Caveat Emptor, Let the Buyer Beware
“When I see a mobile home, I see a ATM”
– Tom Sheppard
Every day, another hopeful family enters into an Owner Financed agreement like this, not fully knowing the statistics and risks that are stacked up against them from the get-go.
There is a reason why these deals are so profitable for the people selling the mobile homes; the sellers usually get to sell the home again and again because the buyers rarely make it to the actual ownership phase. Between the loopholes, raising the rent on the land and other possibly scrupulous events that happen along the way, the buyers will never actually own that home and giving up is far cheaper than fighting.
I understand that these deals are nothing personal and business is business. No one is being forced to buy the homes and a deal like this can be advantageous to both sides. For some, it is the only road to the American Dream and for others, it will be another sad defeat trying to own a home.
I share this in hopes that we all learn how and why these deals are made. Why the seller is doing it and why it is so profitable. This information could prove to come in handy for you or someone you know one day. Knowledge always equals power in any situation!
When I was born, the doctor said to my father, ” I’m sorry, we did everything we could but he still pulled through.” – Rodney Dangerfield
Rodney Dangerfield is famous in the world of comedy for the line “I get no respect.” Mobiles homes, trailers, are the Rodney Dangerfield of the housing industry.
The mobile home is truly one of the most brilliant and disrespected ideas in housing and investing in our day.
When Bill Clinton was running for the office of President and women kept coming forward claiming he had sex with them, many of those women were discounted with such terms as “trailer trash” and “what you would expect if you walked through a trailer park with a twenty dollar bill in your teeth.”
Even banks give trailers no respect. Most banks won’t lend people money to buy a mobile home. In fact most mobile home buyers can only get their financing from one or two providers.
This scarcity of lenders spells opportunity for investors.
Mobile home buyers are typically people who have little or no money for a down payment and they either can’t afford the high closing costs of traditional home buying, or their credit rating is too low to get approved. They buy a mobile home because it seems like a fantastic value.
They can buy a three or four bedroom home with 1,600 to 2,400 square feet of living space for a fraction of what it would cost for a stick built home of similar size. And, mobile home manufacturers will cite a book full of statistics to convince buyers that mobile homes are built to higher quality standards than stick built homes. Maybe one day, the rest of the world will believe those statistics. Until then, if the place has steel floor joists, you are going to have a hard time finding financing.
The biggest problem with mobile homes is that they truly depreciate. When you buy a stick built home for investment, you get to claim depreciation. Often at the same time you are depreciating the house on your taxes, the market value of the home is appreciating. For a mobile home, just like for your car, the value of the home does not go up with time, it truly depreciates. **
I was recently giving financial counseling to a woman in my church. She was contemplating buying the mobile home she was currently renting. I advised her against it on two counts.
1)Mobile homes go down in value over time. They will fall to a floor value, but they don’t appreciate in value.
2) The home she was looking at buying was sitting on a rented lot. When you buy a mobile home on a rented lot, you had better be prepared to move it to a lot that you own. Otherwise, even when you pay off what you owe on the mobile home, you will have to keep paying a sizable chunk of money each year for lot rent. And if you don’t pay the lot rent, the park can take ownership of your home with ease.
I told her that mobile homes are not a great investment for a home owner, but they are great investments for investors.
When I see a mobile home, I see a big ATM. But, there are right ways and wrong ways to invest in mobile homes. I have done both.
My biggest mistake was to buy a cheap mobile home in a mobile home park that I did not own. The cheap part was a good idea, but having it on top of someone else’s dirt was a really bad idea and it was even worse because it was inside someone else’s mobile home park.
Why was this a mistake?
- I had to pay lot rent every month until I got someone else to buy the home. If I didn’t pay the lot rent, the management could seize my property for the rent owed.
- The park management had veto power over any buyer, unless they were going to move the home out of the park. Park management always reserves the right to deny people the right to rent a property inside their park and they can deny people who want to move their mobile home into the park. That means you have to get their approval for any buyer or renter you bring to the table.
- The park management had their own homes they were selling which they would show to prospective buyers in direct competition with my offering. When your mobile home is competing with homes owned by the management company, you are fighting an uphill battle to get your home sold or rented.
I still managed to make money, even on mobiles home in someone else’s park. But it was a lot harder than it should have been.
Now, I only buy mobile homes that I am going to move onto land I own, or I buy them and the dirt under them. This makes life much easier and makes the investment more profitable.
The other thing I do when investing in mobile homes, is I try to avoid being a landlord. Of course I do that on nearly all my investments.
If you are happy being a landlord, then you can ignore these next few points I make. The problem with being a landlord is that anything that goes wrong with the place, you have to fix it, regardless of whose fault it may be. This means that your operating expenses (the costs of keeping the property going) are higher than they are for an owner occupant. If you run your rental investment properly, you will always set aside reserves from the revenues to be used for maintenance, repairs, and vacancies. That way you always have cash on hand to deal with the expenses that must be paid to keep or get a property rented.
I prefer to sell my mobile homes to owner-occupants. In an ideal situation, I sell them the home and rent them the dirt (the lot) beneath it.
Why sell the home and rent the dirt?
When I sell the home, either outright or using a contract for deed, either way, I shift the operating expenses such as taxes, repairs and maintenance on the trailer from me to the owner occupant. This means I can actually charge less money and make more money. That sets up a win-win.
I like to rent the dirt for purely selfish reasons. The average American moves every 3 to 5 years. This means that your owner occupant is likely going to look to move in just few years. If he owns both the trailer and the dirt, he will sell both and move on and your cash flow will likely end, unless you managed to finance the new buyer. And, you won’t get the down payment, that will go to the seller.
Very few mobile home owners are willing or able to go to the trouble and expense of moving a mobile home. All-in costs of disconnect, moving and reconnect can run to $5,000 or more. Most don’t have that much money sitting around to do that. So, they are looking to get out and get into a new place for little or no money down.
If they move out and try to sell the trailer, you have put yourself in the position of the mobile home park management. They cannot let someone else come in and occupy the trailer because the renter or buyer must be approved for the lot rental agreement.
If they move out they are still obligated to pay the lot rent. If they fail to pay the lot rent, it is a fairly simple court procedure to seize the trailer for unpaid rents and now you own it again.
If you want to be nice, you can offer to forgive them their debt and take title to the trailer in lieu of repossession. Yes, with a mobile home it is repossession not a foreclosure. And repossession is a much simpler, faster, and less expensive process than foreclosure.
Either way, when your owner-occupant moves out, chances are very good that you will regain ownership of the home for little or no cost. Now, you can fix it up and sell it again. The difference is that the second time around, your cost basis in the investment has been completely or almost completely wiped out by the prior occupant. That means that nearly every dollar you get from the new buyer is pure profit.
Here is what the numbers can look like:
- Suppose you buy a mobile home on its own lot for $20,000 and divide the cost evenly between the land and the home.
- You sell the home (not the lot) to an owner occupant with a sale price of $30,000. If you get $2,000 down and finance the rest at 11% interest that is a monthly payment of only about $250 for the home.
- You rent the lot to the buyer for another $250 per month.
- The only expenses you have are for taxes on the land since the owner occupant is paying for insurance, taxes on the trailer, repairs and maintenance. If your land taxes are high, you might be paying $1,000 per year for the dirt.
- $250 + $250 = $500/month x 12 months = $6,000 per year. Less the taxes you pay on the land ($1,000) = $5,000 plus the down payment ($2,000) you received puts you at $7,000 for year 1. Now your cost basis has been reduced to $13,000.
- In year 2 you of this scenario you will clear $5,000 and your cost basis falls to $8,000.
- In year 3 you add another $5,000 in income and your cost basis drops to just $3,000.
- This means that by the end of year 4, you have realized a 100% return on your original investment and have earned $2,000 in pure profit, to put you at an ROI of 110% of your original investment.
- If the owner-occupant decides to move at any point after this, you are well positioned to take over the place for little or no expense and turn around and sell it for $30,000 again. But this time, your cost basis will effectively be zero so you will be making money from day 1.
And it can be even better than this.
A friend of mine bought a trailer for $3,000 and was able to charge $300 per month in rent. Do the math! It means his investment was paid for in just 10 months, less than a year. Every dollar after that was profit!
The other beautiful thing is that long after the banks and the tax man feel that the value of the home has fallen to zero, you can keep selling or renting this home to people who don’t want to share walls with other tenants in an apartment, but don’t have good enough credit or finances to buy a stick built home. Many of these mobile homes are still habitable after more than 30 years of continuous occupancy.
Now you may be able to see why when I look at a mobile home, I see an ATM.
Because my company currently owns mobile homes, I see a lot of these for sale every day. I buy many of them. Some, I set up as passive investments for those who want the benefits without the hassles. Others, I sell to other investors.
If you are interested in exploring opportunities to invest in mobile homes, just put your name and email in the form in the box below this article (or use your Facebook account to register). Over the next month, you will get three free e-books with education about investing in real estate and getting your money to work for you without relying on banks. After that, if you are still interested, we can talk in detail about what you are looking for and how I can help you get where you want to be.
Why does it take 30 days and 3 e-books before we can get down to brass tacks?
The laws of the United States and the State of North Carolina put limits on who and how I can talk with people about investments. Any investment in real estate other than for your personal dwelling is considered a security and as such is regulated by the SEC and other governmental entities. Without becoming a licensed securities broker, and becoming subject to a ton of additional regulations, I am limited by law to discussing investment opportunities only with friends, family and associates. And, the lawmakers have determined that if we have had at least 3 communications over a 30-day period without discussing returns or specifics of any actual offer, then you qualify as an associate or friend. So, between the three e-books and our exchange of emails over the next 30 days, we can clearly show the SEC that we have become friends or associates before we ever talked about any specific investments or rates of return that you might be able to realize from investments with me or any of my companies.
Before I close, I would like to revisit one point from above. I mentioned that the lack of financial institutions who will lend to buy mobile homes represents an opportunity for investors. This is a classic example of turning adversity into opportunity.
Many people would look at the lack of lenders and see only the lack and back away. I see a lack of lenders and a high and increasing demand from buyers for low-cost housing. This creates an opportunity for investors to use a little cash and put it to work in a way that turns it into a lot of cash.
Under the scenario I described above, if an investor had as little as $60,000 they could buy 3 or more mobile homes and within four years have added 3 more. That could turn an initial $60,000 investment into a cash flow of $30,000 per year. If you only have $20,000 in your self-directed IRA or investment portfolio, then start with just one mobile home. In a few years, you will see that as you plow you money back into your business, it will begin to grow like crazy.
Now that is turning lemons into diamonds.
Tom Sheppard is the author of “Fire Yourself: Get the Job You Want” available from XLibris Press. Tom has been successfully investing in real estate since 2001 while working part time. In 2008 he left a six-figure job as an enterprise project manager with a major national bank to manage his real estate business full-time. His goal is to help 100,000 people find peace of mind by finding quality, affordable homes. He is currently looking to expand his network of funding partners who are helping him achieve this goal. If you would like to know more about how you can Do Well By Doing Good (TM), go to www.CharlotteWealthPartners.com
Mobile Home Living’s Last Words
I’d love to hear your thoughts on Mr. Sheppard’s post. Do you think this is a fair practice?
Personally, I believe anyone that does buy a mobile home in this sort of situation would fair best if they got it off the rented lot as soon as they could. All contracts should be completely understood and not signed until it was reviewed by trusted lawyer or similar professional.
We were able to buy our first home, a 1978 single wide, through an owner-finance deal. He sold us the home with $1,000 down and we made 24 equal monthly payments to pay it off. In WV, the maximum interest rate allowed on owner-financing deals was 8% and that’s what we were charged. Luckily, we used our tax refund and was able to pay the home off in 17 months. This home sat on a private lot and the owner (and man that sold the home to us) charged $200 a month for lot rent. After he got to know us and saw that we trustworthy I was able to buy the land from him, too. Now, our family owns a nice piece of property and a nice mobile home!
Owner-financing can be a win-win for both parties and my experience proves that. Unfortunatley, it can also be a nightmare for some. Just make sure you know what you are getting into and spend the money to have an attorney check the contracts out and do research on the park if the home is located in one.
I wanted to be angry at Mr. Sheppard for his practices, but I can’t. He is helping people own a home as well as being profitable for him. It’s a win-win but only if the buyer understands everything that is going on and all the potential risks.
I would like him to realize that mobile homes are not ATM’s but a home. A real home for families.
** We have recently went over depreciation/appreciation on a manufactured home here. They can and do appreciate but there are variables that affect the potential. A mobile home sitting on a rented lot will almost always depreciate unfortunately.
As always thank you reading Mobile Home Living.