Manufactured Home Parks - Interest Increasing In This Niche
Manufactured Housing: A Potential Solution to the Affordable Housing Crisis
It is evident that demographic trends are creating a greater need for affordable housing for the largest aging population in our nation’s history. Financial analysts are reporting that big investors are betting heavily on the rising demand for low-cost housing, particularly manufactured homes.
Manufactured housing (also known as mobile homes) are homes that are manufactured in a factory, rather than on-site, and they are often clustered together in a manufactured home park. Extremely popular in the 1990s, when syndications and real estate investment trusts invested heavily in this niche industry, today manufactured home communities are attracting a new tier of private portfolios acquiring midsize parks.
“Trailer parks” of yesteryear are now trending as manufactured-home communities with increased consumer interest as either retirement or vacation homes. Single wide trailers and aluminum-sided, flat-roofed structures have been replaced by an assortment of modern modular or manufactured homes with vaulted ceilings, second stories, granite counters, stainless appliances, fireplaces, shingled roofs, two-car garages, and countless other features that have rendered them nearly indistinguishable from stick-built single-family residences.
Today’s manufactured-home communities are competing with planned-housing developments with upscale amenities such as swimming pools, gyms, walking trails, dog parks, tennis courts, and even golf courses, but at affordable prices.
I’ve been involved with investing in Manufactured Home Parks (MHPs) for the last few years as I was looking to find an “all weather” real estate niche to diversify into that would provide solid passive cash flow and hold up well in downturns. With the recent stock market volatility, MHPs are a constant reminder of an asset class that deserves your attention for a variety of reasons.
MHPs have been one of the top commercial real estate asset classes in return performance for the past 25 years (1994 – 2017) with a return of 13.27% vs the S&P 500 stock index of 7.54%. Current underlying themes and trends are supporting what we expect to be continued strength not only now but for the long haul.
5 Reasons we like MHPs now!
1) Downside protection – From 2007 to 2009 (our last major downturn), MHPs were the only commercial real estate asset class that had a positive return. The S&P 500 was down a whopping 22% that year and MHPs returned .47%. As we get into the later stages of a long up cycle as we are now, it's important to have assets in your portfolio that can help buffer the volatility and potential downturns of assets like stocks.
2) Big Money at the table – Sam Zell (one of the largest owners of MHPs nationwide) and Warren Buffet, famous stock investor and one of the wealthiest investors on the planet (owns Clayton Homes, the largest builder of MHPs nationwide) have been in the space for some time. But now big private equity firms like Blackstone Group, one of the largest private equity firms in the world, is buying up portfolios of park properties across the country. Read latest Bloomberg article here.
3) Lack of Supply – Although there are about 50,000 manufactured home parks nationwide, there are only a handful of new parks approved each year. A low tax base, lack of zoning and negative historical stigmas are headwinds to cities and municipalities approving more. Additionally, the supply dwindles with higher and better use opportunities for developers to convert them to apartments, industrial parks, etc.
4) Demand for housing affordability - Everywhere we read of the higher costs of housing and lack of affordability. Couple that with wages not keeping pace and large segments of the population (Boomers) retiring with little savings and reliance on social security there are few places for these folks to turn. Operators that acquire and improve parks (add amenities, safety features and overall appearance) are providing an affordable solution to these folks.
5) Fragmented Markets – Up to 80% of MHPs are in the hands of small independent owners (mom and pops) many who have acquired or inherited them and had little knowledge, skills or capital to manage or improve the asset. Larger more skilled operators have moved into the space with the capital to make value add improvements, streamline costs and optimize the value of the parks.
How to Play it as an investor
We think the best ways to get a stake in the MHP market as a passive investor looking to diversify is through syndication deals. Here you pool your assets with other investors with a sponsor / operator that is an expert at acquiring and optimizing MHPs to create ongoing cash flow for the investor with opportunities for capital events along the way to return equity and profits from park refinances or sales. We favor larger operators that can gain more scale and efficiency, acquiring parks in several cities and states across the country to provide additional diversification protection.
As of this writing operators are targeting 8% to 10% annualized cash on cash returns with long term total returns including cash distributions and equity gains in the mid to high teens. Many offer preferred returns that benefit the investor by paying them first before the operator gets their profit split. Preferred returns are not guaranteed but are the next best thing in aligning the investors interest first.
Vetting Sponsor / Operators
Look for operators that have been operating successfully in the space with a good long-term track record of adding value and optimizing their parks. We like to see MSA (large city) concentration to enable park operators to gain scale and efficiency by having several parks within proximity to each other. They should have an acquisition strategy that makes sense with skin in the game.
As ten thousand baby boomers retire every day, demand for well-maintained manufactured home communities continues to rise. These parks can provide residents a strong sense of community, as well as a multitude of amenities and increased safety. As an investor in this asset class, manufactured home parks provide some of the best returns and lowest risks of any real estate asset class. It is for this reason that we think adding manufactured home park investments to your portfolio is a great "recession-proof" strategy.