Interview with Miles Noland from Treeside Capital
Listen on Apple Podcast here: https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/interview-with-miles-noland-from-treeside-capital/id1520681893?i=1000585645380
Welcome back to the Passive Mobile Home Park Investing Podcast, hosted by Andrew Keel. On this episode of the Passive Mobile Home Park Investing Podcast, Andrew talks with Miles Noland from Treeside Capital. Miles and Andrew discuss why mobile home parks are one of the best performing asset classes and the stability that mobile home park investments have previously provided during recessions. They also discuss the hurdles operators must overcome with on-site managers managing the mobile home parks and the important role the operations team plays to improve the income and expenses of mobile home park investments.
Miles is a principal at Treeside capital and they invest in manufactured housing communities, RV parks, and self-storage facilities. They are based out of Cincinnati, OH and currently own and operate around 1,300 units worth around $33 million. Miles is also a former college baseball player and coach.
Andrew Keel is the owner of Keel Team, LLC, a Top 100 Owner of Manufactured Housing Communities with over 2,000 lots under management. His team currently manages over 30 manufactured housing communities across more than ten states. His expertise is in turning around under-managed manufactured housing communities by utilizing proven systems to maximize the occupancy while reducing operating costs. He specializes in bringing in homes to fill vacant lots, implementing utility bill back programs, and improving overall management and operating efficiencies, all of which significantly boost the asset value and net operating income of the communities.
Andrew has been featured on some of the Top Podcasts in the manufactured housing space, click here to listen to his most recent interviews: https://www.keelteam.com/podcast-links. In order to successfully implement his management strategy Andrew's team usually moves on location during the first several months of ownership. Find out more about Andrew's story at AndrewKeel.com.
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@passivemhpinvesting for photos and awesome videos from our recent mobile home park acquisitions.
00:21- Welcome to the Passive Mobile Home Park Investing Podcast
01:21 - Miles’ story and how he got into manufactured housing
05:44 - Miles’ first MHP deal
07:23 -The story behind Treeside Capital and their portfolio
12:57 - The team at Treeside Capital
15:30 - The toughest hurdle for operators in mobile home parks
18:00 - The hardest value add component in mobile home park investments
20:00- Infill in mobile home parks
22:00- The best opportunity or strategy for mobile home park investing
25:05- Mistakes to learn from
27:47- What LP's need to look out for when investing in MHP's
31:05 - Preparations for the future and possible recession
32:43 - Getting a hold of Miles Noland
33:22 - Conclusion
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Links & Mentions from This Episode:
Treeside Capital: https://treesidecapital.com/
Miles Noland, LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/miles-noland-62a60a119/
Keel Team's official website: https://www.keelteam.com/
Andrew Keel's official website: https://www.andrewkeel.com/
Andrew Keel LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/andrewkeel
Andrew Keel Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/PassiveMHPinvestingPodcast
Andrew Keel Instagram page: https://www.instagram.com/passivemhpinvesting/ Twitter: @MHPinvestors
Andrew: Welcome to the Passive Mobile Home Park Investing Podcast. This is your host, Andrew Keel. Today, we have an amazing guest in Mr. Miles Noland from Tree Side Capital. Before we dive in, I want to ask you a real quick favor. Would you mind taking an extra 30 seconds and heading over to iTunes to rate this podcast with five stars? This helps us get more listeners, and it means the absolute world to me. So thanks for making my day with that five star review of the show. All right, let's dive in.
Miles is a principal at Tree Side Capital. They invest in manufactured housing communities, RV parks, and self storage in Kentucky, West Virginia, Ohio, Indiana, and Tennessee. They're based out of Cincinnati, Ohio and currently own and operate around 1300 units worth around $33 million. Miles is also a former college baseball player and coach. Miles, we're excited to welcome you to the show.
Miles: Thanks for having me. I'm excited about it.
Andrew: Awesome. Let's dive right in. Would you mind telling us your story and how you ultimately got into manufactured housing communities?
Miles: I've always been entrepreneurial. I've had jobs, but I'm always excited about learning. I was studying real estate. I'm reading a lot. I almost pulled the trigger on a duplex, and it just didn't feel right. I didn't do it. I was studying. I've always been a little bit contrarian. I had a pretty intense sales job at the time, so I didn't have a ton of time, but I stumbled upon mobile home parks. I really liked the moat that Warren Buffett talks about, with the hindrance to parks being built, the affordable housing piece of it, and just all the factors that I think we all know. That study, the space that is favorable, and just the shortage of affordable housing. So then, I just went down the rabbit hole of books, podcasts. I didn't know what I was doing. I had never invested in anything except a personal residence. So I just studied a lot for a while on the side.
Finally, I got a little more time with my job. I was just paying a guy in the Philippines to build up an owners list. I was studying like crazy then I was just joining courses.
Ryan Neris, Ian Tutor, I was the first one in their mentorship. I did the Sunrise with Kevin Bob. They had a program that I did. Obviously the bootcamp with Frank Ross, I just kept putting money in and trying to learn and put money into this list. I was doing some mailings and things like that, and then finally started doing some cold calling. That's when I finally got some traction. I think I had seven deals under contract in the span of about a year, and every single one of them fell through. So it was a lot of frustration. I started off trying to wholesale because I just didn't know what I was doing, really. Then I'd pick the wrong buyer or a bad park and it just wouldn't work out. I finally was able to get one of those to go through. I had this one seller that is about five hours away. He was ready to sign. He's like, I need to meet you in person. So I drove all the way over there and I got there and he changed his mind. I'm just crushed. I drove all this way. Really? But he’s like, hey, I got a friend of mine. He has a small park. He wants to sell. I looked up. It was nowhere on my list. It was not on Google. So I called the guy and he said, hey, you know I'll give it to you for what I bought it for 17 years ago. It’s $180,000, $20,000 down, seller finance, and it was a 21-space park. I think he had 14 occupied. It was all tenant-owned, city water, city sewer. I was like, really? Okay, great. $20,000. So that was the first deal. A lot of years of spending money and pain and frustration, probably at least 3–4 years before I could actually close on a deal. That was June of 2020, so not that long ago. Then all of a sudden, it was like just pushing a boulder down the hill. It was a ton of initial effort, but once I got that first deal, things started to start rolling a little bit.
Andrew: Wow, that is fantastic. So you started, you said, like 3–4 years before you closed on your first park in June of 2020. You were about the time that I got started, 2016–2017 is when you started trying to wholesale, and wholesaling is tough.
For those of you that are not familiar, basically you get a property under contract, and then you assign it to a new buyer for a higher price, and you keep the difference as an assignment fee, which is very tough to do because of the timelines for due diligence, financing and so forth.
I agree, that is very cool. That first deal came by happenstance. It wasn't on your list. Twenty-one lots. Tell us about that deal once you bought it in June 2020. Did you use your own money? Did you raise money from partners? What CapEx did you do? That'd be great.
Miles: My partner, Ryan Groene, and I basically just bought that ourselves. He had done a couple of deals before me, but that was my first deal. So we wanted to try to make sure we do at least one on our own before we start raising money from people. It's been like one thing. It's like the law of small parks where what can go wrong will go wrong, and then you don't have enough money coming in to really offset a lot of things. There have been electric poles fall down, sewer, water lines breaking, road repairs, just one thing after another. It's been a headache. And we've actually lost a little bit. We've lost some money on this deal, despite that it was probably worth $275,000–$300,000 when we bought it, and we bought it for $180,000. We still haven't cut it. We're thinking about selling it pretty soon. That would be the first exit just to reclaim some capital. It's been a headache, but it got me in the game. We bought it at the right price. We have made it quite a bit nicer, a lot of repairs and things like that. We put Metron meters in there to the submeter water. We just did some things like that.
Andrew: Fantastic. Tell us about Ryan Groene and your partnership, Tree Side Capital.
Miles: He was nice to talk to me on the phone for free when I was starting, when I had a bunch of questions. He was really good. He has a finance degree, so he's good at underwriting. He had experience working for a company in Ohio, and he was running all their operations. For me, I've learned the operations, I’ve learned underwriting, but I definitely wouldn't say I'm good at it. I've had a background on sales. Even when I was coaching, I was the recruiting guy, which is pretty much sales. I was willing to hop on the phone and make a ton of cold calls, and bring deals to him. Then he would help me underwrite it and figure out how to finance it, operations. We had different skill sets. I was probably better at making those calls, connecting with the owners, going to see them in person, and developing that relationship. I'm like the ready, fire, aim guy and just do a lot of stuff fast. I'm not great at the details. He's better at some of those details. It works in that way that we have different skill sets.
Andrew: That's fantastic. Tell us how many parks you guys are up to with Tree Side Capital. I know you said it was about 1300 lots, so maybe you could share a little bit about that.
Miles: It's been interesting. We were solely focused on mobile home parks. That's gone well. But just in the past year, we found it very difficult despite making a lot of cold calls, doing some mailings, some broker pocket listings. It’s just hard to find things that really pencil out for us. Sometimes if you get in a competition, there's always somebody that has a cheaper cost of capital that can afford to pay more. We stumbled on RV parks, as well. We bought a couple of small self storage facilities just to see if we liked it, and it's been okay. In the future, we want to buy bigger ones if we're going to do that, but really, we're not focused on that. We're really finding opportunities in RV parks. There are a lot of mom and pops. I think 95% of RV Parks are mom and pop. We really like the non-transient type of parks. It actually functions like a mobile home park to where they either pay monthly or annually. It's a second home type of play. That requires less staff than a transient park where people are doing a lot of nightly stays.
It's also a little more stable. There's a huge demand for it. We try to really make sure the location is good, whether there's a lake on the property, or it's really close to the lake, or it's close to tourist attractions, things like that. So right now, we have eight mobile home parks. Since December, we have bought five RV parks. We have three more under contract and one mobile home park under contract. We're hoping it works out, but with the interest rates rising significantly. We're not sure what's going to actually close and what's not, but we're trying our best. That's where we're at.
I think we got eight mobile home parks, six RV parks, and two storage facilities right now. Then, hopefully buying some more. It's been a little crazy because it happened so fast. It's just different problems from when I started. But we're trying to build out our team, and hire and train people as fast as we can. It's been a whirlwind, but it's been fun and I've learned a lot.
Andrew: Three different asset classes in a relatively short amount of time. Just a couple of years. Can you tell us which one has performed the best thus far?
Miles: I would say mobile home parks are the most stable. There are a lot of people that know about it now so it's gotten tougher. I do think the CapEx is a little bit more because if you have to, for example, one park we inherited was pretty rough. We've already demolished 10 homes at $3000 a home. Now, we have to find new or used homes. We have to pay to move them, to set them for each lot. Obviously, that's very capital intensive. Whereas the RV thing, if somebody doesn't pay, you just say, hey, leave, and they just leave and you get somebody else. It's not as capital-intensive, but I think all three is really a collections business and just sustaining and organizing with that piece of it is the most important part. For us right now, we're seeing a lot better front-end cap rates, like with the RV parks, more deals, and also with some upside. That's where we're focusing our attention right now.
Andrew: Very cool. I would say that the mobile home parks are definitely more CapEx-intensive when you have to demo homes, bring in new homes, rehabbing homes. Can be expensive. But I think that's also what helps create that moat because it's very hard for somebody. It rarely happens. Where a tenant that owns their home, moves it out of the community because it's very stationary.
Miles: That’s a good point.
Andrew: It's a double-edged sword. It's CapEx-intensive, but it also is a good thing because it keeps them there. Tell us about your team at Tree Side. What does that look like? Who handles operations? Do you have your own property management company or use a third-party property management company?
Miles: It's been interesting. I think that's been one of the hardest things to do is just build out the team and the systems. It's a work in progress, obviously, but we feel like we're getting better at it. For a while, it was just Ryan basically managing all our on-site managers at the properties. Now we've hired a director of operations and operations assistant, and we hired a guy that does underwriting and creates our OMs for us. Then we have about seven people through upwork.com that we use in Southeast Asia that do a lot of things, whether it's SEO or building websites, building an owner's list or cold calling, or just posting on social media. Just a number of things and that's really helped us. As you know, when you get started, the budget is not very large. You have to bootstrap and find different ways to do things. That's what it looks like now and we're definitely going to hire another operations person here soon.
Both Ryan and I are diving in every area, like helping move stuff along. Then also participating heavily in acquisitions and just finding bank financing, doing all those sort of things. Eventually, hopefully, we'll build out, like you've done. Build out all those roles, so you can oversee more and not get caught in the weeds. We're definitely better than we used to be. We're still not quite to where we need to be in the future. It's a process, so if you have any good advice for me, I'm all ears.
Andrew: It just takes time. I think it takes time to build the systems out. But the better your systems will be, the better you're able to bring in people. I think turnover has been one of the tough things for us. When you have turnover, can someone else easily come in and fill the shoes or are they starting from scratch? That's why every person on our team has a written bio of their role. When a new person comes in, they can at least tread water for a while. That's something that I would recommend if you don't have it already. Let me ask you this, Miles, what do you think is the toughest hurdle for most operators in mobile home park ownership?
Miles: I would say once you've acquired it. Sometimes it can be working, depending on, like we have one county that's just giving us all kinds of problems in terms of bringing in homes, and they've had a ton of staff turnover. Then the one guy said one thing, and then they hired a new guy, and then another thing, and now we're having to hire a lawyer to get it. Depending on the county that you work with, that can be a colossal headache. I think that's really worth diving into and due diligence. Sometimes it's really hard to figure that out. But also, I think just finding a quality manager for the property is really difficult, because you're talking about a situation to where it's not a high-paying job, you're having to deal with (at times) very unsavory tenants that aren't the best people to deal with, and do they have the skills that you need? What tasks do you bring in-house to ease that process? Just all the little things that come with it.
If they have a bunch of junk around their yard, they pick it up one day. You come back two days later, it looks worse. Just all the things that come with that property management. There tends to be a lot of turnover. We've built out our own management company. We're trying to build that out right now and improve on that instead of hiring third parties, so we think that'll help us in the long run. Those two things are pretty important and not always the easiest to deal with.
Andrew: I agree. I did an interview with Mike Conlon from the Affordable Communities Group. One thing that I took away from that interview and implemented in my business is I overpay the onsite managers. When you go to the bootcamp with MH bootcamp with Frank and Dave, they tell you, hey, pay $10 per occupied lot plus free lot rent. We just think that's just unrealistic anymore because you got to have a good boots-on-the-ground person. Otherwise, things can go south fast. So that's one thing we've started doing is paying a very reasonable hourly wage and basing it off of hours instead of the number of lots. I agree, you have to have good boots-on-the-ground.
Miles, let me ask you this. What would you say is the hardest value added component in mobile home park investing?
Miles: In terms of being capital-intensive, I think just infilling homes. It can be the most lucrative, but there are just so many pieces to that in terms of finding a mover, making sure everything's up to code, making sure that utilities are set, finding a home, maybe demoing a past home or moving out an old home that's non repairable, or if it is repairable, fixing that home. Obviously, the easiest is just raising the rents or improving your collections. Everybody just talks about the infill process, but really, I would not buy a park and just say, hey, unless you really have your systems built out—maybe you're a little bit larger company—if you're a small guy and you're counting on infill, especially in this day and age with the supply chain, you're probably going to fail. I think that's probably the hardest thing. What we've tried to do is really find that balance of what type of value add. We like parks that are not war zones. That's a little more risky, but there can also be more money at the end of the story there. If they have good bones, if maybe the value add is a little bit easier like the raise in the market rents or there's a collections issue, we really try to hone in on those types of parks if we try to get city utilities if we can help it, and try to find those that have a little bit easier value add. That's been our thing. We like the safer, sound value add, but the easier, safer play. Maybe not the skyrocketing potential returns. Maybe a little bit lesser returns but a little bit safer investment.
Andrew: Do you guys do much infill?
Andrew: That's been my bread and butter, the infill. We had to create the systems and so forth, but now we have a full time person on our staff that is dedicated to finding used homes. That's what they do. They travel to where we need homes, go find them, and help facilitate getting transporters and installers to bring them in. It's been worth it because if you can spend even if it's $20,000 to bring in a home but lot rents are $400 a month, you're basically doubling your money to get that home brought in based on the value it adds to the park. It's like you said. It is capital intensive, labor intensive, but it's definitely where I see a lot of value just sitting out there. These mom and pops, the lots went vacant, they just left them vacant. There's just so much opportunity there.
Miles: I like that, and hopefully, we'll get there. Unfortunately, some of the markets that we're in, maybe there's one where the lot rents are like $350, but we have a number that are $200–$250, so sometimes that makes it tougher, too, because of the lot rents. You can bump them, but you don't want to go from $200 to $400. That makes it tougher, too, and a lot of rents are lower.
Andrew: Agreed. Where do you feel is the best opportunity right now in mobile home park investing, specifically? Or what type of strategy do you guys think is the best?
Miles: Do you mean in terms of being a GP or LP?
Andrew: I would say being a GP, like what type of parks do you guys take on? Is it the 21-lot parks that have some little value add but it's in fairly good condition? Or is it a bigger park with a lot of value add? What does that look like?
Miles: It has been a little bit tougher for us to find parks in the last year, but we're looking for 50 pads or more right now. Earlier on, we were okay with smaller parks. We have a couple of those, but it's just the expenses don't really change that much and you have less revenue coming in. Obviously, we love city water, city sewer, but if we can get a park that's 100 pads or more, we're definitely okay with a treatment plant, well, and things like that. We totally want to avoid lagoons. We don't feel comfortable with those. For us, if we feel confident with the infill, we would definitely go after a park that's bigger and has a treatment plant and things like that. But I think honestly, in terms of marketing, instead of just calling everybody especially if you already own parks, like draw a little circle around the park you own maybe a 45 minute radius and really do a great job of following up with those park owners in that radius of where you own because it's just a different conversation. Say, hey, do you want to sell? They have 10 people calling them saying that every week. Say, hey, I own XYZ park down the street. Just want to check in. What's your process been with dealing with this county? I'm trying to do this. At the end of the conversation, you can say, hey, you ever thought about selling? And just really low key. And they're no, I'm going to keep it for a while and then, great. Hey, can I follow up with you? I just love to get your advice on some things I'm doing. Everybody wants to give good advice. That's one of my favorite questions—hey, can I get your advice? And people want to help you, rather than you just asking them for something. I'm just trading that relationship and checking in and being great at following up with those people. They already think you're legitimate because you own a park in their area and you've already shown you can close. Then they like you. So when that time does come, that's the hope that they remember me, they like me, they know me, that maybe they don't list it, maybe they call me first. That's my strategy.
Andrew: The buy off-market, looking off-market and building relationships. That makes a ton of sense. Miles, what mistakes have you guys made that our listeners could learn from?
Miles: At least once, like in due diligence, we were just busy with other things. We did due diligence, but maybe we didn't go there the last week and the seller was not honest. They were hiding some things or they took some stuff from that personal property list that they should have left. We learned that we have to go there at least a few days before closing, because once you close, it's hard to have a lot of recourse on, oh, they took the $15,000 commercial mower, and that was on the property list and now they won't return our calls, things like that.
I would say just definitely probably trying to do too much. So instead of saying, hey, we need to hire somebody right now, just trying to do a little bit of everything. Because I think in the back of your mind, you always think, hey, I can do it better. I don't trust somebody else to do it. When in reality, if you're going to grow, you have to build out your team. Hiring somebody almost too soon to help out, especially with the operations is key because you get too much stuff on your plate. You're not going to be doing a great job at anything. I think those two things we've definitely learned from and are trying to obviously improve on that in the future.
Andrew: I totally agree. I think a lot of people always talk about how their management company loses money every month. Ours does as well. That's why we get acquisition fees and things like that from deals we're doing to help offset that because you're only as good as your team. I remember when I had my first five parks, it was just me. I was opening the mail, I was writing the checks to mail, paying the bills for utilities and so forth. It was just too much. I look at that compared to today. We manage parks way better today with our 18-member team than we did back when it was just me trying to do everything. Now we're auditing our property taxes and fighting them if they went up too high. We're auditing our insurance packages and making sure that we're getting multiple quotes every year instead of just renewing with the same agent.
Little stuff like that adds up, especially when a dollar and a six cap property, a dollar a month is really worth $200 in asset value, if you look at it at a six cap value. So really, really good stuff there. Miles, what would you say are the most important things for passive investors? We're talking about limited partners here. What do they need to look out for when investing into mobile home parks?
Miles: Just having a basic understanding of the space. If you jump on a call with maybe a GP and you're asking some real basic questions about the asset class, you're probably not going to be really confident in investing in the asset class. I think it really helps.
If you're going to put your money into something you need to make it a priority to listen to some podcasts, read some books, talk to people or maybe even join a paid course. All those things, do some research. Then I've found that education always makes you more confident. Obviously just looking if the person has an OM or a webinar, try to go through that. I think that really alleviates some concern, and will allow you to formulate some really good questions in your mind that might be good to bring to the GP. Obviously, track record is important. Somebody that's owned a bunch of mobile home parks, and they've been able to refinance or sell some successfully and provide returns, you should feel pretty safe with that person. There's nothing wrong with investing with more of a newer person. They may not have that three-year window of ownership where they can show the refinance or sell yet, but is it somebody that owns Airbnb in Mexico, then they found this mobile home park and they're like, all right, I'm going to buy it. Let's raise some money. Has that person taken any courses to learn about the mobile home park space? What's their education background? That's something they may not have a track record of, but at least they could have that educational background. They could have a detailed plan. Then if you know the space, if you've done your research, and somebody says, hey, in their model, the property taxes are $5000 a year, and at that purchase price, they're really $50,000 a year, that could kill the deal. That's a red flag. Maybe they don't really know what they're doing on the underwriting side of it. Just little things like that. Obviously, you want to google somebody that you might invest with, just to see if anything bad pops up. Just finding that you also know, like, and trust that person. There are pros and cons. These huge companies, you're never going to get to talk to the GP or it's a REIT or whatever. Sometimes, for us, I feel like maybe our OM’s graphics aren't as perfect as a REIT. But we're actually accessible to talk to and we're happy to answer an email or phone call, things like that. There are pros and cons to both.
Andrew: I totally agree. Great insights there. Thank you for sharing that. What do you guys do to prepare for an ensuing recession, preparing what interest rates are doing with your current portfolio? What does that look like?
Miles: I think it definitely could slow down the acquisitions piece of it, which will obviously give us more time to really dive into the operations, the hiring and training. We’re looking at that piece of it. Also, we’re examining all our loans. We still have some time because we’re newer. When are these coming due? What are our plans? We’re not 50% LTV, we’re not 10%, either. We’re in a decent space there and we’re just keeping an eye on those loans. Also, with the RV thing, the non-transient type of thing, we feel like it’s safer. I feel like mobile home parks are safe. My answers are a little bit scattered there but we’re looking at all those things. Obviously, there’s going to be some pain but I think that’s when the best operators win. We’re obviously trying to do a great job in that area.
Andrew: Awesome. Well, thank you, Miles, so much for coming on the show. If listeners would like to get a hold of you, what’s the best way for them to do that?
Miles: treesidecapital.com. We have a little free gift, just a little PDF. If you want more info, just throw your email in there and it will send you that. You can get on our list to see what we’re working on and deals and things like that. I’m also pretty active on LinkedIn, just under my name and Tree Side Capital. We love to get in touch with people. That’d be great.
Andrew: Awesome, Miles. Well, thanks again for coming on the show.
Miles: Thanks so much for having me on.
Andrew: Awesome. That’s it for today, folks. Thank you so much for tuning in.