How Mobile Home Parks Became Real Estate’s Hottest Investment

  • Mobile home park values ​​are increasing faster than any other type of real estate.
  • There is a growing internet obsession with buying parks for passive income.
  • The reality is much harder than it looks on the internet.

In 2014, Ryan Narus had his nose in the grindstone as a student in Wake Forest University’s prestigious MBA program, with the dream of owning his own business. Three years later, he found himself helping people move into RVs and mobile homes at La Costa, a trailer park just south of Atlanta, and collecting rent.

It was all part of a master plan – Narus bought into a general partnership in the park, the earnings from which he reinvested in his business. And as a park manager living in a double-wide no-cost, he earned an extra $35,000 a year, enough to keep him satisfied for about a year as he increased his investments.

Five years later, living outside the park with his family and owning shares in 26 properties, Narus is earning a six-figure income and helping others follow his path with the tool that helped him get there. where it is: Internet.

“Like any broke millennial, I had to rub two cents to get by,” Narus said of his early years in the business. “I taught myself with all the resources at my disposal, all online.”

Narus took this advice online and developed a platform himself. As an influencer, he hosts the popular podcast “Mobile Home Park In Real Life”, which has been downloaded approximately 100,000 times and has attracted over 5,000 followers on his LinkedIn page.

There has been an explosion of internet interest in mobile home investments, especially during the pandemic, as Americans with means seek passive income. Legions of LinkedIn and Facebook users have joined groups aimed at sharing their knowledge of success in the industry; tens of thousands of listeners watch podcasts and YouTube videos on how to get started; and hundreds of thousands more follow Instagram influencers who advocate parks as a path to financial freedom without working too hard.

At first glance, the mobile home industry has tailwinds. Some 22 million Americans, or about 6.5% of the US population, live in mobile homes, according to the Mobile Home Institute, and the value of properties where homes are parked is rising faster than any other real estate asset in the world. country. over the past few years, according to Green Street Advisors. Site rents are rising 3.5% on average each year, according to MHI data.

Growing online interest in mobile home parks is running up against an acute problem in all types of real estate in the United States: the lack of supply. Much of the existing inventory at 43,000 parks has already been scooped up by institutional buyers such as Equity Lifestyle Properties, a company founded by real estate magnate Sam Zell.

Plus, the business is warped by the powers of social media. The perception of what it takes to be in the business is often far from reality for people looking for easy profits online, Narus said.

“On the surface it’s the story of: making millions, having money passively, owning multi-family real estate in a hidden gem that no one talks about,” he said. “It’s just the culture, in my opinion, of social media. Click, like, comment, share, the works – I think there’s a huge market for ravings and chimeras.”

those who invest

The obsession with investing in mobile home parks has been brewing for two decades, in both bull and bear real estate markets.

two lawn chairs are set up in a living room of a mobile home with a television.

A photo of Ryan Narus’ living room when he lived in a trailer park south of Atlanta as a manager in 2017.

Courtesy of Ryan Narus

Some of the earliest content creators on the subject were investors Frank Rolfe and Dave Reynolds, a duo who claim to be the fifth largest mobile home park investors in the nation. Their educational product has a pitch to appeal to the masses: Participate in an investment favored by billionaires like Warren Buffett.

A central part of Rolfe and Reynolds’ media empire is “Mobile Park 10/20 Investment System”, a book that explains how to get started in the business. They run Mobile Home University, which charges enrollees for a detailed industry profit guide.

“Affordable housing is the hottest area in commercial real estate right now,” the duo state on Mobile Home University’s homepage. “With more than 20% of Americans trying to live on $20,000 a year or less, the demand for mobile homes has never been higher – and the big winners are the owners of the mobile home parks in which these customers reside. .”

A buildup of the internet ensued, and in the process, the space became diverse and nuanced, with investors entering for many reasons.

Jefferson Lilly, a Wharton grad who started his career in tech and bought his first mobile home park in 2007, says he pioneered the industry’s first podcast – “Mobile Home Park Investors” – eight years ago, primarily as a networking opportunity.

“It allowed us to really reach out to other investors,” Lilly said. “Since almost that very first episode, we had someone emailing us or sometimes calling and saying, ‘Hey, I heard your podcast. Looks like you know what you’re doing. I am a high-net-investor. I would like to know a bit more about your funds.'”

Lilly said up to half of the $40 million he raised to invest in mobile homes was directly influenced by his podcast. He is also the administrator of the Mobile Home Park Investors LinkedIn page, which claims 6,550 members.

Overall, Lilly has found that millennials are drawn to this form of investing because they are entrepreneurial. And investments in mobile home parks are more accessible to a generation known for its lack of wealth, with only a few thousand dollars needed to get started, he said.

“Just the glory of doing something unsexy means you’re an independent thinker,” Lilly said. “You certainly don’t follow the crowd if you’re in the mobile home park space, or certainly not if you were there 10 years ago.”

Recent Internet Trends Fuel the Obsession

The online hype around investing in mobile home parks has evolved rapidly with platforms like Instagram and YouTube where influencers are thriving. One of them is Brandon Turner, a self-proclaimed “niche celebrity” personality with 250,000 Instagram followers.

a woman is sitting on the steps of a blue and white mobile home with a child on her lap, both are smiling.

A mother and child outside a mobile home.

RF Culture/David Jakle/Getty Images

Alongside videos of his investments in mobile home parks and clips from his “BiggerPockets” podcast, his Instagram grid is filled with images of his family, his home in Hawaii, his coffee brand and tutorials. real estate investment and inspirational videos. . Investments in mobile home parks are a way to break free from a 9-5 job, live the life of your dreams, and grow your money even away from home, as his mantras go.

“He’s had a pretty big impact in the space,” Andrew Keel, a mobile home park investor and podcast host, said of Turner. “He’s a seasoned investor who has that lifestyle too — that millennial’s favorite lifestyle of freedom.”

As librarian Amanda Brennan sees it, it sounds a lot like a passive income craze, or the idea that with smart investment one can work minimally while making their money work for them – a concept whose popularity has exploded during the pandemic. People are reassessing their relationship with money and jobs and what they need to support themselves, she said.

Indeed, the nomadic, nature-bound, minimalist and affordable aesthetic that has defined Americana since the days of westward expansion has been reinvented during the pandemic as the popularity of #vanlife and #tinyhomes is growing among young millennials and Gen Z on social media.

mobile homes sit on a green mobile home park

Benjamin Rondel/Getty Images

“It’s the idea of ​​being surrounded by all the things you need to be happy,” Brennan said. “It ties into mobile homes because you can be more easily surrounded by those places in nature and have that access.”

As more middle-class millennials are priced out to own homes in cities like Austin, Texas, mobile homes have even developed a cultural cache. This speaks to the social motivation behind investing in the space, as passive income is about financial freedom, she said.

The hard reality

Millennials looking for nirvana might have a rude awakening.

Narus said the often watered-down way of investing on social media can overlook the stubborn realities that come with owning real estate.

First, parks and houses need constant maintenance. Secondly, when you buy a mobile home park, you are buying a business which naturally requires expensive administrative work.

Finally, a company that fundamentally helps solve the affordable housing crisis is often associated with issues of poverty, so it is not without related challenges. Residents often go through traumatic experiences, which also affects the business.

“It angers me that the mobile home space, the affordable housing space has been touted as an easy way, a passive way to make money,” Narus said, mostly because that kind of brand is presented as a way to get rich. the backs of the poor, he added.

He is adamant in his social media posts that parks are not just a place to park your money. It took him the better part of a decade to get to where he is and break the $100,000 income level.

Successful people in the industry have hearts and are passionate about affordable housing, he said.

“What makes my blood boil is the fact that people think they can come in, think it’s a passive investment and they’re going to make all this money and have nothing to do,” did he declare. “You’re basically gloating being a sleepy landlord” if you’re just collecting rent, he said.

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