Getting Started with Mobile Home Investing, with Rachel Hernandez
Welcome to The MapleMoney Show, the podcast that helps Canadians improve their finances to create lasting financial freedom. I’m your host, Tom Drake, the founder of MapleMoney, where I’ve been writing about all things related to personal finance since 2009.
Are you one of the thousands of Canadians who has made money investing in real estate? If so, chances are you’ve owned a rental property or flipped houses. But how about investing in mobile homes? That’s our topic this week, here on the MapleMoney Show.
Rachel Hernandez is an author and real estate investor. As a former business-to-business sales executive for Fortune 500 corporations, Rachel has extensive training in sales and marketing. With over a decade of experience, she spent several years as a landlord before taking the leap to specialize in mobile home investing. Rachel joins us this week to discuss the benefits of mobile home investing and how you can get started.
You could be forgiven if you hadn’t considered the mobile home market as a legitimate way to invest in real estate. After all, there’s a negative stigma around mobile homes. But, as Rachel explains, that stigma creates some advantages for mobile home investors. Namely, there’s less competition than with traditional residential real estate.
Rachel and I discuss how she got into mobile home investing, her rent-to-own strategy, and how she finds contractors to fix up the properties she purchases. She also shares some tips on how others can get started. If you love real estate, you’ll enjoy this episode!
This episode of The MapleMoney Show is brought to you by Willful: Online Wills Made Easy. Did you know that 57% of Canadian adults don’t have a will? Willful has made it more affordable, convenient, and easy for Canadians to create a legal Will and Power of Attorney documents online from the comfort of home.
In less than 20 minutes and for a fraction of the price of visiting a lawyer, you can gain peace of mind knowing you’ve put a plan in place to protect your children, pets, and loved ones in the event of an emergency.
Get started for free at Willful and use promo code MAPLEMONEY to save 15%.
- There’s a negative stigma with mobile homes
- There are 3 different types of mobile home communities
- Less competition in mobile home investing because of the stigma
- Rachel buys mobile homes in communities
- Rachel sets her mobile home leases at current market rental rates
- How a rent-to-own option works with mobile homes
- How Rachel sources mobile home contractors for renovations
- How to get started with mobile home investing
Are you one of the thousands of Canadians who has made money investing in real estate? If so, chances are you’ve owned a rental property or flipped houses. But how about investing in mobile homes? That’s our topic this week here on the Maple Money Show. Rachel Hernandez is an author and real estate investor. As a former business-to-business sales executive for Fortune 500 corporations, Rachel has extensive training in the area of sales and marketing. With over a decade of experience, she spent several years as a landlord before taking the leap and specializing in mobile home investing. Rachel joins us this week to discuss the benefits of mobile home investing and how you can get started.
Welcome to the Maple Money Show, the podcast that helps Canadians improve their personal finances to create lasting financial freedom. This episode of the Maple Money Show is brought to you by Willful. Did you know that 57 percent of Canadian adults don’t have a will? Willful has made it more affordable, convenient and easy for Canadians to create a legal will and power of attorney documents online from the comfort of home. In less than 20 minutes, and for a fraction of the price of visiting a lawyer, you can gain peace of mind knowing you have a plan in place to protect your children, pets and loved ones in the event of an emergency. Get started for free at maplemoney.com/willful and use promo code Maple Money to save 15 percent. Now, let’s chat with Rachel…
Tom: Hi Rachel. Welcome to the Maple Money Show.
Rachel: Thank you so much for having me. I really appreciate it.
Tom: First of all, I’m not personally into real estate investing in general. It’s not a topic I know a lot about. For me, real estate’s buying my own house. That’s as far as I’ve gone. To niche down even more, you do mobile home investing which sounds interesting to me. It sounds like something that could be easier to get into because it’s a smaller purchase price. But I’m sure there’s a lot of things that are quite different compared to regular real estate investing. First of all, can you tell me what this looks—just as a broad stroke of investing in mobile homes compared to other options?
Rachel: Mobile home investing is a very specific niche. It’s one of those things that a lot of real estate investors don’t really know about. Or if they’ve heard about it in the past, they kind of gloss over it. And to be honest, there’s kind of a negative stigma with mobile homes (also known as manufactured homes) because a lot of people look down on them. The first thing that comes into a lot of people’s mind is that movie Eight Mile with Eminem. They think all mobile homes and mobile home communities are like that. They’re not all like that. So in terms of mobile home communities, there’s basically three main types of communities. You’ve got the trailer park—what you see in the movie Eight Mile with Eminem. That’s a low-end park. Then you’ve got to step higher that’s a “middle of the road” type park. And then you’ve got to step higher than that, which is a high-end park. In terms of communities, it’s not that much different from the types of communities that you have in single family homes, apartment buildings, duplexes. There’s your low-end, middle of the road and the high-end type of communities. In terms of competition, that’s actually good for someone who wants to get into mobile home investing because there’s less competition. And that’s because most people don’t know about it or even want to get into mobile home investing because of that stigma. But to answer your question, what I do is buy mobile homes in communities. The community owns the lot—the land where the mobile home sits. But the mobile homes can either be owned by an investor like me, an individual homeowner, or the park themselves. So basically, I buy mobile homes in these communities. I work in high-end communities and buy them for cash. I sell them to people who want to live in that type of community. They buy the home from me and rent the lot out from the mobile home park.
Tom: So what are you doing in between? Is this like a flip? Are you buying it, fixing it up and selling it? What’s the purpose of you buying it and then selling it?
Rachel: Basically, what I do is buy the home and fix it up. I don’t do a handyman special. I don’t sell it as is. That’s just not the type of clientele I work with. I fix it up and put it up on the market. I work with people who actually eventually want to get into a home so I do a lease with option to purchase. That gives people the option of purchasing the home in the future if they’d like. At the same time, they’re in a community they want to live in. There are two separate agreements. You’ve got your lease agreement and then you’ve got your option to purchase agreement. If they’d like to purchase it, we have an agreement for that. Then they take care of it as if they’re going to purchase the home, but they’re not obligated to.
Tom: With these leases, I was looking at them just here in my local town, Airdrie, and they seem high. It was roughly $650 to $700 a month to lease that land. Granted, you’re selling so you’re not stuck with the lease for a long time. But if you’re trying to go the rental route, via landlord, it seems like that lease is kind of prohibitive. You may be able to get a mortgage for an actual house with that extra money.
Rachel: Yeah, it would actually really depend on the area. What I do, Tom, is keep it in line with rents in the area. Let’s just say a two bedroom apartment in my area is going for $1,200 a month. If I have a mobile home with the lot rent and the lease (the portion they pay to me) all together, they’re not going to pay more than $1,200 a month. And in some cases I just do it a little bit less than market rent just to entice people. But I typically don’t go over market rent. And I don’t advise beginning real estate investors to do that, even though it sounds like the market’s so hot they can get that amount. If that’s not the market rate, you’re going to really risk someone defaulting in the future so I would just try to keep it at market rent. So it’s the lot rent for the land that they pay the park and the rent they pay to you, all of that together I would just keep at market rent or a little bit below market rent just to be on the safe side.
Tom: So when you do this option to buy, what does that normally look like? Are they potentially renting from you for years or is it normally pretty quick—that transfer?
Rachel: It is up to them. I give them an option for a certain period of time. Typically, it’s about 10 to 15 years. And between that time, they have the option of purchasing the home. That’s one agreement. And we have a certain price for that agreement. Then we’ve got the lease. The lease means you’re just leasing it. It’s really just your rent. In the lease with option to purchase, I have it in there that while you’re doing the lease you can actually earn credits for this purchase price that we agreed on. I’m very careful in terms of my wording. I don’t say, “You have this rent and a certain amount comes from that credit,” because you don’t want to make it seem like there’s an equity stake. But I basically tell them they earn credits toward the purchase price. And any time you want to know how many credits you’ve earned and how much the purchase price is on your balance, you can send a statement in writing. I do everything in writing. I don’t do any of that over the phone or texting. That’s just too much back and forth.
Tom: Well, it’s a good point about the equity thing, too. You have credits that are technically a valueless number but it just happens to be that a credit is worth a dollar.
Tom: That’s a very interesting way to do it. Now, you mentioned before you bring someone in, you fix the place up. Are you doing that work yourself or are you hiring a contractor to do that? What’s that look like?
Rachel: I started this business in 2007. I’ve been in real estate for longer than that but I’ll just talk about the mobile home part. In the beginning I did everything. I cleaned the home. I painted. I did everything to fix up the home. But as the business grew and the cash flow started coming in, I started hiring contractors little by little. There are still some things that I do. I’m working on a mobile home fix up right now. I’m going to do a little bit of touch ups here and there. But I’m not going to install cabinets myself or install flooring—I don’t even paint the whole house anymore. I have painters who do that. My cabinet guy just finished with the kitchen cabinets and I was on the phone with my flooring guy today to have them go ahead and start the flooring work for the home. It’s almost ready to be put on the market. So as of now, I do have contractors. And I advise anyone who is getting into real estate or is already into real estate, start little with your resources. Learn how to do things. But as you grow and acquire more property, you’re not going to be able to do everything. It did get to that point where I had so many properties I had to fix up and there’s no way I could have fixed them all up myself, all at the same time. So now I do have contractors to help me out with the fix up work.
Tom: With contractors or anyone working in the place, is that different than someone you would hire for a house? It just seems like some of those skills may not be exactly the same.
Rachel: Yes. Most times the contractors I use are already familiar with mobile homes, manufactured homes. They already work with the park or their customers are already in the park. I think for the majority of my contractors, they do work on mobile homes. They also do other types of asset classes. Like my flooring guy. He does all the apartment buildings but we have a long history. Ever since the beginning, I’ve been working with some of these people. I would advise people who want to get into mobile home investing, you want to work with people who are familiar with the asset class that you’re working with. Whether that be mobile homes, single family homes, apartment buildings—in terms of supply chain, where to get parts or how to do something, you don’t want someone learning on your dime. You want them already familiar with it. And the best place to get referrals for contractors, is the mobile home park managers, the mobile home dealerships—people already working in the industry because they’ve got their own homes or customers that need homes to be fixed up too.
Tom: Just to go back to something kind of basic, I’ve heard you say it a few times—mobile home, and what’s the other one?
Rachel: A manufactured home.
Tom: Yeah, a manufactured home. Another one I’ve heard, and I don’t think it’s exactly the same, but it’s similar, is a modular home. Are these all different things? Are they related?
Rachel: Well, the mobile home is the term that everyone’s familiar with. Manufactured homes, there are people who like to refer to mobile homes as manufactured homes. So it really depends on what they’re referring to. But a lot of times the people who refer to mobile homes as manufactured homes are thinking about the ones that actually look like single family homes that are brand new, in the showroom. But either terminology you can work with for mobile homes or manufactured homes, in my opinion. Some people have their own opinions about that. But in terms of modular homes, those are completely different. They’re in their own asset class. For me, I don’t work with modular homes. I work specifically with manufactured homes or mobile homes.
Tom: Okay, thanks for clearing it up because I hear all these words that aren’t “house” and I don’t know which ones are which.
Rachel: Yes. Another advantage apart from less competition is that they’re mobile, obviously, but basically I’ve never seen a single family home being moved down the freeway. With mobile homes, you can either have them sit on a lot (a piece of land) or you can jack it up, put the axles and the tires on, put the hitch back on and move it to another location. I’ve done that several times too. I’ve moved them from one piece of land mobile home park community to another mobile home park community. I’ve done it all a lot of times. There’s a lot of pieces to the puzzle so if someone’s interested in mobile home investing, in the beginning I would just stick with getting the experience, buying the homes, leaving them in that location, and maybe down the road when you get a little bit more experience, then move them. There is a lot involved with moving mobile homes.
Tom: Is there anything specific someone needs to know when they’re just looking to get into this? Where would you find these? I looked at here in Canada, through realtor.ca and it does have them. It’s a separate little checkbox you can check. But we have other websites here in Canada, big name websites, that don’t include them. I was on one of those originally and I was thinking, where are these? I can’t find them. Then when I went to realtor.ca I was able to find a few that were in the area.
Rachel: Right. Well, I actually did things the old fashioned way, Tom. I went into the field, got a list of mobile home communities in my area and I visited them. It was crazy because there were over 2,000 mobile home parks when I first started out. Another barrier to entry is being able to work in these parks because you don’t own the land. The mobile home community does so you’ve got to go in and establish the relationship with the park manager or the owner and make sure they’re okay with you working in their community. Once I did that, then I started looking for opportunities in those specific communities, in those specific parks I work with. And I will tell you, since I’ve been doing this for so long, a lot of the homes I actually buy there, they never even hit the market. A lot of them are referrals from the park managers, mobile home dealerships, contractors who work on mobile homes, just because I’ve built the relationship with these people. I don’t do that much in terms of marketing and looking at online sites and all that. A lot of it is just pure networking from the people I know who work in the business every day. That’s just how I do it. There’s different ways to do it, so—
Tom: I was going to ask you, actually, what you meant by choosing a community. Is that what that is—getting that relationship and being able to work in that? And when you say working that, do you mean just the fact that you’re doing business or that you’re in there and actually fixing things?
Rachel: Yes, basically. I do cover this in my podcast, Episode Eight— working with park managers. How do you approach a park manager or owner? Going in there to create that relationship. I always say, it does take time. It’s not going to happen overnight. A lot of people who try to get into this, they want to do everything remotely. They send emails to the managers or the owners. They call them on the phone. It does not work. You have to go in person. It is definitely a people business, I can tell you that.
Tom: How many of these communities are you working with right now? Because it seems like you would spread yourself too thin then if you’ve got one mobile home here and another one there. Do you try to keep it to a set amount?
Rachel: Yeah, I’ve got a really low number of communities I work with because a lot of the parks are corporate owned. So they have sister parks. I just got into a park recently because one of the assistants (who I knew before) became the park manager. I had been trying forever to get into this park. And this specific park has 1,000 lots. And another one is a sister park. It has over 500 lots. I don’t have to be working with 100 mobile parks. In the beginning, I thought that I’d be working more with small mom and pop type parks. But the way that things were run in those types of parks and the clientele…The specific parks I visited just didn’t work with my personality. And since I have a corporate background, I was an account executive. I did sales for Fortune 500 corporations. My background is more in business and sales so it really meshes with my personality to work in corporate owned parks because I just prefer how they do business versus other parks I visited in the past. But that’s just me. Everyone has their own ideas on what works for them. So it really depends on the person.
Tom: In general, in the US, what does a mobile home sell for? What’s an average price?
Rachel: Well, it’s going to depend on the area. I’ve heard from people that they go they can go for a lot, especially on the coast. We’re talking about California or New York. And I’m not in any of those states. I’m in Texas. But for me, I pay anywhere between $10,000 and $15,000. And with my criteria, I look specifically for three bedroom, two bath homes. I don’t go any smaller. I used to do two bedrooms, but now I kind of pass on the two bedrooms because three bedrooms work better for me and the types of clientele I work since they are larger families. It’s going to depend, I’ll be honest. It’s going to depend. And again, a lot of the homes I buy don’t even hit the market.
Tom: Those prices sound amazing. I know that in the US things can vary widely. Like you said, if you’re in California or something, that’s a whole different deal. But again, just looking here, I wasn’t seeing anything. Granted, this is Canadian currency so if you say $15,000 in US dollars, call it $20,000 in Canadian. Here, my small, 70,000 population in Airdrie area, I was seeing anything from $80,000 to $285,000. It kind of shocked me because for $285,000 you can get a house in this town and not pay the lease fee on top of that so I was a little surprised by the pricing. Granted, we have different things going on in Canada too. We never really had a huge real estate price drop in 2009. We’ve always just kind of kept going up, especially here in Alberta, and Toronto and Vancouver as well.
Rachel: Right. That actually just reminded me. I had a student, a husband and wife in California who bought a mobile home in a park for $4,000. It was an off-market deal. I believe it was through internal marketing and talking with the park manager. They got that home from a motivated seller who was behind on the lot fees, I believe. The only thing was the lot rent for the land was $1,000 a month. So it was like, “Y’all need to fix that up right away.” My deal is, I tell the park manager or owner, that I’ll cover the lot rent until the new person comes in and then they can start covering the lot rent. And if they get behind, I will cover it since I do business in the community. That’s pretty much the deal. That was the only thing. But they did get it for $4,000. Those homes are out there. I just think the way you find them may not be so easy as just typing into a keyboard and doing a search on the Internet.
Tom: Yes, definitely, because I didn’t see a lot. Off the top of my head I think I saw four in our entire city. We have to two communities that I know of that have mobile homes.
Rachel: That’s one thing about this business. I don’t want to scare anyone, but it does take a lot of work in the field. One of the things I learned as a real estate investor is that anything I do, I have to do it to my personality. I really enjoy talking with people, meeting with people. I do not like being in the office. I do not like being stuck at a computer all day. That’s just my personality so the marketing methods I use work for me. I’ve met other people that have had real good success with direct mail because you could do this with direct mail. You could do this cold calling too. It really depends on you—what works for you and what doesn’t work for you. Something that works for me may not work for someone else because of the personality.
Tom: When you talk about cold calling and direct mail, do you mean to talk to people in the park to see if they’re interested in selling?
Rachel: Yes. I know people who do that. It does take—you know, that old saying, “You’ve got to hit them seven times,” meaning they’ve got to see your message seven times. It does take a lot of persistence and follow up. If you’re the type of person who can keep up with that, then it could work for you. It’s the same thing with cold calling. People who are mobile home owners, that could work for you. It’s worked for other people. I’m not going to say these other marketing methods don’t work. It’s just what works for me is really networking and talking with people which may seem more involved than that. But it really depends. To me, direct mail… Oh, my gosh, that’s so hard for me keep up and track. I have tried it, but it hasn’t worked for me.
Tom: Now, I should say, even though I found one as high as $285,000, I would say the average was about $160,000. While that still sounds like a lot compared to yours, if you happen to live in this area and you’ve got a job here and do not already in a house or anything, it’s still a starter home. Someone’s going to value that as an opportunity for them. Especially if it’s through someone like you that gives them this lease to buy option where maybe they don’t have the right credit score for a mortgage. Maybe their income is not that high yet. There’s a lot of positives I could see where even at a much higher price (right here) it’s still the entry point which isn’t available in a lot of other ways.
Rachel: Right. And this business is so people based. You’re really selling yourself. Whether you work with the park manager, the park owner, or people who want to buy the home, it’s all based on trust. And it has to go both ways. You have to trust who you’re working with and they’ve got to trust you too. And you’ve got to be genuine. One of the secrets to my success is I have to be open and work with people who are honest and upfront as well. If I have a bad feeling about someone, it doesn’t matter if they’re selling me a mobile home and they’re asking something really low, like around $2,000. And I’ve bought a mobile home for $2,000 before which turned out to be a nightmare. But that’s another story. It really depends on the person. Is this person honest? Is this person upfront? Because if not, and I have a bad feeling, no matter how good the deal sounds, it can hurt me in the future and I really don’t want to deal with that because that’s going to be more wasted time and more wasted energy in the future. And I’ve been down that road before. That’s for sure.
Tom: Well, thanks for taking us through all these steps. I think it’s very interesting. If someone is looking at real estate investing but not ready to invest in a full-sized house or they want to take advantage of the fact that they can get someone that is more likely to rent and they’re more likely to stay there, then I think this is a great opportunity to look into. One quick question before I let you go. You mentioned this is kind of a niche thing. Is it still sort of unknown? It seems like there’s a lot of talking to people and it’s not just on the real estate sites.
Rachel: Yeah, this is basically one of those things that if you want to get into it, you just really have to research how it’s done. There’s several books on the subject of mobile home investing. And there are mobile home investing, investor communities around this. You just have to kind of get into it, so to speak. And if you do decide to do it, you’ve got to look in your own community to see what communities are out there. Where are these mobile homes sitting? You’d be surprised, they could be closer to you than you think. You just haven’t been looking. Then when you do look, take the time to research the market, get to know these communities, what’s selling, what’s not selling. Just go from there building up your network.
Tom: And you mentioned at the beginning of the episode, the Eight Mile perception that people have. I had that too. Long before the movie, it just seemed that any time I knew someone there (in a mobile home park) they were in tougher financial situation. But then my aunt and uncle did the very Canadian thing of spending their winters in Florida. They were in this retirement community that was all mobile homes. And I realized this was actually pretty nice.
Rachel: So do they enjoy their stay there? Did they like it down there?
Tom: They bought a place there and it actually works really well for snowbirds because you don’t have to buy the property. You’re renting the property. But they’re buying the place and the way I understand it is, it gets around a few Florida laws about Canadians investing in real estate.
Rachel: Right, right.
Tom: Thanks for walking us through all this. Can you let people know where they can find you?
Rachel: Sure. The best way to find me through my website, adventuresinmobilehomes.com. On there, I’ve been writing about my adventures and stories of mobile home investing since 2007. I also have a podcast. It’s also called, Adventures in Mobile Homes with Rachel Hernandez. And one last thing…If you want a link, I have a book that’s also called, Adventures in Mobile Homes.
Tom: It’ll be really easy to find, but yes, we’ll put it in the show notes as well.
Tom: Thanks a lot for being on the show.
Rachel: Thank you so much for having me. I appreciate it.
Thanks, Rachel, for giving us a look inside your business and for shedding light on a type of investing that not a lot of people know much about. You can find the show notes for this episode at maplemoney.com/148. Are you new to the Maple Money Show? If so, I want to thank you for listening. In case you weren’t aware, you can watch videos from any of our top episodes over on our YouTube channel. If you’re interested, head over to maplemoney.com/youtube. Make sure to like the video and hit the subscribe button. I really appreciate the feedback I receive from my listeners and want to thank everyone that’s taken the time to email me or share their favorite episode in a tweet. It keeps me motivated to keep bringing new guests and great topics. Thanks for listening and we’ll see you back here next week.