fill your lots up for you because they were selling homes so fast, they didn’t have places to put them.
The park owners after that started 2001 or so, when all of that filtered out, started neglecting their properties and that’s when the drug people showed up. That’s when all of the disarray and the defunct homes in these communities started to show up, and it became an eyesore.
From 2001 on, local officials and local people started really, really having a problem with trailer parks. Now, we’ve changed that a little bit starting, I think around 2012 or so when more money started coming in and better operators. We’ve cleaned up some of these properties and we’ve actually made a dent in showing people that it can be a nice place to live and then a safe community.
I’m afraid of the people that have jumped in at the last minute and bought things, that now that their payments have gone up. They can’t afford to put anything in the infrastructure. They can’t afford to do anything for the residents and are going to let them turn back to where they were 20 or 15 years ago. Now all of a sudden, the whole public eye is that trailer parks need to be demoed.
Really, I think that’s what we have to be careful of, that the operators or investors themselves are our greatest enemies or could be our greatest advocates and turn these things around. I’m afraid from what I’ve seen, some of these folks just can’t afford to and they’re just going to let them go down again.
Andrew: That’s a great parallel. The chattel crisis is probably just the lowest point in the industry since its inception, since mobile home parks started to be developed, and that was in the late 90s. What was the name of the lender?
Steve: It was Green Tree. Then I think it was an insurance company called Conseco that bought them. They bought the whole portfolio and almost bankrupted the entire insurance company. It was a big transaction. About 87% of the loans were fraudulent. Misstated income.
I remember dealers, believe it or not, down here in the South, would trade a cow for a trade-in that was worth about $800 and they would put $5800 as the value and so forth. It was really bizarre.
Andrew: Wow. Loaning is pretty much the great recession, but in manufactured housing. Then after that, you said like 2001, all of these operators that had homes pulled out of their communities and their incomes had dropped because these homes were repossessed and pulled out. Now their income was lower, so they didn’t have the funds to reinvest into the assets. Is that right?
Steve: That’s right. Also a majority of the owners, Andrew, had no desire or weren’t set up to be able to keep these homes in their park. Like today, you and I would never let a home leave our park. If at all possible, we’re going to buy it from the lender or do something to keep it there. They let them exit and now we have one third occupied properties of tenant’s homes and then the foreclosures were sitting there. The repos were sitting there for years, sometimes get torn up, vandalized, homeless people living in them. They just did nothing.
It was a great opportunity for us that did not and that understood we will buy the repo as it sits because it saves us $8000–$10,000 from having to bring another one in just the way it is. That’s what happened.
As a matter of fact, I bought my largest park in Augusta, Georgia. It has 360 pads and it was built in 1996. By the 2000, it was full. When I got it in 2007, there were 60 homes left.
Andrew: Oh my goodness.
Steve: Three hundred repos had been moved out of that property over that timeframe. It was interesting.
Andrew: That’s a good point for passive investors. If you really want to dive into this. How many homes are you buying? Because now there’s PEP Lending, Triad, there’s a 21st Mortgage. Because now with those programs, the community owner signs on the note with the end tenant that’s buying the home, which is a little bit better model because now you’re both vested in the home where previously it was just the tenant. I think that’s a good point.
How many homes are you signing up for if you’re buying an 80-unit park, but 70 of the homes are new and still have a $20,000 note on them. It’s far from being a tenant-owned home community.
Steve: You better have some deep pockets in the background to be able to stand those up if you need to.
Andrew: Totally. Steve, thank you so much for all of this information. I know we ran a little long, but this was just a wonderful podcast. Thank you so much for coming on.
Steve: Yeah, I appreciate you having me on. It’s been fun.
Andrew: It has been. If listeners would like to get a hold of you or find out about SECO where would you direct them?
Steve: The website is secoconference.com. The events are happening on September the 11th through the 13th of 2023. You can reach me there. I’ll be there as well. Going through SECO is probably the best way to get me. Like I said, I still help people here and there and locally, but I don’t want to say I’m semi-retired, but I am, but I still love teaching people and advising people.
I’m not a consultant per se, but I hire anything like that. I don’t have a course to sell. I don’t have a program to take it to, but that’s the easiest place to get me. I guess they could come through you if they had a question and you can just email it to me.
Andrew: Totally. The SECO conference is a great conference for anyone interested in mobile home park investing. There are going to be homes that they set up from actual manufacturers that you can tour. It’s going on in Atlanta, Georgia at the Renaissance Atlanta. September 11th through the 13th. I highly recommend it if you’re interested in getting into more of an active role in community ownership. That website again is secoconference.com. Steve, thank you so much again for coming on the podcast.
Steve: Oh, you bet. I appreciate you having me on.
Andrew: Before we sign off, what’s one last bit of important advice that you would give interested mobile home park investors?
Steve: Just align yourself with the right group of people that have done the right things. We’ve talked a lot in the last 45 minutes about how to do things right. That care about the tenants, that’s the big thing, and that care about the community. I know we didn’t talk about this, but one of the projects that I’ve been proud of and I’ve done over the last three or four years is called the Perry Project.
We’re going to talk about this at SECO on one of the modules where we work together with the local community, a mayor, a city engineer, fire chief, police chief, the whole city to take a blighted community that was an eyesore to them. It was very very bad. Horrible operator. Myself and my partner bought the property and with the city’s help, they went in and put a million dollars on the infrastructure, turned it around and made it a beautiful property in a year.
Everybody was happy. The mayor loved it. We love it. The residents that stayed there. They have been there 40 years and loved it. Those types of things I would say are good.
That’s what I mean by with the right people. To get in with the right group, to understand what you’re investing in. I think MH is a great investment. It’s been wonderful for me as an operator investor. It’s been wonderful for some of my investors that I’ve had in the past. I still have one today that I invest in a property with. We’ve done some great things together. It’s been passive most of the time, but he loves it.
I would say find the right group of people who are doing the right things and are in it for the long run. Not just the flippers because I see a lot of that going on. We’re going to buy this. Our exit strategy in three years is to do this. Everything I ever purchased was with the intent of holding it long term.
Andrew: That’s great advice. That long-term approach. What I hear you saying is when done the right way, the city’s happy, the investors are happy, the residents are happy. It’s a win, win, win all the way around. It’s not just coming in and jacking up rents and that’s your model of how you’re going to hit returns. Because the residents lose in that scenario.
That’s great great advice, Steve. Well, thanks again for coming on the show. That’s it for today, folks. Thank you all so much for tuning in.