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Recently, SUN Communities (a mobile home park REIT) announced that it is buying Green Courte and American Land Lease (two large mobile home park owners) for $1.32 billion, which works out to over $70,000 per lot. Meanwhile, we’ve been buying mobile home parks for as low as $10,000 per lot. How is this possible?

Moms & Pops price their parks much cheaper

There’s an old story about a jewelry dealer in Santa Fe, who had the same item in two different racks, one priced at $5 and one priced at $50. When asked about it, the dealer said “some people like to pay $5 while others like to pay $50”. That’s the same with mobile home parks. Mom and pop sellers – the ones we buy from – sell their parks for $10,000 to $20,000 per lot, while professional owners sell the exact same thing for $40,000 to $70,000 per lot. Two different types of sellers, and two different price points. Your choice on which you want to pay.

Buy “broken” parks and fix them

If you want the best deals, buy mobile home parks that are cosmetic catastrophes and fix them up. Our favorite turn-arounds are those in which we can fix the place up for a really low cost through mowing the grass, putting roundup on the weeds, removing piles of debris, and painting and skirting the homes. Unlike apartments, mobile home parks are cheap to fix because you don’t own the trailers and don’t have to do the interior or structural work. Fixing up the land is cheap. Best of all, many well-heeled buyers don’t like to do turn-arounds, instead opting only for “finished” product.

Distressed REOs are a great source

About 30% of the parks we buy these days are bank foreclosures, also known as REOs. These are sold either through brokers or at auction. We love these type of properties, because the bank’s frustration allows you to steal the right properties. However, you have to know what you’re doing – especially at auctions – or your “cheap” property may be a true lemon. But you can definitely get low prices with REOs.

The “stigma” keeps out the buyers

The main reason that mobile home parks can be bought cheap is the sheer absence of buyers out there. The “stigma” against the industry sours most commercial real estate investors, and allows the playing field to be tilted towards a buyer’s market at all times. When will this end? We thought the stigma would go away when Warren Buffet became the largest manufacturer and lender on mobile homes. Even the power of Buffet was unable to destroy the stigma. But it will end some day, as more headlines tout mobile home park investing as being a good idea. In the past year, for example, the Carlyle Group (America’s largest private equity group) bought two mobile home parks in Florida. We doubt they are going to stop there.

Conclusion

Mobile home parks can still be purchased at low prices. We own over 100 of them, and never pay large amounts. But all that will change at some point in the future, as more buyers realize the benefits and return levels of this unique real estate niche. Until then, yes, you can still buy parks at reasonable prices.