Interview with Paul Moore of Wellings Capital
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 Paul Moore of Wellings Capital. Andrew and Paul talk about the important lessons that Paul has learned from the days when he was just a "spectator" to now where he has really become a true "investor", and what that really means. They also talk about the Wellings Capital funds, his multi-family investing book: "The Perfect Investment", and his tips for helping passive investors interested in mobile home parks.
Paul Moore is the managing director of three commercial real estate private equity investment funds at Wellings Capital. Paul has founded multiple investment and real estate development companies. He has appeared on big networks such as HGTV, Fox Business, and BiggerPockets, as well as co-hosting two podcasts: the 'How to Lose Money' podcast, and 'The Art of Investing' podcast.
Andrew Keel is the owner of Keel Team, LLC, a Top 100 Owner of Manufactured Housing Communities with over 1,500 lots under management. His team currently manages over 20 manufactured housing communities across ten states - AR, GA, IA, IL, IN, MN, NE, OH, PA and TN. 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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00:21 - Welcome to the Passive Mobile Home Park Investing Podcast
01:50 - Paul’s story and how he got into manufactured housing
05:35 - Paul’s multi-family investing book
08:36 - The most important thing for passive investors
19:14 - Wellings Income Fund I and II
21:57 - Case Study
27:20 - Paul’s perfect mobile home park
30:40 - The future of the economy and how mobile home parks will weather
33:11 - $15 an hour minimum wage
34:26 - Getting a hold of Paul
34:58 - Final tip for passive investors
36:29 - Conclusion
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Links & Mentions from This Episode:
Wellings Capital: https://www.wellingscapital.com/
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
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Andrew Keel Instagram page: https://www.instagram.com/passivemhpi...
Andrew: Welcome to the Passive Mobile Home Park Investing Podcast. This is your host Andrew Keel. Today, we have an amazing guest in Mr. Paul Moore of Wellings Capital. Before we dive in, I wanted to ask a real quick favor. Would you mind, please taking an extra 30 seconds and heading over to iTunes to rate this podcast with 5 stars? This helps us get more listeners and it also encourages me to know that you're tuning in. Thanks for taking the time to do that. All right, let's dive in
Paul Moore is the managing director of three commercial real estate investment funds at Wellings Capital. Prior to this, he worked with Ford Motor Company and also separately ran his own staffing firm where he was a finalist for Michigan Entrepreneur of The Year, two years straight. After this, Paul began investing in real estate and founded multiple investment and development companies. He has appeared on big networks such as HGTV, Fox Business, and BiggerPockets. He also co-hosts two podcasts. I got to give you props for that because running one is more than enough work, two, kudos. The podcasts are called The Art of Investing and How to Lose Money.
Paul, welcome to the show.
Paul: It's great to be here, Andrew. Thanks for having me on.
Andrew: Can you start out, please, by telling us your story and how you got into manufactured housing?
Paul: When I sold my company in 1997, I moved to the Blue Ridge Mountains to start a nonprofit organization to reach out to international students studying in the US. We had a lot of fun with that, but I was a 34-year-old high-energy, driven entrepreneur. I wanted to do these weekend retreats three times a month, and the volunteers I had wanted to do it three times a year. I was getting pretty bored and having really just kind of a crisis. I had this high energy. I have money in the bank and I thought I was an investor. I thought I'm an investor now. But I was really more of a speculator. I was a full-time speculator. It’s what I was, Andrew. I lost a lot of money and I made a lot of painful decisions. I made money along the way as well.
I eventually got into flipping homes and we flipped houses, then we flipped waterfront lots at a beautiful resort lake in Virginia. I built some homes, did a website. I always wondered how to get involved in commercial real estate, but I wasn't sure how. In 2011, we had invested in oil and gas in North Dakota, another speculation. We lost money on that. But we noticed that there was a huge housing shortage. We built a multi-family complex and then another one for oil workers in North Dakota. It went extremely well.
I decided to stay in multi-family. I end up writing a book humbly entitled The Perfect Investment. I've got into multi-family. I told my dear wife, I'd always stay in a multi-family, but lo and behold, we decided to expand to mobile home parks and self-storage after several years. What happened is we beat our head against the wall, Andrew, for years looking for a multi-family that made sense. I know I don't look it, but I'm actually in my mid-50s. You don't have to say what I really look like.
My partners and I were just unwilling to overpay. Cap rates were to record compress level. People were overpaying in my book 5%, 10%, 20% for some of these multi-families, even more. I heard a very famous investor from a stage in your state. I was there and a multi-family guy. He said it doesn't matter whatever you have to pay for apartments, just buy them. They're always going to go up, just buy. I literally thought he was joking and he was going to make a punchline, but he didn't.
Andrew: It was Grant Cardone, wasn’t it?
Paul: I'm not going to say but you may be right. Actually, his quote went around the world after that, on the internet. I didn't know that that quote would become famous. At any rate, I thought, you know what, I've got to find something else to do that makes sense. You're a little too young for this probably, Andrew, but there was an ad campaign where pork manufacturers back in the 90s were trying to figure out how to rebrand. They said, go eat pork. It's the other white meat. I don't know if that's even true or not, but it doesn't seem right. I decided to turn to mobile home parks, the other multi-family.
Andrew: Wow, that is an amazing story. I love the analogy there. I have to bring this up. In the Perfect Investment book that you wrote about multi-family investing, what did you learn from that that maybe you saw some similarities? How did that bring you to mobile home parks? Was it just the yield that attracted you? How did you end up in trailer parks?
Paul: I will say that I wrote the book called The Perfect Investment. It was originally called The Definitive Guide to Multifamily Investing. A friend of mine who was reviewing the book said, I don't know if anybody's going to buy that. It sounds kind of boring. You need to be more like Think and Grow Rich, or something. He said, why don't you make it an epic title? Didn't you tell me that multi-family was the perfect investment? I said well, yeah, with all the demographics aligning for years to come and boomers turning to multi-family, gen-Z, and millennials doing more multi-family, the supply and demand in equity in major suburbs—all the stuff lined up to make me think it was the perfect investment. That's what we humbly entitled the book. It's still selling and I've still got questions almost every week from people who have read the book and want to talk about it.
The perfect investment’s no longer perfect, Andrew if it's overpriced. Nothing's perfect if it's overpriced. I still believe in multi-family but a lot of those truths apply to mobile home park investing as well. Look at this, 10,000 people turn 65 every day, yet 6 in 10 have less than $10,000 saved for retirement. A lot of them have home equity and some of them will trade that home equity in, to live a mobile home park lifestyle.
I know a doctor who retired. He had a great career. He had a lot of money, but he actually retired to a mobile home and a nice park. I just think that there really is an affordable housing crisis. We can see what's happening in the economy. There's always something happening, even when times are good. A lot of people need a place to live and can't afford apartments. They can't afford a single-family residence right now. But they can afford a mobile home or a mobile home park lot rent. It's a very exciting place to be, it's the only asset type that I know of that has a diminishing supply and an increase in demand every year.
Andrew: That's the big thing that hooked me. We discussed that in a previous episode. If you really think about that, that's powerful. There's that artificial kind of barrier to entry, a barrier to developments. That's awesome. Paul, what are the most important things that passive investors, LPs, need to look out for when investing in mobile home parks? I know you guys have a fund but maybe you can kind of elaborate on some of the assets that you guys are purchasing and so forth.
Paul: I think the most important factor always is finding the right syndicator, the right operator. There's a lot of people who go out and they find the person with the best marketing, or they just discover something like a kid on Christmas morning. They're so excited about it and they go find the first operator that they come across, and of course, if they sound good, they're likely going to consider investing. I recommend, I just happen to have this book here, it's called The Hands-Off Investor by Brian Burke. Brian talks in detail here about how to find the rights syndicator and the importance of that.
To answer the question, I think that if you're going to be an LP investor, you need to go through the grueling process. If you're a billionaire and you're going to give them $25,000, it's one thing. If you're like most of us, that $50,000 or $100,000, you're going to invest is really important to you and it should be, I'd say go through the process. Go and meet the syndicator in person. Go and see some of their properties in person. Check their debt structure. There are 50 other questions I would ask to make sure you've got the right person. As far as the property level Andrew, all this, having a Super Walmart nearby is a thing that we like to look for. Public sewer and water are something we like to look for, some potential upside like mom-and-pops.
I mean mom-and-pops are the key to this business. You tell me the right number. I think I've heard that 40,000 out of 45,000 or so mobile home parks are probably run by mom-and-pop operators. They don't have the knowledge, the desire, or the resources to increase income and maximize value. You can pay them top dollar for what they have but sort of like that Michelangelo quote. He said that the sculpture is already inside the rock. He just has to chisel away the superfluous material. That's what a great operator can do. They can take something that looks like just a rock and they can turn it into something beautiful.
We recommend you look for a great operator who knows how to add value, who knows where the deficiencies are, and who can even bring mobile homes into vacant slots, and who has to have the resources to fund that or have the connections to get the debt to fund that, and who are able to grow the park that way. There are all kinds of other things to do as well as you know.
Andrew: That was fantastic. Can we rewind a little bit and go back to vetting an operator because we just had an episode on this go live last week? I gave 10 reasons, but maybe you can elaborate, maybe the top three questions to ask an operator. Just general ways you would vet in an operator. I mean, obviously, track record, reviewing their track record has been one of the top things that many operators and many investors have said on the podcast. But maybe you can kind of dig into that a little bit more for us.
Paul: I'd like to know about their track record—how long they've been doing it, how long they've been in real estate, how long they've been in this business. I like to know about their team—are they a cohesive team or are they scattered people all over the country who just really met over Zoom? I like to do a gut check on them. I like to know about their character that actually over takes everything in my mind because, Andrew, as you know, a bad operator can make a great deal go sour and a great operator can rescue a mediocre deal. I really want to know about the character.
Look, let's face it. There's going to be trouble. There's going to be unexpected stuff. You have to ask yourself, is this the kind of person that I want to be in trouble with, for perhaps, the next decade because there's going to be trouble and you're going to want to know, do you really trust this person? This is the hardest thing. I want to see an alignment between the left and the right brain on my team. In other words, if all the boxes are checked, but I have this uneasy feeling, this gut check just not working out, I'm going to say, I'm going to run away from this.
I've learned this through painful experiences. I've had so many deals where everything made sense and the upside was really good. Especially when the upside is really good, we don't want to believe that something might be wrong. Andrew, I hope I don't come across wrong here, but often guys—you and I are guys, we—the gut check comes in a voice and it sounds like the voice of our wife. Often, if you're married, or if you have a significant woman in your life, expose them to all of the deal and especially the operator, if you can get them in front of them and ask them, do they have some funny feeling because honestly, guys tend to do one part of the equation right.
There are three parts to the investing equation. Number one, how much can I make? No offense to anybody but that's what the amateur investor says. That's what I said for years back around 2000—how much can I make? Question two, needs to be asked as well, and that is how much could I lose? The real mature investor asks question three, and that is can I afford that loss? It's really important to do all that. Sometimes we tend to look at question one and focus on that. But the gut check thing would say, okay, let's look at question two and three. Do I really trust this person? Do I really, really trust this person deeply?
I remember once I was trying to buy a car. I was driving down a highway near us, 460. It was a four lane and I saw the exact car I wanted on the side of the road at a car lot. I pulled off . I took a test drive and I said, oh man, this is it. This is a great car. I was asking the owner of the car lot, I go, oops, I gotta go. I said my wife expects me for dinner in 40 minutes. I got to go. He said, just tell her you ran into traffic. I said thank you and I left. That was it. I never spoke to the guy again because I can't trust a guy who would tell me to lie to my wife, flippantly like that.
Andrew: Wow, that's such an interesting way to put it. Many people have mentioned that gut feeling and how that is a telltale sign of whether a deal’s going to work or not. It's not concrete. It's so kind of up in the air and that's what's kind of scary is, because before you invest a substantial amount of money, you'd like to have something more concrete that you can rest your head, that this person has your best interests in heart. I like your three questions. That's really good. Thanks for sharing those.
Paul: You bet.
Andrew: Paul, maybe you can describe Wellings Capital and how your deals are structured because, tell me if I'm wrong, but you guys invest in other operators. You do this on a consistent basis where you are vetting operators to see if they're a good fit for your fund. Is that right?
Paul: Yeah. When we expanded into self-storage and mobile home parks a number of years ago, we were looking around. I am friends with Perry Marshall, he wrote the 80/20 Sales and Marketing. He told me that 80/20 investing, 80/20 life business is fractal. What does that mean? He said that the top 20% of the top 20, let's say the top 4%, gets the top 80 of the top 80%, the top 64% of the results.
We noticed when we got into the self-storage room and home parks that there were some operators that seemed to achieve much better results than others. They seem to be able to find deals that very few other people could find. We said I don't think we're going to get to that level. It was 2017, 2018, or so. We were saying, it looks like a recession is coming. This boom is just going on for 9 years now.
We really felt like we're just not going to get to that great world-class level like these top operators. Why don't we start vetting them? Why don't we become a due diligence partner to the 150 or so investors we had at the time and say, look, we're going to go out and trace down the very best operators, the very best deals? We're going to put together a diversified fund. We're going to give you access to different asset types that self-storage and mobile home parks—different operators, different geographies, and even different strategies and timeframes.
By doing that we're going to give you the upper hand in not having to do all that due diligence that we absolutely think you should do, but we know you don't have the time or the resources and maybe the knowledge to do that. That's what we've done. We're getting ready to finish up our third fund. Our goal is to be able to find operators that provide stable, predictable income and also appreciation.
Andrew: Great. The fund model. Maybe you could tell us a little bit about your first two funds and how they have performed.
Paul: Yeah. The Wellings Income Fund I. We invested with three operators who we really like. Our goal is to provide an 8% annual cash on cash return from operations plus an additional 7% or 8% appreciation annually. We're right on track with that as far as the cash flow from operations was right on track with what we planned. The appreciation has come in faster than we expected, on paper for sure. But even with the sale of a number of assets recently in fund one, that actually produces quite a higher appreciation, quite a lot more growth than we planned. We had the happy task of trying to figure out, do we reinvest these funds or do we distribute them to the investors. We had to do some of both.
Wellings Income Fund II started about a year ago, at the beginning of 2020 and it is the same model. We invest in the same types of operator, the same types of properties, the same type of projections, and we’re right on track with that as well. We also have a growth fund which ended up investing in a ground-up and a steep value add self-storage. Then when COVID hit, we decided to not invest in any more deals because the risk and the uncertainty of ground-up development just seem really scary as COVID was unfolding last year.
We have an additional fund, it’s called a Delaware Statutory Trust. I don’t know if we have time to get into that, but the bottom line is, for people who are looking for a 1031 exchange into another property but they don’t want to actively manage the property, the Delaware Statutory trust is an asset that allows them to keep their 1031 intact but hand all the operations to somebody else to manage it. It’s basically syndication for 1031 exchange investors.
That’s the other asset that we did. We’ve had a number of mobile home parks and self-storage facilities sale. One that sold recently, it’s quite notable, if you want to talk about, I could tell you the story.
Andrew: Yeah. I would love to, like a case study. That’d be awesome.
Paul: We went to Louisville, Kentucky with an operator 14 months ago. It was in January of 2020 and we visited a park there. It had 311 pads and 50 or so were vacant. Unfortunately, the owner had passed away five years before and his wife had no interest. She just had not visited the park at all. It sat there for at least five years. We’re talking about a large park—311 spots. The manager, fortunately, was well paid and she did a great job. But like I said, it’s a mom-and-pop operator. She didn’t have the resources, the desire, the knowledge to really upgrade, and to maximize income and value.
There were 50 vacant pads. The water, sewer, and trash were paid by the park and the lot rents were 25%–35% below market value. I don’t think she’d raised them in all those years that I know of. It was acquired for $7.1 million. That was about half debt and half equity. Six days later—that February 25th—I got a written offer for $9 million and a verbal follow up of $9.5 million for that, and the operator. I said, well, man, that’s a 68% return on equity in a week. You’re going to take it? He’s like, no, no, I’m not even going to counter.
He said, with all these potential upsides, I think we can get up to $12 million or $13 million, maybe even $14 million within 3 years. He passed the utilities back to the tenants by submetering the utilities. He did a modest increase in rent. He’s not going to go 25% or 35%, obviously. But he did a modest increase in rent and he made plans to start filling up those 50 vacant pads.
But in August, he got an offer from another great operator who saw the potential of filling these 50 pads and doing other upgrades. There’s actually some acreage out front, acres and acres of land right in front of the road that was vacant. I honestly thought it would be a great spot for both in RVparking or possibly even some self-storage. I don’t know if the buyer saw that potential or not. He made an offer and as I said, there was $3.5 million cash and $3.6 million debt, $7.1 million. He thought he could get it to $12 million maybe. He got an offer for $15 million and accepted that offer. The $3.5 million equity in 10 months later came out as about $11.5 million equity out. He closed on it in December. That was one of the decisions we had to make. What are we going to do with all these cash? We’re 1 year into a 10-year fund.
Andrew: Yeah. That’s the home rent type of deals that you hope for. Man, that’s fantastic. One year. That’s great.
Paul: You asked me earlier, why is a multi-family author investing in mobile home parks now? Where in the world in the apartment realm are you going to get a deal like that? I would challenge anybody to find one deal like that in the whole United States in multi-family?
Andrew: If you look at it, the upside that was put to work was very reasonable. You put submeters on. You could probably do that on 300 trailers. You could probably do that really quickly. It wasn’t like this was a huge year-long project. That’s where the benefit in this asset class comes in is because like you said earlier, the majority of these assets are owned by mom-and-pops that are just leaving meat on the bone. They don’t need it to be maxed out. That’s really cool. Thank you for sharing that, Paul. That was awesome.
Paul: That’s cool. I know Andrew, you have deals like that, too. Man, I’m just so excited to be joining you in this asset class.
Andrew: Thank you. We’re a little bit smaller of a fish, I would say, compared to those big deals. But still, similar returns and so forth. That’s exciting to be able to create that.
Paul: Somebody asked me this morning. Look, institutions used to want 300 or 400 pads, now they seem to be going down to the 100 pad level. Where is the future in this? I think the future is right where you are, Andrew. I hope your investors appreciate what you’re doing with these, I believe, it’s 50 and 100 lot mobile home parks. Those are going to be institutional targets in 5 or 10 years and you’re positioning yourself very, very well for the future, I think.
Andrew: I appreciate that. That’s what we feel strongly about and we’re able to transact in that range currently and stay away from some of the bigger fish that have a lower cost of capital. It’s exciting. Paul, tell me, what does the perfect mobile home park look like in your eyes?
Paul: Yeah. I think that one in Louisville had a lot of those components there. I barely touched on this, but the vacant land, I think that that could be very valuable. I’m not saying that [...] and of course, local governments and local communities don’t want to expand mobile home parks. I bet it’s going to be hard to expand. But maybe self-storage or both are RV parking. It was just in a perfect location where I could have imagined that.
Having the vacant pads, having a high demand area where it was and Louisville has a lot of demand, having all the vacant pads. Now, that’s a heavier lift, obviously, than adding meters and submetering water and sewer. Submetering water and sewer, that’s a big one. Having lot rents that are underpriced and under market, maybe even a place where the tenants have thought really cared for.
Look, let’s face it, they’re probably going to be stuck there. They’re not going to spend $5000 or $6000 to move their mobile home down the street to save $50 a month or because they don’t like the manager. I think it’ll be awesome to be able to bring in ethics and love even if you are raising their rent and passing utilities back. To fix those potholes, to set up that playground, to set up that dog park—all those things to make their life a better place.
You and I, Andrew probably can remember our childhood home. We can probably look back fondly on where we grew up, where we had that puppy, or whatever. These mobile home parks, some people say, these are just metal boxes that spit out cash. I don’t think it’s that way at all. These are someone’s childhood home. I think if we can find a place where we can really meaningfully increase the lifestyle of people and give them better memories, that’s worth something.
Andrew: Oh, 100%. Meaningful work, it’s about way more than just the money. It’s a win-win. This is what people I don’t think understand, but the nicer the community is, the better the financing that you as a park owner is going to be able to acquire. Fannie and Freddie, the agencies don’t land on parks that are run by slum lords. You have to have them at a certain level. That’s why it’s a really cool marriage for the residents and then also for investors.
There’s a lot of stimulus going on coming out of COVID. There’s this vaccine that’s being pushed out. A lot of people that I listen to are saying that there’s going to be massive amounts of inflation. Where do you see the economy going in general and then how do you see mobile home parks weathering the potential storm?
Paul: I have a Saturday show on BiggerPockets and last March through June, I changed the name of the show to Panic Investing, Recession Investing, Crisis Investing 101. I’ve been wrong a lot. Look, I’ve got a podcast called How To Lose Money after all. Warren Buffet said the best thing about forecasts is we can learn something about the forecaster. We can’t really learn anything about the future. If Ray Dalio, Warren Buffet, Howard Marks, and Charlie Munger and those guys have said, look, we don’t believe in forecasting. I just have to say, I just don’t know what I don’t know about the future.
That said, I don’t see how we’re going to avoid inflation. I’m just making up this number, but if you double the number of dollars chasing the same amount of goods, isn’t that the definition of inflation? It just seems to me that we’re in for a really, really difficult time in the American economy. Listen to my forecast after I said I wouldn’t.
I just got to believe that there’s a really, really difficult time ahead and I really believe that when people get bounced out of their large house to a smaller or rental house to an apartment or a park, where are they going to go? Well, their next step is a mobile home park and the next step below that is under a bridge. We don’t want to see that happen to anybody. I think mobile home parks are going to be incredibly, incredibly well-positioned for the likely upcoming storm in the US economy. What do you think?
Andrew: Yeah. We just had an interview with Frank Rolfe. He made one point that I’ve just told everybody that I’ve met and spoken with since that. He said that people don’t realize this, but most recessions happen during the first year of a new president. That resonated with me. I’ve taken precautionary measures to just be aware. It’s going to be interesting to see what the future holds.
Paul, what do you think about the $15 an hour minimum wage? I’ve spoken with some people I think that would help mobile home park residents. Other people think it will hurt mobile home park residents as people go to more robotic labor. What’s your opinion on that?
Paul: I’m not a fan of artificially getting involved, of governments getting artificially getting involved in what’s worked so well through the process of capitalism. I don’t really know what it would do to the mobile home park world. But it seems to me like you said, you mentioned robotics and such, I think it’ll probably push a higher unemployment number. Maybe higher systemic unemployment which is even worse.
Andrew: Yeah. Increasingly more popular artificial intelligence as that’s a hot topic nowadays. I think it would just expedite that as COVID expedited people working remotely and other ways. Very interesting.
Paul, thank you so much. I know we’re running long here. How can listeners get a hold of you if they would like to reach out?
Paul: They can reach out to me at my website. It’s wellingscapital.com. If they’re interested, I’ve got a commercial investing ecourse there that’s free. They can tap into just to learn how to jump from residential into commercial real estate investing.
Andrew: That’s fantastic. Paul, do you have one more tip for all those passive investors out there interested in the space?
Paul: Yeah. It’s a broader tip and that is this. It’s really important to know the difference between investing and speculating. I criticize myself from 20 years ago by saying that I thought I was a full-time investor. I was more a full-time speculator. It’s really, really important to know the difference. Investing is when your principal is generally safe and you get a chance to make a return. Speculating is when your principal is not at all safe and you’ve got a chance to make a return.
Mobile home park investing is really investing because you’ve got principal tied up in land, in infrastructure, sometimes in mobile homes. It is generating a profit. True wealth is owning assets that generate cash flow. That’s why I love mobile home parks.
Paul Samuelson was the first Nobel Peace Prize winner from the US in economic sciences. He was talking about speculating versus true investing. He said, “Investing should be like watching paint dry or watching grass grow. If you want excitement, take $800 and go to Las Vegas.”
Andrew: I love that, Paul. Thank you so much for coming to the show today. It was a pleasure having you. That’s all we have for today, folks. Thank you so much for tuning in.