There is no date on the article, but it appeared in a Google search on a topic that is relevant to the manufactured home industry and its current doldrums. Based upon its contents, it would appear to be less than 2 years old.
The reason that this a good look at this article is important to current owners of manufactured homes – as well as to those pondering buying one – will be made clear deeper within. But let’s give you the punch line right here, right now, and then circle back to it later. Without more manufactured home communities, the costs on living in manufactured housing sited on leased land are guaranteed to skyrocket over time.
That can be avoided, which is why this is a timely topic.
We, the publishers of MHLivingNews, want to avoid the problems caused by too few options for current and future owners of manufactured homes.
Before finishing the preface to this analysis and report, let’s say from the outset that what follows is a classic example of the principle of the need to separate the wheat from the chaff. There is good, imperfect, and some bad in every person, organization, or product one cares to mention. We’re not going to find perfection walking around, are we? That manufactured housing is good is demonstrated in hundreds of articles in this website, or in numerous interviews with real owners and experts who told their stories without compensation. It is proven by decades of third-party research, with many of those found in the article linked below.
So, this isn’t a matter of mere opinion. There are reams of research that make the points about what’s good about manufactured homes and living in a properly operated manufactured home community.
But the fact that manufactured homes are a good option during an affordable housing crisis is perhaps most dramatically demonstrated because Democrats and Republicans, who have rarely been so divided as in recent years, came together after doing their research to agree that manufactured housing is an important part of the solution to the affordable housing crisis. The prior HUD Secretary, Julian Castro, and the current one – Ben Carson, M.D., – both have praised manufactured homes too.
We’ll return to that point those lawmakers made later below.
Some background on Frank Rolfe and his partner Dave Reynolds is warranted. The duo – ‘Frank and Dave’ and their colleagues are doubtlessly successful at investing in what they have been doing for some decades. But there are many ways to be successful. Some are ethical, while others are not. Some methods are legal, some are not. We’ll let the reader and legal minds sort those items out, as we proceed with the evidence.
Rolfe – in what follows below from the problematically named “Mobile Home University” (MHU) website – is making a serious argument never to build a new manufactured home community, which he errantly calls in the article a “mobile home park.”
This analysis will look at three broad points.
First, this review will give Rolfe his say, verbatim, noting the original post is at this link here, but is cited below in its entirety for reader ease of reference, and to preserve his verbiage precisely without change.
Second, MHLivingNews will provide examples of other successful community operators who not only disagree with Rolfe, but which have and are putting serious money where their mouths are. There is research that proves otherwise too. So, Rolfe has failed with his article to persuade some of his fellow manufactured home industry success stories.
Third, we’ll briefly make the case why this debatably flawed thinking presented by Rolfe – while it may benefit himself and some investors – is bad for the manufactured home industry as a whole.
- It is bad for homeowners,
- bad for potential home buyers,
- and problematic for the vast majority of independents in manufactured housing.
- Following Rolfe on this would lead to more short term, medium and long-term challenges for each of those groups, and taxpayers too.
Note, Rolfe is using terminology that is problematic. We’ll provide graphics below that provide some correct terminology. So, by providing the following, let’s emphasize one more time that we are by no means endorsing Rolfe’s nomenclature, nor his points. Quite the opposite is true. We think he is dead wrong, and that he needs to be publicly refuted.
The last point in this foreward is this. The highlighting below is added by myself, because it will make it easier to look back at those certain points in what he wrote for a closer look in section 2.
With that prologue, here is the MHU post.
1) Rolfe in his Own Words:
By Frank Rolfe
People ask us all the time why, since we’re one of the largest mobile home park owners in the U.S. and are extremely bullish on the industry, we don’t build new ones. They’ll call us with raw land that they want to sell us to build a new park on. The truth is that we would never build a new park from scratch. We don’t recommend that anyone does. But now let us explain why that is not hypocritical.
You can’t build in decent locations today
Virtually every city in the U.S. no longer allows new mobile home park construction. As a result, you’ll have to build a new park way out in the county, where nobody can block your project. .This location will be so remote that nobody will even know you exist unless you spend a fortune on advertising. And the few that drive out to look will be appalled by the commute time and lack of nearby services, like a grocery or liquor store. All the good mobile home park locations were taken 30 years ago. There’s nothing new that’s worthwhile.
You can’t get municipal water and sewer
Because of this remote location, you won’t have access to something that is essential for success – municipal water and sewer. So you’ll end up having to put in a well and a private sewer treatment plat. This will cost you about $500,000 to $750,000 – and even then you’ll have to spend this again over time, as these systems wear out. If that’s not bad enough, you’ll have to worry constantly about whether or not the systems are working, and then spend a bunch of money fixing every problem.
You can’t fill lots without buying the homes
If you thought the private water and sewer was expensive, wait until you see the price tag on filling the park with mobile homes. Wait, you say, I’m in the park business, not the home business. Here’s the reality:
you cannot fill a mobile home lot today unless you buy the home and bring it in yourself. It will cost you around $25,000 to fill a lot, assuming a mix of new and repo homes. So the price tag to fill a 100 space community is around $2.5 million. And nobody’s going to finance that.
Does that sound attractive?
You can’t get financing
And financing homes is not even your biggest banking hurdle. Getting a loan to build the park in the first place is just as impossible. Nobody wants to make construction loans these days. Why should they – they’re chock full of unnecessary risk. If you can find a banker today that will finance your construction of a new mobile home park, then you are the LeBron James of bank dog and pony shows.
These projects are illiquid
If you build a new mobile home park, you will embark on an odyssey of risk like no other. Since banks won’t make loans on parks that are not “stabilized” (80%+ occupancy), you will be on your own until you hit that number. You can’t get out with the project at 30% — even if you want to. It’s like no-man’s land in World War I: if you can’t make it to the next trench at 80% occupancy, you’re going to get annihilated.
You just can’t make money with it
But perhaps the most important reason that you will not want to build a new mobile home park is that you can’t make any money with it. It’s that simple. When you take into account the interest carry of filling up a mobile home park from scratch, the return on the project is zero or negative. Even the greatest new park in America would be lucky to hit a 5% return. With hundreds of mobile home parks available – already built and at stabilized occupancy – at 10% going-in rates of return, why would you even consider building one?
Building a new mobile home park is just a bad idea. Buying an existing mobile home park is a great idea. The affordable housing industry is a great business model, But the real estate construction business model is not. Stick with existing parks. They are easier, lower risk and – most importantly – infinitely more profitable.
Editor’s Note [MHU’s editor, not MHLivingNews]
If you think that a “man-camp” is the hottest thing in the industry right now, then read the above article again. All a man-camp offers are the same risks, only compounded with the inherent risks of the oil & gas industry. Just ask the folks who built new parks in Louisiana to cater to FEMA and see how that turned out.
Frank Rolfe has been an investor in mobile home parks for almost 30 years, and has owned and operated hundreds of mobile home parks during that time. He is currently ranked, with his partner Dave Reynolds, as the 5th largest mobile home park owner in the U.S., with over 250 communities spread out over 25 states. Along the way, Frank began writing about the industry, and his books, coupled with those of his partner Dave Reynolds, evolved into a course and boot camp on mobile home park investing that has become the leader in this niche of commercial real estate. ##
As promised, here are a few items that help clarify correct terminology.
MHLivingNews Notes on highlighted items.
Almost every item above that is highlighted is demonstrably self-contradictory, self-serving, or disproven by other examples. In mentioning publicly traded companies, that is not to be construed as either for or against a named firm. Facts simply are what they are, and a publicly traded firm is supposed to be telling you the truth as they know it in their investor relations packages. If they lie in writing, they could face legal consequences.
2) Investors and Professionals Who Put Money Where Their Mouth Is In Disagreement with Rolfe’s View.
- UMH Properties (UMH) has recently redeveloped a property that they owned that was washed away in a flood. They are one of several organizations that have and are doing so. They are doing it because it is profitable. It is obvious that UMH raised the capital needed to do that redeveloping. They also have plans to expand and do more.
- Scott Roberts with Roberts Communities told MHProNews in depth about his example of developing a new project, and they have focused on filling their communities with new manufactured homes for sale. Clearly, Roberts got the financing.
- Legacy Housing (LEGH) is planning several such projects. They are stressing their necessity in public statements. Once more, they have clearly raised the capital needed to do them.
- Rolfe’s argument at the end about FEMA or man-camps in oil boom areas are arguably apples and oranges. Industry sources in Louisiana told MHProNews that FEMA was not doing their work efficiently. They told MHLivingNews that it could have been done faster and for less money.
- The final bullet for section 2 of this analysis is that those Democratic and Republican lawmakers were talking precisely about the comparisons of developing with manufactured homes vs. apartments. While we don’t necessarily agree with their costs, because that can vary in different parts of the country, they made it plain that it is less expensive to develop with manufactured homes than to build apartments. Let’s look at some pull quotes. For new readers, recall that we often turn quotes bold and brown to make them pop, but otherwise the text is as in the original.
The quote from leaders of bipartisan lawmakers below is found in the report linked here.
“Whether supporting a current manufactured home community or envisioning a new single-family manufactured home development, the possibilities for excellent living at truly affordable rates make this an exciting option in the affordable housing toolbox.”
“To construct a new single-family manufactured home development including all neighborhood infrastructure costs, the typical price per unit is $150,000. In comparison, a high-density apartment complex usually costs $250,000 per unit to construct.”
“In terms of preservation costs, manufactured housing developments cost about $8,000 to 9,000 per unit to preserve the basic infrastructure, while apartment complexes cost $50,000 to $70,000 per unit to maintain.”
This writer knows ‘Frank and Dave’ personally. They are intelligent and can be very congenial people. In a social setting, odds are good you’d like them. That said, does anyone who looks at those examples just cited in this section 2 doubt that there are several examples that disprove what Rolfe – who used the word “we” in his column – is trying to talk people out of developing for self-serving reasons?
Let’s rephrase that question. Who benefits if there is no new developing, as Rolfe suggests? Isn’t it those who are consolidating the communities that exist into their own hands?
Now imagine if builders of apartments made the same argument that Rolfe is making. They’d be laughed at, wouldn’t they?
Hundreds of thousands of multifamily housing units are being built every year. Ponder that cost vs. what those Democratic and Republican lawmakers research revealed. It could routinely be less costly and faster to build and develop with manufactured housing.
Sorry, Frank. But you are wrong, wrong, wrong on this topic above. Even your argument about location is clearly wrong, because as you said – there are people coming to you with raw land to develop. There are developments occurring with multifamily housing by the hundreds of thousands of units a year. Those are being built in urban and suburban areas, they aren’t out in rural areas. Rather, those multifamily housing developments are occurring where existing city services are found. So, no need to worry about water, sewer or municipal services.
Frank’s thinking is demonstrably wrong on numerous points.
3) Why this is argument by Rolfe is bad for the industry as a whole, including current home owners.
Let me circle back to my reference to Legacy Housing, which their chairman in a recent call with their investors made several important revelations. Legacy [LEGH] said in their investor/public packages and statements that they are now #4 in manufactured housing production. They are selling manufactured homes through retailers, their own sales centers, to communities, and now are developing hteir own manufactured home communities, which they have errantly called ‘parks’ at times.
Consider these bullets, which are direct quotes from their recent conference call’s transcript.
- But within the next two or three years, I wouldn’t be surprised if 30-40% of our production is going to development projects in our market areas.
- It’s simply a place to put them in the metropolitan areas. That issue just has to be remedied.
- As far as new [Government Sponsored Enterprises – GSE] financing coming on board, even if they decreased our payments by $100 or $200 dollars because the interest rate went down, it wouldn’t solve the fundamental problem of a place to put them.
Each of those points, in their own way, buttress the point that we have made here on MHLivingNews and on MHProNews. Namely, that those bullets emphasize the value the enhanced preemption provision of the Manufactured Housing Improvement Act of 2000 (MHIA) that is already federal law.
To explain why that is important, let’s quote from testimony in 2017 by “Tim Sheahan and I live in a manufactured home community in San Marcos, CA, near San Diego. I have been a volunteer homeowner advocate for over 20 years serving at the local, state and national level and am currently president of National Manufactured Home Owners Association (NMHOA), which is part of the CFED I’m Home network…”
Among the keys from Sheahan worth spotlighting is this.
“Initially, stiff competition among various developers during the only time a true “free market” situation existed in these communities commonly led to very reasonable starting rents.”
Bingo. What is necessary is more developing and competition. On that, we would concur with Sheahan. What Rolfe is arguing for is no developing and less competition. Who benefits from that, Frank? Is it residents? Is it smaller to mid-sized communities that want to treat their residents with respect, fairly, while still making a profit? Ponder those questions, we’ll ask Frank and Dave to reply to this.
Back to Sheahan, who’s full commentary is linked here as a download. Note anew that we could not necessarily agree with all that he said, but would concur on the thrust of what is quoted – wheat and chaff. MH in what follows should be understood as an abbreviation of manufactured home.
“Instead of [the Government Sponsored Enterprises or GSEs] providing loans to enable some of the most aggressive and opportunistic operators to expand their oppressive empires, it would be far better to support acquisition of MH communities by philanthropic nonprofit operators, support resident purchase of MH communities or support nonprofit developers in the construction of new MH communities.”
“Could there be a new era of widespread MH village construction, especially in rural and semi-rural areas that could once again lure seniors from stick [built, on site built] homes in the cities, older conventional homes in small towns or from family farms, to live in new retirement communities with more amenities than MH villages have ever provided in the past? By getting seniors to downsize to MH retirement communities, their previous homes would be made available to younger families/the workforce at a generally affordable price closer to where they work, reducing their daily commute time on highways.”
Once more, let me emphasize that quoting Sheahan, or anyone else on a specific point is not to be understood as a blanket endorsement of all that they say, think, or do. Heck, my spouse may not agree with all that I say or do, and your loved ones likely feel the same. In an overly sensitive era, it is sad that such added disclaimers are needed.
That disclaimer made, what Sheahan said in those two pull quotes has much merit.
But what is lacking in that is this. A strong, persistent argument to use manufactured housing’s enhanced preemption to overcome the current NIMBY or other challenges in cities and towns around the country.
Rolfe, to be fair, may have been exaggerating to make his arguably still flawed point. There are cities and towns that allow new manufactured home developments, as the examples cited above in section 2 make clear occurs. There are also cities and towns that allow manufactured home (MH) to be cited on infill lots too. All of those are necessary and good for current and future home owners.
We are far from alone in thinking so. Ponder the argument made by the Manufactured Housing Association for Regulatory Reform (MHARR), that has launched an advocacy effort to do just that, argue that federal law preempts local or state law on this point.
The case for manufactured homes was well made by the National Association of Realtors (NAR) Scholastica ‘Gay’ Cororaton, CBE in 2018, just last year. Her research is in our report as a download, linked below.
Let’s draw to a close with this from Mark Weiss, JD, President and CEO of the Manufactured Housing Association for Regulatory Reform (MHARR) to MHLivingNews today.
“Federal preemption as amended by the Manufactured Housing improvement Act of 2000 is designed to allow HUD Code manufactured homes, constructed in accordance with the federal standards, to be shipped and sited anywhere in the United States, regardless of where the home is constructed. This is essential to maintaining the uniformity of manufactured housing construction and safety regulation and maintaining the fundamental affordability of HUD Code homes. As a corollary, it is designed to prevent local jurisdictions from imposing their own costly standards on HUD Code homes, or using standards or other devices, such as discriminatory zoning measures, to exclude HUD Code homes. This benefits homebuyers by ensuring a uniform, cost-effective set of standards for construction and safety, while it benefits independent businesses by reducing the type of regulatory compliance burdens that would ensue if thousands of jurisdictions around the country were free to impose their own unique or differing standards or requirements. Ultimately, this helps expand homeownership opportunities for millions of lower and moderate-income Americans, while it helps industry businesses to grow and provide employment opportunities in the nation’s heartland.”
To debunk the several misplaced fears people have about manufactured homes, see the article linked below.
See too the comments by HUD Secretary Carson in various video interviews, some examples, are linked here and here, or are shown in the video below.
We will refer back to this article in the future. Let’s sum up with this. Current and potential manufactured homeowners should want to see more developing and placement options. That will keep prices and costs down. Independent businesses and investors should want that too, for the same reasons that conventional housing builders want to create more single and multifamily housing. The new Opportunity Zones made possible by the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act create potentially thousands of opportunities for doing such developing. That would create more jobs with good pay in local areas.
Homeowners and prospective owners should fear the vultures in the industry, not the majority of independents who know that you have to take good care of your customers in order to stay in business. The evidence shows that those vultures are trying to keep the industry cut down to size for now.
Those vulture capitalists often use their political clout to get what they want. That’s what millions object to, people who ‘rig the system’ to favor the few instead of the many.
Before wrapping up, we want to be fair and balanced. Let’s credit Rolfe with his periodic and harsh criticism of the Manufactured Housing Institute (MHI) and some of their leaders. What follows are examples of wheat and chaff too.
America needs more homeowners. Homeowners can build equity that a renter simply can’t. America becomes a richer nation when we can sustainably and ethically encourage more homeownership. “We Provide, You Decide.” © (Lifestyle news, reports, fact-checks, analysis, and commentary. Third-party images or content are provided under fair use guidelines for media.)
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By L.A. “Tony” Kovach – for MHLivingNews.com.
Tony has earned numerous awards in history and in manufactured housing. For example, he earned the Lottinville Award in history from the University of Oklahoma. He’s a managing member of LifeStyle Factory Homes, LLC, the parent company to MHProNews, and MHLivingNews.com. This article reflects the LLC’s and/or the writer’s position, and may or may not reflect the views of sponsors or supporters.
Connect on LinkedIn: http://www.linkedin.com/in/latonykovach
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