Archive for February 28th, 2010

Sequel to ManuFractured Housing C o n s p i r a c y or Near Perfect Storm!

Sunday, February 28th, 2010

ManuFractured Housing C o n s p i r a c y or Near Perfect Storm Sequel…

‘Hey, shoulda, woulda, coulda, folk, it’s high time to stop making excuses ‘bout your facilitating our industry’s soon demise, & support some practical enabling solutions’

Here’re responses to last week’s blog posting: ‘ManuFractured Housing, circa 2020 or before, by dint of a Grand C o n s p i r a c y or Near Perfect Storm?’, from:

“Well crafted and follows the logical path to (manufactured housing) destruction. REAL housing builders sell and construct in accords with their buyers needs and desires, not to their own dreams of bigger baths and kitchens, greeny things, and fancier ‘stuff’. Monuments are for looking, not living. We need a low priced product for landlease (nee manufactured home) communities and scattered site purchases, along with competitively – priced components, to help site builders do more for less!” NB (lightly edited. GFA)

to

“Don’t blame the manufactured housing industry’s decline on a c o n s p i r a c y; blame it on apathy and greed! And this isn’t gong to change until our industry is imbued with some really serious, professional, responsible entrepreneurs able to effect a social cultural environment where our homes and residents are no longer considered inferior” EH

So, is it too late to ‘Save Our Industry!’? Maybe not, if heretofore ‘shoulda, woulda, coulda’ folk get up off their individual and corporate duffs to expose, neutralize, and effectively counter manufractured housing’s grand c o n s p i r a c y ; or if you prefer, salt the storm clouds of this ‘near perfect storm’, by doing the following and much much more…*1

Blogger’s Note. If you’re new to this blog dialog, and are already lost regarding the
c o n s p i r a c y and storm talk of which we speak here, relative to the HUD Code manufactured housing industry, STOP now and read last week’s blog posting identified in the opening sentence of this posting! Go to community-investor.com/blog

Following suggestions, prescriptions, strategies, and courses of action have been articulated and recommended by manufactured housing businessmen and women caring greatly about the present & future prospects of this industry & these respective segments:
Housing manufacturing/distribution, OEM and aftermarket suppliers, chattel and real estate mortgage lenders and brokers, MHRetailers, service firms, landlease community owners/operators, and state manufactured housing trade and advocacy associations.

MANUFACTURERS and LANDLEASE COMMUNITY owners/operators together.

This from a veteran industry observer (not me): “I understand manufacturer resentment (towards bureaucrats) and their need to combat it through the MHARR, but they need to understand the future of the industry is 10 times bigger than just fighting bureaucracy! *2 They need to join forces with landlease community owners/operators, MHRetailers, and lenders, to strategically create a new brand for manufactured housing – just like Starbucks is doing.” *3

We started down this cooperative path during 2008, when Steve Quick, BDM & ‘MHIndustry’s Person of the Year 2010’, of Fleetwood Homes, brought representatives from these two segments together for several in – plant FOCUS Groups, where home design, features and pricing were openly discussed. Then, on 27 February 2009, 100+/- HUD Code home manufacturers and landlease community owners/operators gathered at the RV/MH Heritage Foundation facilities in Elkhart, IN., for an Historic SUMMIT Meeting, and decided to ‘move ahead together’. An enduring result of that summit was the naming of nearly three dozen Business Development Mangers (‘BDM’), manufacturer marketing executives, who immediately started building their firms’ market share of new homes being shipped into landlease communities for marketing, selling, and when appropriate, self – financing. Today, several factories ship at least 50 percent of their production into this renewed and cooperative market! For a free, comprehensive, and up – to – date contact list of all BDMs, phone (317) 346-7156.

Next significant and somewhat parallel development, relative to this key inter – segment cooperation occurred as several Midwestern states (IN, OH & IL) planned and hosted day long Super Symposiums, where BDMs and landlease community folk gathered for home sales and finance seminars. Jim Keller, veteran manufactured housing specialist with Indiana’s IMHA/RVIC, was the first to plan and host these events during 2009. When new HUD Code homes, specially designed for in – community placement, were added to the mix at the 18th annual International Networking Roundtable in Chicago, and at a similar GMHA – hosted event in Forsythe, GA., during the Fall 2009, the program morphed into a ‘Super Symposium & Showcase of Homes!’ Next such event is scheduled for 30 & 31 March 2010, in Albany, NY. Interested? Phone Nancy Geer at (518) 867-3242. Be there! I will be! Has your state gotten onto this promotional bandwagon? Perhaps you should more than suggest they do so, the sooner the better!

A third manifestation of manufacturer and landlease community cooperation occurred, again during the aforementioned International Networking Roundtable, during a wide ranging discussion of what specially – designed homes, for landlease community placement should look like and contain, by way of specifications and features. Consultant Don Westphal suggested manufacturers and landlease community owners/operators henceforth refer to this variety of specialized product (e.g. singlesection and multisection models), collectively, as Community Series Homes or CSH, a new trade term that has stuck. In fact, when one contacts any of the aforementioned 30+ BDMs, and mentions Community Series Homes, he/she knows exactly what you’re looking for in a new HUD Code manufactured home! For more information on CSH read the January 2010 issue of the Allen Letter professional journal (317) 346-7156, or phone Don Westphal @ (248) 651-5518 and ask him how this differs from the Community Series Home of the 1990s.

And, it appears there’s a fourth manifestation of manufacturer and landlease community cooperation in the works: in – house manufacturer programs featuring floor plan and retail (chattel/personal property) financing, for either favored landlease communities (e.g. property portfolios buying multiple homes at a time), and or long time, valued customers. Actually this is not such a new concept, just not widely known or publicized. During the next few weeks, as details of these manufacturing/financing – and sometimes, ‘captive insurance’ programs (e.g. in TX & IN, for starters), are documented, they’ll be shared in this blog column! So, continue to visit community-investor.com/blog every Monday to learn more and more….

LANDLEASE (nee manufactured home) COMMUNITIES on their own…

Marketing, selling and self – financing new and resale home transactions on – site? Then, by all means, take the time to do it right at each of the three stages of the process! Don’t even start marketing new or resale residences until calculating the affordable ‘price point’ for your local housing market, defined by postal zip code (Using the Area Median Income or AMI, available at zipskinny.com), and or Annual Household Income (‘AHI’) of prospective homebuyers, either individuals or households, who walk in the door of your on – site Information Center! Don’t know how to do this? Visit the Manufactured Housing Institute’s website for the National Communities Council (‘NCC’) division: mhcommunities.org and read ‘Setting Right Site Rent & Housing Price Points’ in the Community Connections newsletter featured there. Or, telephone Thayer Long at (703) 558-0678 for assistance in accessing this very helpful ‘How To’ piece. Same about rental homesite rates! Rent rate must be in sync with the local housing market, usually 1/3rd the amount charged for largest conventional apartment unit available in same local housing market, or face being ‘priced (rent wise) out of the market’, or, just as bad, force prospective homebuyers to buy less house than otherwise possible. For ‘free’ copies of two recently updated, enabling do – it – yourself forms, ‘The EQUALIZER Formula’ & the ‘Ah Ha! & Uh Oh! Worksheet!’, telephone (317) 346-7156.

NOT interested in marketing, selling and or self – financing new and resale homes on – site in your landlease community? Then relearn the fine, but since year 2000, ‘lost art’, so to speak, of ‘Caring and Feeding MHRetailers!’ Seriously. Prior to year 2000, or thereabouts, when third party chattel (personal property) home financing ‘went away’, thanks to widespread abuse during the previous decade, landlease (nee manufactured home) community owners/operators routinely – if they really cared about achieving and maintaining high physical occupancy on – site, visited all local, reputable, MHRetailers (nee street or boulevard dealers), each month, with one agenda in mind: ‘Be the first, and hopefully only, landlease community a MHRetailer would have in mind whenever he/she sold a new or resale manufactured home!’ How was that accomplished? Well, just showing up and being friendly, was usually a major jump on one’s competition. But, add to that:

• Leave a supply of well – designed and attractive business cards in a highly visible location within the retail sales center! Really skilled property managers always sought to make their card a ‘keeper’, by putting a sketch map on the back if property was off the beaten path; a list of five to 10 reasons to move into their particular property, even a mini – coupon offering ‘One Month Free Rent – once home is installed on – site and skirted.’ – with an expiration date. Get the idea?

• Leave a supply of well – designed and attractive tri fold brochures in a highly visible location within the retail sales center! Use two or more photos of really nice homes on – site (Oft times, Home of the Month contest winners who’ve granted permission to showcase their home!), along with a sketch map on how to access the property, a list of reasons for considering said community, any move – in incentives presently in place, and certainly all appropriate contact information – particularly a website address if available.

• Prepare a photo collage on 2’X3’ or larger, heavy gauge cardboard or thin plywood. Here the property can really shine! Use 5X7, even 8X10 color photos (Again, taken of Home of the Month contest winners!). Mention any move – in features. Maybe even add a pocket, of some kind, to hold a supply of tri fold brochures. Of course, before going to all that expense, secure MHRetailers permission to put this in a high traffic area at the salescenter. While maybe best to mount this on a wall, using a small easel just inside the salescenter door works well too. Also decide which MHRetailers to do this with; one or all, if interested?

• Occasionally obtain ‘premium gifts’ bearing the property’s name, logo, and some contact information, for distribution to local MHRetailers. Possibilities include: coffee mugs with trigger handle, plastic pencil holders and matching tablet holder (good combination if you own/manage two properties needing homes on vacant sites), paperweights, and a personal favorite: either leather or vinyl covered 8 ½ X 11 tablet holder with inside pockets – and property’s logo embossed on outside or inside front cover. As MHRetailer is demonstrating product, carrying ‘your’ notebook, what will likely be the first landlease community he/she thinks of when a customer indicates they’re ready to buy? The one embossed on the nice notebook, holding some of your business cards and or tri fold brochures on the inside. Best of all; this really works!

• Invite MHRetailers, one at a time, to visit the subject landlease community! Drive them around the property, pointing out all its’ positive features. Take them to lunch; advance your business relationship! And, when needing outside judges to select Home of the Month Contest winners, invite these same MHRetailers to return and do this honor…after using editor of local newspaper and mayor of the town.

• Yes, and there’s even more a conscientious landlease community owner/operator can do to ingratiate (or, in one significant way, alienate) oneself with local housing market retailers. In the first instance, make referrals to MHRetail salescenters whenever possible; clearly know which way the ‘supply and demand’ wind is blowing, relative to whether local practice smiles or frowns upon ‘bird dog fees’ between parties – and specifically who said fees should be paid to when earned. And in the latter instance (alienation), while it probably goes without saying, Know that if the LLCommunity Routinely Markets & Sells New Homes On – site, There Generally Won’t be Much in the Way of Move – ins Coming From Local MHRetailers! This stems from their fear of losing qualified customers to the community, when referred prospective homebuyers visit on – site to select a rental homesite.

INDEPENDENT MHRetailers

There’re approximately 10 percent remaining independent MHRetailers from HUD Code manufactured housing’s last heyday, a too short – lived renascence, occurring roughly between 1994 and 1998 or 2000. At the time, many independent MHRetailers were acquired by mega – manufacturers, in a mad grab for market share and self – preservation. Many or most of the absorbed salescenters are shuttered today; and some of the firms that exercised the ill – advised acquisition strategy are in bankruptcy, or now part of other manufacturers. Many MHRetailers answered the siren song, to become general contractors, and compete for market share with site – built housing developers, believing the ‘bigger box = bigger bucks’ land – and – home mantra was the sure route to financial success. And today, while many of these salescenters too are shuttered, other MHRetailers have adjusted to changing market and financial conditions and survived. A major difference, between now and back then? While every local housing market is different, in a number of ways, there’s really only a modicum of MHRetailers routinely chasing after landlease community placements; in part, because so many properties – particularly those in portfolios, are marketing, selling and self – financing new and resale home transactions on – site; and frankly, many MHRetailers are still enamored with the land – and – home business and or have forgotten how to engage in landlease community infill.

What to do about this near – survival state of affairs? Well, the company stores (i.e. MHRetailers owned and or closely affiliated with one or two of the remaining major HUD Code home manufacturers) will likely survive, given their symbiotic relationship with manufacturers. But what about everyone else?

While there’s been a National Retailers Council (‘NRC’) in place, with the Manufactured Housing Institute (‘MHI’), for nearly as long as the aforementioned NCC, until the NRC became a full – fledged division within the institute, it was unable to join direct dues paying members. While that’s changed, and the council cum division is growing in membership size, albeit slowly; now a new and separate initiative is afoot, proposing a more aggressive stance, representing independent MHRetailers, more so than ‘company stores’. For more about this ‘alliance of smaller HUD code home manufacturers, independent MHRetailers, and the suppliers who serve them’, visit MHIdea.org/What Now. Add to this mix, some cutting edge chattel finance thinking by a third party finance firm, along with specialized seminar offerings teaching attendees how to raise housing finance funds from private investors, how to prepare for impending finance regulatory restraints; and the seeds of a MHIndustry rallying opportunity are present!

FINANCE.

OK, almost everything that precedes this paragraph is for naught, without reliable, affordable, continuing sources of funds for chattel (personal property) finance for new and resale manufactured housing transactions. At this writing, FHA Title I remains a ‘pipe dream’ smoked by GSE’s reluctant to connect with our unique brand of factory – built housing. Just about ‘the only game in town’ is the self – finance reality, a.k.a. ‘captive finance’, engaged in these past ten years by landlease community owners/operators using excess cash flow from their properties, growing – among the 500+/- portfolio ‘players’ alone, from a few million dollars in ‘carried paper ’in year 2009, to more than 3 ½ billion dollars by the end of 2009. *4 And there’s now also the new opportunity, hinted at in the previous paragraph, to learn How To raise investment funds to finance home sales transactions in the MHRetail salescenter and or landlease community business environments.

*****
Next week’s blog posting (#76), will feature ‘A non – FHA Title I Model for Manufactured Home Finance’, along with practical suggestions for national initiatives to Save Our Industry from the Grand C o n s p I r a c y or Near Perfect Storm! A couple salient hints: In part, these suggestions will involve, once and for all, getting a firm handle on the slippery concept of ‘affordable housing’ & ‘housing affordability’, ideally leading to a true and timely Ah Ha! epiphany we should and can parlay as ‘the compelling reason prospective homebuyers should look to HUD Code manufactured housing first’! And, to grow ‘that brand excitement’ it’ll be absolutely necessary to finally have a working secondary market in place wherein present manufactured home owners can effectively market their homes when preparing to buy new! What’s that secondary market to look like? Well, guess you’ll have to read blog posting # 76, or one to follow!

Just in case you don’t yet realize it; those of us who work fulltime, especially those who own manufactured housing – related businesses and income – producing properties, are living in truly exciting and challenging times! There’s nothing ‘fun’ about what we’re going through right now. But unless you’re ready to ‘throw in the towel’, and I – for one, hope you are not, it’s by thinking, sharing, working together via this Official MHIndustry & LLCommunity weekly blog, the monthly Allen Letter professional journal, the Allen CONFIDENTIAL! business newsletter; along with communication media from MHI, emails from MHARR, Dick Moore’s INDUSTRY PERSPECTIVE, and other on and offline avenues, that we’ll be able to work together towards the common goal to Save Our Industry!

Caution! Be aware of new names, and heretofore unknown entities, suggesting their ‘fresh blood’ and claimed expertise, are the answer to manufactured housing’s woes. We’ve all heard that siren song before; but where are those distracting sea nymphs today? Yes, there is indeed, good, new, even valuable information, products and services available to us today; simply, use wisdom when sorting out and evaluating golden opportunities, ability, experience and motivation – from dross, on the part of those offering answers….

Do continue to voice responses to these blog postings, making helpful suggestions, sharing good ideas, and generally keeping me informed, the way you have been doing to date – and we’ll be a long way towards that highly worthwhile, self – preserving end: Save Our Industry! As many of your peers have already done, once and for all, separate yourself from the ‘shoulda , woulda, coulda’ crowd!

End Notes.

1. ‘shoulda, woulda, coulda’? ‘We ‘shoulda’ done something ‘bout HUD Code manufactured housing’s problems before this; and we ‘woulda’, if we’d had united national leadership and employed sufficient resources, so we ‘coulda’ fought cost – adding regulatory encroachment, & design/build affordable, quality, energy efficient, green, non – subsidized, transportable housing for our traditional clientele, versus. competing for market share with expensive site – built housing!

2. Manufactured Housing Association for Regulatory Reform

3. Quoted from blog # 70: ‘Stealth Starbucks & ManuFractured Housing!’ During mid – 2009 “…Starbucks tried to avoid being judged by its’ own label by opening its’ first unbranded coffee shop. The ‘stealth Starbucks’, as the distinct Seattle outlet immediately became known, is decorated with ‘one of a kind’ fixtures and, unlike regular Starbucks shops, customers are invited to bring in their own music for the stereo system, and their own pet social causes for the message board. The only hint of branding is the fine print on the backs of menus. ‘Inspired By Starbucks.’ After spending two decades trying to blast its’ logo onto every conceivable surface, Starbucks was now trying to escape from its’ own brand!” This passage in turn quoted from ‘No Logo (the book) at 10’, in Baffler magazine.

4. Source: 21st annual ALLEN REPORT, a.k.a. ‘Who’s Who Among Landlease Community Portfolio Owners/operators Throughout North America!’ Published in January 2010 issue of new Allen Letter professional journal. Available for $250.00 per copy, or ‘free’ with a $134.95 annual subscription to the newsletter. Telephone MHIndustry HOTLINE: (877)MFD-HSNG or 633-4764 to subscribe.