Interview with the Mobile Home Park Lawyer Ferd Niemann
Updated: Nov 29
Listen on Apple Podcast here: https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/passive-mobile-home-park-investing/id1520681893
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 to mobile home park owner, operator and lawyer: Ferd Niemann. Today Andrew and Ferd talk about Ferd's journey into the mobile home park industry as well advice he has for passive mobile home park investors interested in investing in America's trailer parks. Andrew also asks about Ferd's techniques, preferences, and input on the topics of raising capital, syndications, park-owned mobile homes versus tenant-owned mobile homes, and what makes him stand out as a mobile home park owner/ operator.
In addition to being a mobile home park owner and operator, Fred is also a lawyer, real estate investor, financial analyst and entrepreneur. His experience in real estate includes stabilized mobile home park investments and turnaround investments. He also has retail development and redevelopment experience along with residential investments. Ferd practiced law at a top Kansas City law firm focused on economic development incentives, public finance, property tax assessments, redevelopment, land use, and zoning before he started his own law firm, "The MHP Lawyer."
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.
Are you getting value out of this show? If so, please head over to iTunes and leave the show a quick five-star review. I have a goal of hitting over 100 5-star reviews by the end of 2021, and it would mean the absolute world to me if you could help contribute to that. Thanks ahead of time for making my day with your five-star review of the show.
00:18 - Welcome to the Passive Mobile Home Park Investing Podcast
01:26 - Ferd's background in real estate and his journey into law and business
03:42 - Important things passive mobile home investors should look for with syndications
07:52 - The hardest parts about the business
10:40 - Ferd's team
12:00 - Used home versus new homes
14:05 - Ferd's perfect park
16:08 - Park-owned homes
18:03 - Ferd's preference: raising capital or syndications?
19:00 - Structure for raising capital
21:10 - Investing in your own park deals
22:30 - Ferd's favorite win
24:31 - Operations and project managers
26:14 - Ferd's specialty and what makes him stand out
28:07 - Ferd's biggest struggle
32:22 - End game goals and exits
33:50 - Last minute advice about the mobile home park industry
35:04 - How to get a hold of Ferd
35:26 - Conclusion
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Links & Mentions from This Episode:
Ferd Niemann official website: https://themobilehomelawyer.com/
The MHP Lawyer Podcast: https://themobilehomelawyer.com/category/podcast/
Ferd's Email: email@example.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
Andrew Keel Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/PassiveMHPin...
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, and today we have an amazing guest in Mr. Ferd Niemann.
Ferd is a mobile home park owner, operator, and lawyer, as well as a real estate investor, financial analyst, entrepreneur, and attorney whose career has focused on a myriad of areas of real estate. His experience includes mobile home park investments and turnarounds, retail development, and redevelopment, residential investments, and real estate law.
Before starting his own firm, the MHP lawyer, Ferd practiced law at a top Kansas City firm, focusing on economic development incentives, public finance, property tax assessments, redevelopment, land use, and zoning. Ferd, welcome to the show.
Ferd: Thanks, Andrew. Appreciate it. Thanks for having me.
Andrew: We'll just jump right into some questions. Can you start out by just telling all of us a little about your background and how you got into the manufactured housing business?
Ferd: Sure. Coming out of college, I had degrees in finance and accounting. I wasn't sure at the time if I wanted to get into law school or not, so I pursued my MBA. At the end of the MBA, I was like, well, I still feel like sticking around Kansas City. Let me just [...] law school for now.
I took a job at Jackson County as a commercial real estate analyst. I looked at complex real estate projects with tax incentives. In the meantime, I was also doing a single-family, some flips, some buy and hold, residential investing. I just thought, man, I'm making good returns on these projects. But a good percentage returns, let's say 30%, 40%, but it was hard to scale. I thought, man, I’m making a better return than these developers that are doing these big complex projects. What else can I look into?
Let me start looking at properties and asset classes that have low expense ratios. I did my research at MHP and self-storage. Decided to go with the MHP route. I own a little bit of self-storage, just as an appendage of MHP, but really with the MHP route. Started doing that on the side.
Through Jackson County, I became director of economic development, and later, the director of assessment, the county assessor. Simultaneous to that, I ended up going to law school on a part-time basis. I graduated from law school, passed the bar, and then left Jackson County, and went to a law firm here in Kansas City.
Practiced law for several years and then went and joined a firm client. Did retail development, redevelopment for several years all while doing MHP for about the last 6 ½, 7 years now. On the side, I've been doing MHP full-time in the last few years.
It's been good. Obviously, just the legal practice as well with an MHP focused don't do any tax incentives anymore, don't do much as far as retail zoning or things like that. Just focused on MHP law and/or MHP ops.
Andrew: I love that. Thank you for that little background there. In regard to your law firm, a lot of our listeners are passive investors that have either done funds, syndications, and other asset classes and are new to the mobile home park asset class. What would you say is the most important thing that passive investors need to look out for when investing in mobile home park syndication?
Ferd: Well, I think for any syndication, the most important thing is to look at the syndicator, and then do they have skill in the game? Do they have experience? What tracker do they have as far as accountability, transparency?
I mean, MHP specific, some of that is going to be, does your syndicator know what they're doing, especially in areas like zoning? Because as you know, the grandfather status is about all you can get in most MHPS. It's very rare you'll find a legal mobile home park that's legal conforming. You want to get stuck to the legal non-conforming, and that would be a grandfather.
Making sure that the right to purchase, own, and operate the park is there. But a lot of projects also have an infill component where you're going to bring in more homes. That's really where the value-add is in the mobile home park investment. You need to make sure that you have the proper setbacks, the proper zoning permitting to be able to do that.
If I was a limited partner investor in somebody's syndication, I would ask that question. I’d say, hey, how are you going to legally bring in homes to implement the business plan? If you're buying a stabilized asset, then that's less of a concern, but it'd be some concern still. If one of these homes moves out, burns down, or blows away, how can you replace that lot? You don't want to buy a stabilized deal that's already at its peak of all time. The zoning is crucial to that.
Andrew: I 100% agree. We have parks all the way from Minnesota to Georgia. In one of our communities—actually, in Nebraska—it is the hardest process in the world to bring home in. Literally, the city inspector has to drive out and see the home, give his blessing on it. If he approves it, then you have to improve the home before it comes in making sure all the smoke detectors are interlinked and not battery powered, and a handful of other things, before you can bring a home into the community.
You can't rehab a home on the site because the city just doesn't allow it. You have to have the home move-in ready when it comes in. We have communities like that. That's one extreme end, and then you have the complete opposite side where it's like the Wild Wild West. You don't even need a licensed installer to install the thing. It's just crazy how different it could be depending upon the municipality and the zoning.
Ferd: Right. One thing there, I have worked in government for five years, so I can tell you it's good for the developer—in this case, the mobile home park owner—to get along with the city-county government.
At the same time, it may behoove you to push back. I bought a park here in Missouri and the previous owner was trying to get a business license, which is $100. It's pretty much a rubber stamp. They had a big pre-app meeting where public works, firewater, police chief, planning, zoning, long-term planning, all these people in the room, city management. The fire chief said I'm not going to approve your business license unless you put in two fire hydrants. They had to run fire hydrants around an eight-inch main throughout the park.
I saw the invoice. It was $474,000. The guys who sold me the park, they took a bath. I think they lost $1.3 million. I went in to do a similar pre-app meeting, and I went to get my business license and the fire chief said, "I think I'd like to have another fire hydrant." I said, "Show me in the code where you're allowed to impose it on me." "It’s more of a request. I got the last guys to give me some free stuff."
They literally didn't push back and pay for almost $500,000 when they could have hired an attorney or just look it up themselves for $500 and would have got that rubber stamp. That was an extreme example, but I mean, it's amazing how onerous government can be in another instance is how friendly they can be. But in MHP space, it's more often difficult than simple.
Andrew: Yeah, 100% agree. The stigma sometimes gets the better of people. They can't get past that. I agree. It depends on who you're dealing with. How many communities do you currently own? Do you actively manage them? How has that process been for you? What are some of the hardest parts of the business in general that you see?
Ferd: The hardest part, it's going to depend on the community. We have some communities that are stable, and those are going to be lower maintenance. There's like a smaller part—16 or 18 lots—I’ve had several of those.
We typically fix them and flip them. I have some that are buy and hold, but sometimes when we sell them, we'll manage them by third party. In the last year or two, I sold four parks, and we still manage three of the four. That wasn't a requirement of the sale, but it made sense for the out-of-state investor that, hey, we can manage this, and some of my team can operate them.
Managing stabilized parks is not as challenging from a time perspective. I'd say the hardest part is definitely infill, and then I like to be regional. I'm in Missouri here. We're in contract in Nebraska, Iowa, and Missouri now. We have other Missouri-Iowa parks now.
I'm looking at a portfolio in Georgia, where I'm doing some work as a lawyer and then possibly going to end up being part of the ownership team on that. Something like that, managing stuff from a long way away.
If it stabilizes, not as challenging, but infill and just going through the CapEx changes at the beginning. The first six months of ownership is hard. What I learned in the retail business was once you've got it stabilized—retail stabilized was really safe because it was safe, at least from a work perspective it's a triple net lease—people will pay a premium for them.
My business partner had built several hundred thousand square feet of triple net retail. I was like, okay, now he can sit back, he can relax, and just cash a big check. He's like, no, I'm going to sell. I was like, why are you selling? He goes because now it's easy. I'll sell somebody else, they'll pay a premium.
It allows them to have a lean team, so that's the approach we've done. I've done some deals where I'm a limited. I have five or so deals where I’m a limited partner. I've got a couple of dozen where I’m a lawyer on, I’ve done some brokers work on some, Generally active ownership flipping. I say flipping and renovating a handful of times. Some of those will keep forever. The last two or three, I sold, and I thought I'd never sold. If the price is right, the workload is right, sometimes we sell. Obviously, there are tax consequences to that as well, but we do a blend.
I'd say the hardest part to me is just the infill because there's so much work associated with this. Unless you're in a HUD state, and then get into the sales process. I look at one part now where it's like drug issues and private sewers. That will have a different set of issues. We have bad tenants or bad infrastructure, but that’s not in every park. I feel like there's infill in every park that's got value add.
Andrew: Totally, yeah. I agree with you there. How do you manage that? Do you self-manage these? Do you have a team that helps you with that?
Ferd: When I say self-management, obviously, I'm not a one-man-band. My dad is my business partner, and then we've got several full-time employees. We got lots of independent contractors, it depends on the trade area.
In some of them, five or six work full-time in 40 hours a week or more, but they're on their own. They can take other jobs that are independent. And then we've got lots of third party pros like the concrete guy, the install guy, and things like that.
In each park, we either have a park manager or a park grader. That could be somebody as low as $75 a month for very basic services like posting notices. I've got a manager making $45,000 a year. Anywhere in a spectrum,
I'm under contract in another park in the same trade area right now where I would just basically reassign the manager. Instead of 5 days—0-5-0, it'll be 3-2 or 4-1, and then go from there. We've got a back-office that does the bookkeeping. We use the Rent Manager for bookkeeping and our investor reporting and stuff like that. We don't hire a third party. My company takes management fees (if you will). We oversee—my dad or myself—everybody on the payroll.
Andrew: Very cool. Thank you for sharing that. One thing about Missouri like you said, with the new homes, it's very elaborate. It's a HUD state. Site prep is very important. Making sure the piers and stuff are the proper depth, but then the used home process is not much regulation at all. It's unbelievable. Do you guys prefer one or the other? Have you infilled more used homes than new? How does that work for you?
Ferd: Three or four years ago, when I was sitting in and looking for used because it's so much cheaper. Obviously, used homes are going to be less expensive, but also because of the HUD state. You're talking about $13,000 in add-on between concrete install, skirting deck, steps, and HVAC.
On a used home it’s already got HVAC, it comes with some steps or something. That $13,000 does not include freight from the factory on a new home, but on a used home, you're probably talking $2000 for all that stuff on the same level of concrete, gears, and everything like that.
I did prefer used homes but practically depends on the park. I'm under contract on one of the [...] in Iowa. It's got three empty lots. I'll just probably look for a used home. I only need three. I've got another one here in [...] City Metro. I'm under a contract that has 11 empty lots. I'll probably do a combination of new and used, but I have another one here in Missouri, where I have 50 vacant lots.
Honestly, I'm not going to be able to find 50 used homes easily. I had a four-year business plan to fill that. It's been about 2 ½ years, and we're full. We've been full here February 1 when they come in. I could not have produced 50 used homes very easily, and then you need a full-time maintenance crew to get them updated and all that stuff.
I've become more of a believer in the new home just because of the brain damage that goes into finding and renovating used homes, but it's definitely more expensive. I don't like the HUD regulations, and we're the next guy, but it is what it is.
Andrew: Yeah. It is what it is, totally. What does the perfect park look like for you? What are your buying criteria? What is it? Where is it located? What is the typical acquisition?
Ferd: Probably not that dissimilar from you or other people. Obviously, a strong metro, diverse economy, lots of different government jobs, prison jobs, education jobs, and health care jobs. Ideally, over 100 lots but those are pretty challenging to find at reasonable prices.
Ideally, public infrastructure, but realistically, I typically buy stuff that's bruised or broken. It'll have anywhere from 20%-50% occupancy, and not be bankable for most people, so then I buy it with a local bank loan, which is a recourse loan. That's not ideal, but it's ideal in the sense that a lot of people don't mess with it, or can't get it financed because they don't have ties to communities. Where I've got some banks that will go and have two, three, four state footprint with me. That's been helpful.
Ideally big lots. I didn't fill the park in [...] that we sold this year, but the lots only allowed 60-, 65-foot homes. Well, that limits your business plan and another part where the lots are like from 76-80 feet so I can put a lot of 76-foot homes in. That 76-foot 3 bedrooms sell so much better.
That's the ideal, big lots. I don't like lagoons. I've owned a lagoon. I'm on Septic. I'm under contract for a physical plant, treatment plant. I've not owned well. I've got some clients that have well, so I've been around them, but I personally don't own a well. I'm open to it.
I was under contract on one in Nebraska and just dropped the contract for other reasons. It's the same ideals as anybody as a lot of other people, but I will tackle lower occupancy parks if they're within five or six hours of where we have a footprint.
Andrew: That’s awesome. What are your thoughts on park owned homes?
Ferd: I think park owned homes are just part of the business. I tell people all the time, even in my ideal world, I own zero homes. Then maybe, (the ideal) I would own less than 100 homes. We're never going to get to zero. I don't think because of the nature of bringing them in.
We bring them in. We rent some, we rent some second [...] even. We sold some through 21st Mortgage. We sell some cash. Depending on the state and regulations, there are also options for selling them on a contract for deed or leased homes. That can become hairier, but we have park-owned homes. I prefer not to, and really, it’s a financing thing.
Right now, I've got two parks that I'm trying to turn that ratio down to below 20%, 25%, so I qualify for agency debt. It’s part of the infill strategy. Sometimes I'll say, I've got five houses for sale, one is to rent. Once that one goes to rent, the rest are for sale. But then if I convert somebody like I just closed on one today where we converted somebody from a renter to an owner. I told my manager, hey, you can go rent one more, and just try to keep that ratio in the teens, ideally.
Sometimes I get to fill the house, and it's definitely easier to rent them. I think you can do the parking home model. It's harder to scale, and you have to have a maintenance team. If you only have six park-owned homes, you only have a full-time maintenance guy. If you got 30, well, then you got enough work to keep the maintenance guy busy.
Andrew: I totally agree with you, and one thing that you mentioned is making your park bankable. I think that's something that's very important and not enough people look at the end game first and say, hey, what are the agency lenders going to require?
They're going to require that you have less than 20% park owned homes, and they're going to have certain requirements for off-street parking, et cetera. I like that you guys are looking at that upfront. Do you raise capital from investors? Do you do syndications?
Ferd: I do. The last three parks [...], so I don't raise capital every deal. I met with somebody this morning, and I am going to raise capital on a couple of deals I got going. It just depends on the deal and the amount of capital needed. And then just plan and structure, but I have raised capital.
I've also done legal work on syndications for some other clients. I'm under contract on at least one of them right now I will raise capital on. I've got another one I'm involved in last night that is a pretty big project that I would definitely raise capital on.
I do it some but it's not every deal. There are lots of different deal structures. I just don't always do it. It's 2020, I will in 2021. In 2019, I don't think I did. I think I just bought two or three and just me and dad in 2019.
Andrew: Very cool. How do you normally set those up if you are raising capital? What type of structure do you offer?
Ferd: I've looked at two different structures. The main industry is the preferred return, the waterfall method. For example, if I'm the promoter, I get typically 35% of the deal. I get 35% as a general partner, the investors get 65%, and investors get an 8% preferred return, which means they get the first 8% money before I get anything. After they get 8%, we split the income or the profits 35%, 65%, and you could split that up.
I typically say that's the hurdle of the split, whether it's operating cash flow, refinanced cash flow, or disposition cash flow. On one deal, I took a big acquisition fee, and then I take management fees of 5%. The deal I got going, I’m going to take a much higher split than 35%. I might probably take 75% because it's still a really good deal to be good enough for the investors. I'm not going to take any acquisition fees. I'm not going to take any asset fees. That's just a personal preference at this point, just based on income.
I don't need the acquisition fee to pay the bills. I'm going to get taxed on that as ordinary income. If I instead take zero fees but take a higher piece of the promotion, the general partnership split. In the long run, it will be better for me for a tax position. Also, I feel like it's easier to raise capital when I tell investors, look, I'm signing the note, so I'm in the deal. I'm putting in my own cash, and I'm not taking any commissions. That's how I'm structuring different ways in the past, but I don't have 50 syndications.
I've looked at 50 remodels, but I have been around and seen the numerous hurdles and 8%-10% is this percentage, 10%-15% is this percentage for the GP. I have not done that multi-tier structure.
Andrew: I know you said you signed recourse on the debt and your investors, I'm assuming they don't have to, but do you also put your own money into every deal that you raise money for?
Ferd: On one deal, I didn't. One deal I didn't put any money in, but I signed the note. Typically, I put in money, but it depends on the deal. For the last few deals, I've put in just my own. I didn’t syndicate. On the current structure with my lender, they want me to put in a token amount, let's say, $50,000 per deal, and then I can raise the rest.
If I buy the deal myself. Let's say it's a $1 million deal. I put in $200,000 myself. I don't need any partners. I can get an 80% loan, but if I syndicate, they want to give me a 75% loan, which means I need $250,000. In that example, I'll say, okay, I'll put in $50,000. I'll sign the $750,000 note personally, and then I'll raise the other $200,000 from other people. Then there's obviously more raise for things like capital expenditures, reserves, and initial operating cash.
The one that I'm working on now, I'm not taking a fee, so there's no acquisition fee built-in. But that would typically be in the capital [...].
Andrew: Totally. I think investors just like it when you have skin in the game. Whether that's from your acquisition fee or from the cash you're contributing, I think that's huge. What is the biggest win that you've had in the business? Can you give us a case study that was your best one to date?
Ferd: Well, the one that's the best one to date, it hasn't finished yet. I got lucky. It’s the combination of luck, skill, and the good Lord watching me. There's a deal that I have $70,000 in, and if I sold today, I'd make a million in 10 months.
The IRR on that is almost incalculable. That was a combination of an off-market deal, broker and pocket listing brought it to me, bought it several hundred thousand dollars below market, fixed it up, did the lipstick flip, didn't even increase rents at all. It was one that didn't need to push the rents, I would instead want to push occupancy.
Did a better job sub-metering the water. Put in a nice playground, we paved the streets, put in some decor, put in driveways in every single house including tenant-owned homes, and painted every single house including tenant-owned homes. Took the occupancy from 24 out of 52 to one out 48 out of 52.
We'll probably be 52 by the end of the year, we’ll be full, and we bought it last December. It was just dad and me, and we got a 100% loan. Except $70,000 in the minimal CapEx that I referenced. The deal has been humming. I'd say pretty close to 100% collections. I got a couple of people late, but they always get paid. We had one person bail, and we immediately refilled the house.
That's going to be from a percentage return and then just really the amount of work I've had to put on that deal is somewhat minimal, personally. It's not $50 million or something, but that's a lot of money. It looks like some pan out for me.
Andrew: That's fantastic, man. Congratulations. I love hearing that. Do you have a project manager type employee that helps you with your CapEx projects, infill, and things like that?
Ferd: Everybody in our team does operations. That park, we hired a good manager. That was everything we got lucky on. Hispanic manager and I speak zero Spanish and a lot of the time speak zero English. This guy is just the best.
I'm not going to disclose where he's at because I don't want you to steal him. As soon as we sell this park, I've already offered him a full-time job. He has a Java factory too and does this inside. I'm going to say, do you want to move? I'm looking for parks within an hour or so where he lives just because so you don't have to relocate. He likes living in this community.
From a project manager, my dad does a lot, I do a lot. We've got several hundred full-time employees. I just hired a CFA who can help me with the underwriting because I've been busy. I have too many deals to look at—the financials and underwriting as well as the capital raise, and then the [...] the legal stuff and team leadership.
More of the project management will go on this new guy, who doesn't start until the first of December. But right now, it's just me and my dad working too many hours. So far so good.
Andrew: That's fantastic, man. I love that. What would you say is your value proposition as an operator? What makes you different? What makes you stand out? I always say that our specialty is the infill process. That is every operator you talk to says that that's the toughest part of the business. We have our own transport company based out of St. Louis that has helped us overcome that hurdle. What makes you guys stand out and be different?
Ferd: Well, I would say just a team effort as far as work ethic and attitude, and we all love what we're doing. For me, my contribution as a lawyer helps a lot. I say my biggest job duty is that I worry. I'm worried about what could go wrong, I worry about the worst-case scenario, and I try to basically figure out the solution.
If I look for problems that don't exist yet—a pre-mortem (if you will) instead of the post-mortem exam. That works whether I'm looking at the 21st Mortgage contracts, leases, waivers, insurance stuff, waivers for contractors, dealing with the city, and getting zoning issues. I've been able to negotiate hard with several cities where other people couldn't. I'm able to get favorable zoning letters, which has been the difference-maker for us in some parks to bring in the right size homes and the right amount of homes.
I say my legal knowledge helps, but overall, it's just really the seven steppings in the studio. Signing recourse notes. Right now, my recourse notes are down, but a year ago, I probably had over $10 million of recourse notes. That makes you watch your stuff really closely.
I'm in the process of moving three parks onto the nonrecourse notes right now because they're now at that level of stabilization but go to bed and worry. I had a tornado almost hit the park. I would have lost $500,000 last night [...]. That stuff wakes you up and makes you pay attention. My value add is that I am pretty obsessive about trying to operate as perfectly as possible.
Andrew: Yeah. That's huge. I like that. What would you say has been your biggest struggle or your one park that was like the dud? What were the struggles within that one dud of a park?
Ferd: One park where we didn't do all the infill, we brought in 20 and we had 14 left. We just decided to let's just move on and sell it. We still manage that park through the current owner, but it was just a rough and tumble town.
We went through. We did like 15 park-owned home remodels, and they were rough remodels. Over $200,000 in cash into these deals, into these homes, and it was just a rough and tumble town where the contractor wouldn't show up to work. You'd get professional contractors that give you a bid and they wouldn't show up again.
We went through dozens of professionals or handymen. That was hard and then the clientele in this park. There were six or seven guys that had the swastika flag flying and stuff. Pitbulls running around, fights, drugs, a sex offender was in the park, people sneaking in, so that park just was rough.
We cleaned it up, got rid of the bad apples, and then renovated a bunch of small homes. But the quality of the clientele, they couldn't get bankable, couldn't get loans so then it's like are we going to sell this cash? Are we going to rent these? It's hard to sell on cash. They didn't want to buy the $20,000, $30,000 house. We're going to buy the $6000 house.
Then you're going to get, at times, the lower clientele there. We took a lot of licks. We ended up selling it, making good money on it, but we left money on the table for the next guy. We bought that one right, and we had to replace the gas lines, patch and redo the roads, trees, put in the playground.
Andrew: A lot of CapEx?
Ferd: Yeah. We spent a lot of money in the park. It didn't make a penny until it was sold. It was just renovate, renovate, renovate, renovate. It never reached the stop in cash flow. It was okay. It didn't start cash flowing until we stopped doing more renovations.
That one was just a labor of love, and that really wasn’t love. It ended up working out, a good relationship with the buyer, and everything too. We got out of that deal, but that was one that I just didn't want to hold long-term. That was one that was intended to be a flip. A lot of people want to have it forever. I have some that I want to have forever.
Andrew: Where was that located?
Ferd: In Central Illinois, south of Springfield. I'm from Illinois. Stereotypically, in the industry, I would say, once you get south of Springfield, you're basically in the south. It's a different environment, and the lot rent, for example, was $122. This is within a half-hour of Springfield. Springfield was $350. The kind of clients that had $122 lot rents—when we want to do a rent increase, they're just like we can't find $5. I was like, we just spent $100,000 improving the park.
Aside from rent increase, they didn't give us much grief but to get the next person in there, the new lot rent or the new people will hire. You got the $180. You got the $200 within a year. On day 366 got $200, but when you add in a home payment, that's almost $600. I'm sitting like $600, that's affordable housing, but they wanted to have $400. All in, you pay for maintenance, all that stuff. The clientele was tougher as you got in Southern Illinois.
Andrew: We have a park in Keokuk, Iowa. Very similar market and it is what it is. Some markets are more depressed and you can't get as much. Moving forward in our due diligence, something that we implemented is during our test ads, we look at and pursue how much of a down payment they have. That has been a big teller of the market, the people, and the new buyers. Very similar experience.
Ferd, what is your end game goal? Where are you going to be 10, 20 years from now? Maybe retired on a beach or...
Ferd: I don't think I’ll retire. It's always changing. I've changed my career several times. I didn't think I'd be in the MHP space even this long. I thought it would get bought up by all the big players and all the big REITs and I'm like, maybe I'll just fade off in the sunset and coach tee-ball or something.
Over the next several years, the goal is to continue to acquire mobile home parks, really do more of the buy and hold rather than flipping them for the last four or five years. Cherry-picking, I don't know if that number that I'm going to hold is going to be 10, 20, or 50. I don't foresee myself getting to 100.
Then also do some legal services for sure on some of the bigger operators as well and smaller operators. I plan on staying in the business for a while. I feel like at some point, there's going to be 10 owners. Ten big companies and then I'm not going to be one of them.
We'll see, but that's where I feel like it's going to go. I don't want to be working for some big lead or something. Like you've owned this portfolio. You can be regional manager of Missouri, Kansas, Iowa, and Nebraska. I don't want a real job. I like working for myself. We'll see how that looks in the future.
Andrew: Yeah, totally. Is there anything else that you would like to add value to our listeners that you think they should know about the mobile home park industry as a whole?
Ferd: The only thing I can think of is I would recommend people start slow—buy one park, buy two parks, even actively manage them. I see a lot of guys now, some of them are clients. I wouldn't say who. They’d be like I got three deals in your county. I'm closing all three deals this month, and none of them are working 10 hours.
It's like, you have no idea how much work this is going to be to infill all these, and there are some guys buying 10 parks in the first year and betting on the pro forma cap rate. Pro forma lot occupancy. I'm worried. Just be conservative in your business plan, at least out of the gate because I’ve bought production guys that had the same business plans and they just didn't [...]. They lost seven figures on a single deal. Just measure twice, cut once I guess is the value-added advice I’d give.
Andrew: Totally. Experience is very important in this asset class executing projects, I agree. Thank you so much for coming on the show and adding value to our listeners. How can our listeners get ahold of you if they'd like to do so?
Ferd: My website is themobilehomeparklawyer.com. My podcast is The Mobile Home Park Lawyer Podcast. My emails, phone numbers are on there. It's firstname.lastname@example.org.
Andrew: Awesome. Well, that's it for today. Thank you all so much for tuning in.
Ferd: Thanks, Andrew.