According to Wikipedia, a mobile home park is defined as “two or more mobile homes on a platted piece of property” – but that’s an overly simplistic view.
There are around 44,000 true mobile home parks in the U.S., ranging in size from around 10 to as many as 1,000 lots, and they stand alone as the last bastion of detached affordable housing in America.
Owning a mobile home park puts you into probably the most in-demand industry in our country: the affordable housing business. But it also offers you the ability to harness extremely high rates of return, a “moat” that Warren Buffett would appreciate, and the potential to obtain very attractive seller financing.
Four Pros to Owning a Mobile Home Park
There are four main pros to owning a mobile home park, which include:
- Very high rates of return. Most mobile home park buyers are shooting for around a 20% cash-on-cash return level. This is made possible due to low competition as most investors have a stigma against “trailer parks”.
- An enormous “moat” – the largest in all of the real estate. New mobile home parks have not been allowed to be built in most American cities for over half a century. This blockade assures that you have zero new competition and that keeps rents high and secure. Again, the moratorium on new construction is based on the negative stereotype that virtually all Americans have against “trailer parks”.
- You are typically buying from the original mom and pop who have managed the property poorly and have zero debt. This means you can rapidly raise rents and fill lots and cut costs, all the while getting a great price on the front end and frequently seller financing.
- It costs around $5,000 to move a mobile home from Point A to Point B (assuming they can be moved at all) and, as a result, the homes can never leave. This gives you incredible stability in occupancy and rents.
Four Challenges of Mobile Home Park Ownership
There are also some cons to avoid regarding mobile home parks, which include:
- Mobile home parks do not work in every location, just like all forms of real estate. Don’t for a minute think that mobile home park residents have goals and desires any different than you do. They want to live in nice, safe places with good schools and shopping. Unfortunately, over the past 50 years, some of the locations where you find mobile home parks are no longer desirable. Just because a mobile home park exists does not mean it’s an appropriate target.
- Many mobile home parks have serious utility issues that are dangerous to own and manage, including private water, private sewer, master-metered electric, and master-metered gas. Although there are ways to mitigate these risks, without proper diligence they can destroy you.
- The trick is not just buying a mobile home park, but making money with that purchase. You need to buy properties that you can push rents, fill lots, cut costs, or all three.
- Some mobile home parks have lots that are too small to hold modern homes, which are considerably larger. You will not be able to find homes small enough to fill these lots if they go vacant.
What Skills Are Needed to Be a Successful Mobile Home Park Investor?
To be a successful investor in the mobile home park sector requires some essential qualities and education, which include:
- Understanding what the key drivers are to park evaluation (infrastructure, density, economics, age of homes, and location) and how these impact values and operations.
- A dedication to looking at a large volume of potential deals to find the right one.
- Persistence: sorting through an endless assortment of park properties and then latching on and pushing forward. A mom-and-pop seller can take a while.
- You need to be a deal maker and not a deal killer – we call this creative deal-making, and it involves taking the exercise of “how could I make this deal work” rather than “why does this deal not work”?
How To Invest in a Mobile Home Park
Mobile home parks come in all types of shapes, sizes, and price points. As a result, there are mobile home parks to fit nearly any budget. The average mobile home park deal is probably around $1 million in size, requiring roughly $200,000 to $300,000 in capital for the down payment. However, there are also no less than three ways to buy a mobile home park with nearly nothing down:
- Seller financing with zero down.
- A Master Lease with Option agreement, in which you take over the property immediately, raise rents, fill lots, cut costs and then, when you’re ready, buy it – typically within a three-to-five-year window. This way you can increase the value to a sufficient level that you can sell it without ever having to technically buy it.
- Selling an “assignment” of a mobile home park deal, which means you assign your contract to another party, typically for a fee of between 5% and 10% of the face value of the deal (e.g. on a $1 million deal it would have a fee of $50,000 to $100,000).
To successfully acquire a deal there is an established playbook of steps, which include:
- Define your territory
For most mobile home park buyers, this would be a four-to-five hour driving radius from your home. That way you can drive to the park on a Saturday morning, be there a couple of hours, and home for dinner. Although most owners only visit their property once or twice a year, it’s this sense of control that gives them comfort.
- Establish your target deal size.
This is simple: just take your available capital for a down payment and multiply by a range of five times (20% down) to ten times (10% down). As mentioned earlier, there are also ways to buy with zero down.
- Build a deal funnel.
There are basically four ways to find deals to look at including:
- On-line listings on Mobilehomeparkstore.com and Loopnet.com.
- Talking to brokers (there are about 100 mobile home park brokers in the U.S.).
- Cold-calling owners.
- Direct mail to owners.
All of these can be extremely successful and you should do all of them at once.
4. Pour as many deals as possible into that deal funnel. Finding a mobile home park is a volume business and you want to pour as many potential deals into your sorting criteria as you can.
5. Make offers on every deal that fits. It doesn’t matter what the mom-and-pop seller is asking as many are willing to take far less. The mobile home park industry is extremely negotiable. Don’t hold back on making offers on each and every park that’s a fit.
6. Do terrific due diligence. Once you have a park under contract, you will need to do excellent due diligence to take the risk out of it. Benjamin Franklin said that “diligence is the mother of good luck” and that’s true with mobile home parks.
7. Determine the best case/worst case/ realistic case scenario to make smart decisions. The best way to do well is to stress test your deal with three scenarios:
- How great would it be if everything went perfectly?
- What would happen to you if you failed to meet all of your targets in occupancy, rents, and costs?
- How happy would you be with the middle ground in these three scenarios?
If the answer is that you would be thrilled with the best case, could survive the worst case, and are extremely pleased with the realistic case, then do the deal.
How to Stand Out As a Mobile Home Park Investor
When dealing with owners, the best way to beat the competition is to “bond” with sellers. There are a million stories out there in which sellers liked the buyer so much that they gave them an incredible deal with a low price and great terms. This is simply because older sellers like to help out younger buyers who they have bonded with. To bond with a seller, spend time with them in person or on the phone. They will return the attention with good prices and terms.
How Do You Scale a Mobile Home Park Business?
While the average mobile home park owner has just one property (it's profitable enough that one typically does the trick) there are still a large number of owners who have more than one, representing small and large portfolios. Scaling a mobile home park venture is not that difficult, as you simply extend your lessons learned to the next property. Personnel is simple as most mobile home parks have only one employee: the manager.
The biggest challenge is the trade-off between efficiency and diversity. If you have more than one property in the same basic area as your first park, then you don’t have much to fall back on if a tornado hits the area or a major employer uproots. At the same time, if you have your parks located 200 miles apart, it will cause you to spend more time on the road – however, you should only be visiting once or twice a year, so most owners choose diversity over efficiency.
The mobile home park industry is on the correct side of every major American megatrend and offers tremendous returns and stability. Even though all of us suffer from some degree of stigma against “trailer parks” you should not allow this false narrative to hold you back.
Frank Rolfe is a 25-year veteran of the mobile home park business, having purchased and self-managing his first mobile home park in 1996. Today he is the co-founder of Mobile Home University as well as co-owner of one of the ten largest portfolios of mobile home parks in the U.S. with around 20,000 lots in around 28 states. You can find his writings, recordings, videos, and podcasts at www.MHU.com.
How to Find Mobile Home Park Investments
There are three main options in Property Type for finding mobile homes within PropertyRadar:
- Single-family – Mobile Homes. This option focuses on ownership of the actual mobile homes. However, identifying where these are is a way to help do research, identify potential parks, and see details as to the age of sellers and units. PropetyRadar currently has over four million mobile homes in our system. Here’s an example list of owner-occupied mobile homes in Idaho that are currently in foreclosure.
- Commercial – Mobile Home Park. This option will help you connect with owners of mobile home parks and PropertyRadar has over 132,000. Here is a sample list of mobile home parks in Oklahoma where the owner has owned the park for over 20 years.
- Land – Mobile Home Lot. There is the option of mobile home lots and vacant mobile home lots. There are over 265,000 mobile home lots in the system. Remember that sometimes zoning changes or there may be another kind of property on the side, but this should help you identify possible opportunities. As an example, here’s a list of mobile home lots in Mississippi where the owner is at least 65 years old.
There is nuance in the mobile home space as every county is a little different. This is where local knowledge can play a key role in helping identify mobile home parks. Some counties may have mobile home parks listed as Other Residential or even Miscellaneous Real Property. You will know your area's best. Check with your local jurisdiction to see how these parks are zoned in local code. Or, drive around to identify sites you are interested in and use the app to search for the owner.