Like most real estate the Seller usually wants too much and the purchaser wants to pay too little for a mobile home park. Certain buyers may have different motivations for buying a certain park (1031 money, ability to obtain better financing, conversions to other uses, and location to where they live). In this book we will only look only at the value of a mobile home park for the typical buyer who will continue to operate it as a mobile home park.
Anyone that has seen an appraisal on a house or most types of real estate will have heard mention of the 3 approaches to determining the value of that real estate. They are the Cost, Sales, and Income Approach.
Unless you are coming up with the value of a brand new mobile home park or one that is predominately vacant, I do not see any reason to use the cost approach. It is not likely that a new mobile home park will be built nearby and what it would cost to build a new park does not even take into account the amount of time, effort, and money it takes to fill that park up with occupied and paying residents.
As far as the Sales or Market Comparison approach to value, this is also highly suspect. This is based on comparing the sale of the subject property with other recent sales and adjusting for differences that you may or may not know about. Problems with this approach include varying expenses, rents, and management. Whether you are an investor or appraiser I would just use this approach as potential information and not draw any conclusions from it. Here is a quick example of the improper use of this approach from my experience:
Property A: 50 lots, 100% occupied, Lot Rent of $179.00. Lots will hold a maximum home size of a 14′ x 60′ – Water and Sewer is submetered back to residents – NOI of about $75,000.
Property B (10 miles from Property A): 53 lots, 10 vacancies, Lot Rent of $150.00. Lots will hold 16′ x 80’s and doublewides. Park pays water and sewer – NOI of $45,000.
Property B is sold in December of 2004 for $425,000.
The owner of Property A(one of my LLC’s) goes to the bank to refinance the property in January of 2005. The appraiser appraises it at $400,000 and places the most emphasis on the Sales Comparison Approach as Property B just sold and it was a superior property in terms of size, appearance, and location. In fact in the appraisal report, he claims that we were charging too much and that our numbers were inflated.
After arguing with the bank and appraiser for a couple of weeks, we were refunded our money for the appraisal. In the meantime, we were approached by another investor who made us an offer of $645,000 for the park and we accepted and the sale closed by the end of March 2005. I really wanted to send the appraiser a copy of the closing statement with a nice letter but decided against it.
The point is that even though one park may look nice, be in a better location, and have so much more going for it on the surface, does not mean it is worth more per space or even worth as much per space as an inferior looking park.
As a side note, once I found out that property B was sold for $425,000 I was in contact with the new owner and tried to buy the park from him – I offered him $50,000 more than he had just paid and he didn’t want any part of it. He knew he had just made a tremendous buy and was already raising the rents and starting to get his lots filled up.
The third approach to value is the Income approach and I find that this is really the best and only way to evaluate a mobile home park correctly. I have come up with a basic formula in which I value the park based on what it is currently doing, what it should be doing, and what it will do once I implement some basic changes and run it more efficiently.
Here is my standard process in estimating the value:
I want to know how many lots there are, how many are occupied and paying, what the lot rent is, what expenses the owner is paying, and who is responsible for the water lines, sewer lines, and roads. (Example Provided Below)
A good rule of thumb that I use to start with is that I take the number of occupied spaces and multiply this by the average monthly space rent and multiply this by 70.
For example if the park has 110 spaces with 10 vacancies, a monthly average space rent of $200. Then my initial value calculation is 100 x $200 x 70 = $1,400,000.
If the park is on the market for $3 million I will probably pass. If the park is on the market for $1,800,000 or less than I will probably look into it further. Remember this simple calculation is very generic and may or may not be the true indication of the value of a mobile home park.
In looking at the park in more detail, I will ask for actual operating income as well as actual operating expenses.
The operating expense ratio can vary significantly from one park to another in the same city even if located adjacent to one another. One of the largest expenses in a park is the water and sewer expense. If the residents of the park are paying this expense then you can expect the operating expense ratio to be as much as 15% less than the average.
I owned a park in Northeastern Texas a few years ago that had the lowest expense ratio that I have ever dealt with(I regret ever selling it). Although this park had large lots 60′ x 120′ and up, it was filled with old homes (trailers). We even had some old RV’s and campers renting lots. Usually when you encounter a park such as this with old run down homes and trailers they are usually stacked on top of each other with about 20 per acre. This was not the case. Each home was on a large lot and every time I drove through the park it seemed that the homes had aged several more years. Anyway, the park had 94 spaces and each space was separately metered for all utilities by the city and utility companies. The streets were owned by the city, the city was responsible for the water and sewer lines up to each home. The city paid for the street lights. We had basically 5 expenses:
Taxes: $1100 per year (the assessed value of this park was under $60,000!)
Insurance: $2,000 per year
Management: $700 per month plus free lot rent – about $10,000 per year
Telephone: $0 – the manager used his phone number
Repairs: $2000 per year on average (the only repair we had was each time a home moved out and a new home moved in we had to update the electric pedestal – about 3 per year)
Office & Travel: $600 per year
In the 3 years I owned the park, the expenses never totaled more than $16,000.
The gross collected income over these 3 years averaged just over $135,000. So this park had an expense ratio of under 12%.
This is truly an exception to the rule and the manager I had at this park was awesome and we had collections in excess of 97%. It is rare that you are able to find a park with such a low expense ratio but it is possible. The usual case is that you find a park that is listed for sale and the projections or proformas have expenses that are ridiculously low and may not have expenses listed for repairs, capital improvements, management, insurance and so on.
The value a mobile home park may be $2 million for one person and $1.5 million to someone else. The key is really deciding what you are willing to pay based on your expectations of what type of return you want on your investment. This return on investment will come in several different forms:
o Monthly/Yearly Cash Flow
o Tax Savings
o Equity Buildup
o Rent Increases and Expense Reductions
In analyzing the financial statements and tax returns, they are often different. The financial statements usually have more income and less expenses and the tax returns usually have less income and more expenses.(however, I have seen in some cases that the tax returns are also overstated in order to show a better net income when it comes time to sell or refinance a park. If by paying taxes on an additional 20k in taxes for a couple of years increases the value of the park by 200k then a real sophisticated and dishonest seller may be trying to pull a fast one. So be careful.
The key then is to reconcile the tax return with the profit and loss statement and then interject reality into the whole process.
Figuring out the actual income is usually not too difficult. You can take the actual number of spaces in the park and multiply this by the actual rents being charged and subtract out a reasonable allowance for collections and you should be able to come up with a good estimate of the income. I usually use 3% as the collections expense.
The next thing to do is to come up with the anticipated expenses based not only on how the park is currently operating but also based on how the park will operate with you as the new owner. For example, if the current owner is managing the park, then you need to plug in an amount for management and payroll taxes and workers comp. If the park has vacancies and there is no advertising expense, then you need to plug in an amount for advertising. And so on.
Common expenses for Mobile Home Parks. Not every park has all of these expenses and some have additional expenses but this is a good starting point.
Bank Service Charges
Insurance: Workers Comp
Legal and Accounting
Licenses and Permits
Mowing & Landscaping
Rent Discounts & Incentives
Reserve for Capital Improvements
Utilities: Water & Sewer
In most cases when you review a sales package for a mobile home park for sale it will not mention any reserve for capital expenditures. This really should be addressed in your evaluation of the park and in the due diligence phase. Items like replacing all the water lines or sewer lines for older parks, resurfacing the roads, topping all the trees, are large expenses that can occur in the future and they should be budgeted for. While they are not expensed for income tax purposes they are capitalized and depreciated over 15 years or so, and are therefore real costs. I would include at least 2-3% of gross income as a Reserve for Capital Improvements in your numbers when determining the value.
You will find some sellers that expense everything and then find the opposite where owners capitalize as much as possible to make the bottom line look better. Spend some time going through all the expenses and estimating future capital improvements.
After coming up with the income that the park is currently generating and deducting from that all the anticipated operating expenses including the reserve for capital expenditures you will have what is called the Net Operating Income.
If you take the Net Operating Income and divide this by the price you come up with the Capitalization Rate (Cap Rate). Also, if you divide the Net Operating Income by the Cap Rate you come up with the price and so on.
Now this is where subjectivity comes into play. I remember not too many years ago you could buy 50 -100 unit mobile home parks valued in the 12 – 14% cap rate range. It is hard to find these deals anymore. Add into that the fact that the interest rates were so low for the last few years and the 12-14 caps are now 7-10 caps. The demand for good quality mobile home parks is and has been much greater than the supply. There are even stabilized parks that I have seen purchased for 5 & 6 percent caps. These were not just for redevelopment purposes either.
What is a good cap rate? The answer is really up to the buyer. Some buyers tell me they want at least a 7 cap, some say 10 cap, some say 15 cap(I say good luck to these people).
So in reality, a certain mobile home park will have a different value to each and every person. The idea is to decide what you want or will require in terms of your investment and then work to make the deal fit these requirements.
If you want a 10 cap on a property priced at a 7 cap, it does not necessarily mean you should pass on the deal. For instance, what if the park has rents that are $50 under market and through your inspections and due diligence you know you could raise the rent to market rates in 2 months. What if this would make it a 10 Cap? Another possibility would be to put it under contract and then in your due diligence you tell the seller that you want to move forward with the purchase but in order to do so and to satisfy your lenders requirements, obtain an adequate appraisal, and/or make the required return on your investment, you need to have him send a rent increase notice out right away so the rates are where you want them at closing.
In another example, suppose the park has an NOI of $80,000 and is priced at 1 million. Also, suppose that the park is currently paying for water and sewer and this expense is running approximately $30,000 per year. You know that you could install water meters and pass this expense on to the residents. You want a 10 cap on your purchase. You could very well purchase this park and realize the return you want very quickly in situations such as this. If the rents are under market or there are expenses that can be reduced or other ways to increase the net income with minimal work and cash outlay you might pay extra for a park if it otherwise meets your investment criteria.
As my general rule when dealing with parks that are borderline but have the potential to increase in value and offer an acceptable return on investment by raising rents or reducing expense: I generally will add up to 50% of the value from these quick fixes to my offer on a park. So if I can increase the rates to market and reduce expenses and this increases the value of the park by $100,000, then I would consider adding $50,000 to my offer price if necessary. After all, we should earn something from our expertise and doing what the owner could have done already.
Other considerations on the value of the park will be the entrances, streets, landscaping, utilities, parking, lights, storage sheds, number of singles versus doubles, swimming pools, clubhouses, etc. The nicer the park typically the lower the cap rate and the easier it will to tap into better financing programs.
Other Value Considerations:
When purchasing a mobile home park that has vacant lots which are ready to be occupied, what value, if any should you place on these lots? We just came up with the value we are willing to pay based on the NOI and the cap rate we are looking for. So, unless these homesites will fill up with minimal effort and investment, I would not place much of a value on them at all. In fact, having empty homesites that are hard to rent out will end up costing you money in terms of monthly maintenance and time. I would definitely point this out to the seller as a negotiating point. Many sellers like to say there is upside on all the vacant spaces. However, if this upside was easy to obtain, then the seller would have most likely realized it before selling.
In some cases, you will be able to fill up the homesites with minimal investment and effort so you may place a value of 25-50% depending on your comfort level. I would definitely lean toward the 25%.
Park Owned Homes & Notes:
When purchasing a mobile home park where there are park owned rentals, rent-to-own homes, and mobile home notes it is important to break out the income and expenses from this portion of the business from the lot/space rental portion.
Many times the income and expenses from the entire operations are lumped together and the seller or broker says the property is priced at say a 10 cap.
Here is the problem with this approach of lumping it all together:
Suppose you have 10 mobile homes that are renting for $350 above the normal lot rent per month and that there is an additional expense of $100 per mobile home each month. You basically have a net of $250 per month for each home or $3,000 per year. If you are capping this income at a 10 cap, you are placing a value of $30,000 per mobile home. Now there may be some nice doublewides that are being rented in some parks that are worth $30,000 but it is not the norm. Most of the time, these homes are older singlewide homes that may have a value from $3,000 to $10,000. So if you are valuing them at $30,000 you are paying too much!
Another situation occurs when you have mobile home notes or rent-to-own homes. Lets say you have a note payment of $200 per month in addition to the lot rent and that the balance left is $8,000 on the note. The monthly payments of $200 per month will add up to $2,400 per year and if you cap that at 10% then you are paying $24,000 for an $8,000 note. Not a great investment move!
So what do you pay for these types of additional income sources?
Mobile Homes Rented Out: Many people will say that you should pay what the home is worth on the market if sold for cash or for cash with outside financing. My formula is that I will pay about 75% of what I feel I can sell the home to the current renter for on a rent-to-own agreement with a term of 3-5 years and also increase the lot rent in the process..
Here is an example:
A home is being rented for $425 per month and the lot rent is $200 per month. I will approach the current renter and tell them if they continue paying rent for 3 more years, then I will assign the title over to them and the home will be theirs. In the rent-to-own agreement, I specify that the lot rent is $225 per month(not $200) and after 36 monthly payments of $200 plus lot rent, the home title will be transferred to them.
In this case, I would not only be receiving 36 x $200 or $7,200 for the home, but I have also increased the lot rent for that home in the process. When I get ready to raise rents for other residents in the park, I can always say that there are other people already paying the higher rates. So, in this case I would pay somewhere in the $5,000 to $6,000 range for this home. ($7,200 x 75% = $5,400)
Mobile Home Notes and Rent-to-Own Agreements: When I am purchasing notes and agreements that have already been created by the current seller, I will typically use the lower of the value of:
o 75% of the value of what I can resell the home to a new renter in case of default as calculated above; or
o 65% of the future note or rent-to-own payments.