“Mobile homes were perfected by humans, but invented by snails,” John Oliver on HBO’s Last Week Tonight, per Time. “The homes of some the poorest people in America are being snapped up by some of the richest people in America.” Really? Let’s explore these and other claims in the fact check that follows, because some is true, some is spin, and some of Oliver’s claims are misguided or false. Perhaps more important, Oliver missed the real link between various clips he shared.
There are timeless and penetrating quotes that we periodically trot out when they apply. The one below helps set the table for the headline topic above.
There are truths, half-truths, outright errors, and omissions all found in John Oliver’s ‘comedic spoof’ of the manufactured housing industry.
Let’s start with some points that Oliver is correct about, which Manufactured Home Living News has previously noted several times.
What are some of the hiding-in-plain-sight common threads to Oliver’s commentary? Let’s lay out the list, and then readers are encouraged to watch Oliver’s video to see how these all apply.
- Clayton Homes, and their affiliated lenders,
- Warren Buffett, who is Chairman of
- Berkshire Hathaway – and their brands operating in the manufactured housing industry,
- Frank Rolfe, Mobile Home University/RVHorizons partner, and
- Nathan Smith (not named, but SSK Communities was among the video clips about a class action lawsuit by residents against their firm)
- Several other larger manufactured home community owners.
All of the above have what three letters in common?
The Manufactured Housing Institute, which some in the industry and media have called the ‘mouthpiece’ for Berkshire Hathaway brands in the manufactured home association world.
MHI is based in Arlington, VA, across the Potomac River from the nation’s capital in Washington, D.C.
There are two other point that needs to be made in this initial fact check.
The first of those beyond MHI is Dave Ramsey, who is a popular personal finance guru. On our sister site, MHProNews, we’ve debunked the Ramsey claim previously. But we will plan to do so here on MHLivingNews in the near term.
Just because someone makes a glib or funny sounding claim, that doesn’t make it correct. For centuries, people believed in a flat earth, and the masses were proven to be wrong. While it is true that manufactured homes can lose value in certain situations, it is equally true that conventional housing can lose value in precisely the same sorts of scenarios. That was sadly proven millions of times during the 2008 housing/finance meltdown, when virtually all conventional and other housing crashed in value.
The National Association of Realtors (NAR), the Federal Housing Finance Administration (FHFA), and the Urban Institute are among those third-party sources that during 2018 cited research proving manufactured homes can and do appreciate.
What’s Fair and Accurate?
It would be fair for Ramsey or Oliver to say that manufactured homes may lose value in certain situations. The HBO episode cited a potential cause, but they failed to say that the same sort of thing has occurred in conventional housing. For instance, there are places in the U.S. where conventional housing prices are rising so fast, and taxes with it, that it is forcing some retired or marginal income home owners to sell their site-built houses.
- A sharp rise in property tax rates is roughly analogous to rising site fees in a land-lease manufactured home community.
- Or if HOAs in a condo community rose sharply, something similar occurs there to what is happening in a limited number of manufactured home communities. Don’t condemn an entire industry for the claimed sins of a few.
- But once again, who are the ones who were cited for doing this by Oliver’s episode? MHI member companies.
Let’s elaborate briefly. Oliver’s video – and MHAction, whose ‘white paper’ about manufactured home community giants the HBO British comic cited – are correct in saying that certain larger community operators are buying up more communities that were previously owned by independently owned/operated manufactured home land-lease community owners.
What Oliver didn’t say is that most manufactured home communities are still owned by smaller- to mid-sized community operations. That’s a critical fact. Oliver cited ROC USA. Their president, Paul Bradley, has said numerous times there are good manufactured home community operations.
Another point that must be made is that while resident owned communities (ROCs) are a useful option, the story of Millie Francis MHLivingNews previously reported on reminds us that there can be abuses in a ROC too. If Oliver thinks he can provide a bullet proof solution in a 15 plus-minute spoof, he’s mistaken.
One more point Oliver missed or ignored. Buffett/Berkshire money has flowed to MHAction. Put a few stars or question marks next to that factoid.
Summing Up to This Point
Buffett’s Berkshire (Omaha based), Knoxville metro-based Clayton, 21st Mortgage and Vanderbilt Mortgage and Finance (VMF), some larger community members of Arlington, VA based MHI are all connected. Buffett-Berkshire bucks flowed into MHAction. It may seem like odd connections, but they are financially linked. Who said? Another MH resident group, as the report linked here stated.
By accident or not, these are the factual interconnected ties. Oliver didn’t mention them specifically in his 15 minutes video, but they are demonstrable facts that are hiding in plain sight.
What is Right and Wrong About Oliver’s Viral Video
Not all MHI connected firms are ‘evil’ or ‘predatory.’ But certainly, some MHI member companies have questionable business practices that Oliver noted. The HBO comic would have been wise to have connected the dots that MHI was the common thread between virtually all of the problematic claims made.
This screen capture that follows is a still from the John Oliver video, which is found further below.
The sins of specific ‘big boys’ should not make the masses believe that manufactured homes are somehow illegitimate. You can and do save money with a manufactured home. That’s why millions gladly own one.
Because there are problematic operators, for years, MHLivingNews has urged shoppers to research the firm they are considering doing business with. SSK Communities, was cited in the still photo of Ella Karcher in the John Oliver video. As of this morning, SSK Communities has a rating of ‘F’ with the Better Business Bureau (BBB).
If you do a Google search for lawsuits against a firm, that too can be revealing.
When federal investigators are reportedly continuing to probe Clayton Homes, and other Berkshire Hathaway brands, that ought to be a sobering thought. This mainstream news video is from Clayton’s hometown TV news station.
With that backdrop, the Oliver HBO video will now take on an entirely different meaning.
One last point to close on. MHLivingNews has to correct Oliver’s quoted phrase at the top, which should have the bracketed words added in, to make it more accurate. “The [businesses selling and leasing sites for manufactured] homes of some the poorest people in America are being snapped up by some of the richest people in America.” Because what Buffett and his MHI connected buddies have in common is that they are buying and expanding businesses. Why would they do so, unless they believe in the strong future of the industry?
With that backdrop, listen to what award-winning Alan Amy said.
“Buffett has long been viewed as a corporate hero. The more he complains about his secretary having to pay higher income tax than he does, the more people view Big B as some rich do-gooder.
But Clayton homes’ manipulative business model, which Buffett immediately saw dollar signs in, contradicts many of the ideas of fairness for which Buffett is known. Buck Fuffett…”
Ouch. Here is the John Oliver video, which on this date had over 4.4 million views.
The John Oliver video was a mishmash of accurate, inaccurate, missed opportunities and/or spin that failed to clearly connect the MHI dots.
Don’t let the sins of a few – including the rich, powerful and politically connected firms and people – stop you from seeing the value discovered and enjoyed by millions of manufactured home owners.
The Seattle Is Dying video report, linked among the related reports, below the bylines and notices, makes the sobering case why manufactured homes remains a critical need in the fight for affordable homes in America. To learn more, scroll on and click away. “We Provide, You Decide.” © ## (Lifestyle news, commentary, and analysis.)
(Third-party images and citations are provided under fair use guidelines.)
Soheyla Kovach co-founder of MHLivingNews, on left,
with son Tamas (pronounced like Tah Mash), and publisher L. A. ‘Tony’ Kovach, on the right.
Clicking on text-image graphics will take you to that report.