When I first started in the business about 12 years ago, I spent a lot of money driving across the country in order to evaluate mobile home park investments. While this allowed me to see a lot of potential deals, it was a big waste of time and money. Many times I would get in my car and drive 1,000 miles only to find that the mobile home park I was looking at was a complete dump, had unrealistic profit and loss projections, or was already under contract by another investor.
I soon realized that it was worthwhile to do a more thorough analysis before visiting the property. If it passed the initial analysis, then I would try to get an accepted offer and request detailed financials from the seller. If it still looked good I would schedule a trip to visit the park. Before implementing this strategy, I was visiting about ten mobile home parks for every one I purchased. Now, that ratio is more like two-to-one and I am not on the road all the time.
Conduct some preliminary due diligence
Due diligence is all about asking the right questions. I want to know how many lots there are, how many are occupied and paying, and who is responsible for the water lines, sewer lines and roads.
As a starting rule of thumb, I take the number of occupied spaces and multiply this by the average monthly space rent and multiply this by 70 (which is an arbitrary number based on my experience in evaluating deals).
For example if the park has 110 spaces with 10 vacancies and a monthly average space rent of $200, then my initial value calculation is 100 x $200 x 70 = $1,400,000
If the park is on the market for $3 million I will probably pass. If the park is on the market for $1,800,000 or less, then I will probably look into it further. Remember, this simple calculation is very generic, and it may or may not be the true indication of the value of a mobile home park. It can, however, help you quickly sift through listings to find the most promising. If it passes my simple math test and doesn’t appear to have any major problems, I advance to the next step.
Avoid justifications based on comparables
There are 3 basic valuation methods. However, with mobile home parks two of those methods, the cost and sales comparison methods, have some flaws that skew the results. The cost method does not take into account the business component of the business or occupancy levels. It would value a 100 space mobile home park the same whether it has 100% occupancy or 50% occupancy.>
The sales comparison method is also flawed in most cases due to the lack of quality and recent comparables available. Mobile home parks have been increasing in value over the last few years, as has other real estate. With relatively few sales to draw from, an appraiser will typically use sales from a couple years ago and sales from markets 100 miles or more away from the subject property. Even if there is a similar sale in the same market and in the same condition, one mobile home park can be much more attractive than the next. Differences in expense ratios, occupancy levels and space rents can make one park worth 30-50% more or less per space than a similar park down the road.
Determine an acceptable cap rate
Due to the flaws in the first two methods I put all my efforts into valuing a mobile home park using the Income or Market Capitalization method. Under this method I take the Net Operating Income divided by the Capitalization Rate to come up with the value. While this might sound like a simple process, it can be quite complex coming up with the true Net Operating Income and deciding what cap rate to use in the formula.
A simple way to think about the cap rate is that it is the return you will receive year one, based on the current projections if you were to pay cash for the property. If you put $1,000,000 cash into a CD, you can expect somewhere in the 5% range for your money. Obviously, if you were to put $1,000,000 of cash into a mobile home park where there are risks and time involved in managing that investment, you will want more than a 5% return on that money. Cap rates have been all over the place in that last few years, but they are once again rising. The parks that are selling now have cap rates in the 9.00% and higher range. Determining the proper cap rate to use in the formula is arbitrary and will depend on what you are looking for as an investor. One investor may be satisfied with a 7% cap, and the next investor needs to buy at a 12% cap in order to justify the risk and time involved. I do not even look at parks that I can’t turn into at least a 10% cap rate. The range of cap rates on the market today fall in the 3% to 11% range with most parks falling into the 8% to 11% range.
Tip: Other factors to consider when determining an acceptable cap rate are the requirements of your lender and the interest rates on the loan you use to purchase the property. If you are borrowing 80% at a 10% interest rate and are trying to buy the property at a 7% cap rate, you will have a large negative cash flow. Conversely, if you are borrowing 80% at a 4% interest rate on a 7% cap rate, you should have a positive cash flow, so the interest rates are important to consider in the equation.
Conduct a reality check
After determining what is an acceptable cap rate you need to rework the profit and loss statements you receive from the seller or broker. I call this the “Net Operating Income Reality Check”. Your goal in this process is to determine the actual projected income and expenses for the first year after you acquire ownership.
Figuring out the actual income is usually not too difficult. Take the actual number of spaces in the park, multiply this by the actual rents being charged and subtract a reasonable allowance for collections. This should give you a good estimate of the income. I usually use 2-3% as the collections expense. If the rents are 50% below market and you know that they can be raised, then you might include a portion (maybe 50%) of this increased rent in your projections.
Next, estimate expenses based not only on how the park is currently operating, but also based on how the park will operate with you as the new owner. For example, if the current owner is managing the park, then you need to plug in an amount for management and payroll taxes and workers comp. If the park has vacancies and there is no advertising expense, then you need to plug in an amount for advertising.
After coming up with the income that the park is currently generating and deducting from that all the anticipated operating expenses—including the reserve for capital expenditures—you will have what is called the Net Operating Income.
Tip: Net Operating Income does not included deductions for mortgage interest, depreciation or amortization. If these numbers are included in the expenses, then you should add them back to get the Net Operating Income. Also, if you take the Net Operating Income and divide this by the price, you come up with the Capitalization Rate (Cap Rate). If you divide the Net Operating Income by the Cap Rate, then you get the price.
Consider the other factors
Other considerations on the value of the park will be the entrances, streets, landscaping, utilities, parking, lights, storage sheds, number of singles versus doubles, swimming pools, clubhouses, etc. The nicer the park, the lower the cap rate typically is, and the easier it will be to tap into better financing programs. In addition to the quality of the park, many mobile home parks have other factors that need consideration. This includes things such as vacant lots, land for expansion, park owned homes and seller-financed notes.
If a mobile home park passes these preliminary tests, then it is worth a drive (or a plane flight) to take a look. Sometimes your visit will uncover unforeseen problems, but you will have limited your visits to only the very best of the properties on paper, and you will have saved considerable time and expense by doing so.