Archive for February, 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.

Grand Conspiracy or Near Perfect Storm?

Saturday, February 20th, 2010

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?

…oft whispered but rarely penned, till now…

OK, here it is! The grand c o n s p i r a c y or, if you prefer, ‘near perfect storm’, to regulatorily and financially ease HUD Code manufactured housing out of existence, out of the factory – built housing milieu altogether! This is not a novel intrigue or surprise economic event for the manufactured housing industry. Nor should said
c o n s p i r a c y, if indeed that’s what it is, be taken lightly because it’s been hinted at before. As’ The Near Perfect Storm Manifesto’ theorized recently; housing shipment – wise, we’re rapidly winding down to ‘zero HUD Code manufactured homes before the end of the present decade’! More on this dismal prediction later.

Disclaimer. This grand c o n s p i r a c y or ‘near perfect storm’ divulgence
was researched and penned using written and verbal communications with numerous and various manufactured housing industry business leaders and successful entrepreneurs. Intentionally, no interviews were conducted on
this timely and sensitive subject, with any elected or salaried leaders of the Manufactured Housing Association for Regulatory Reform (‘MHARR’) or Manufactured Housing Institute (‘MHI’)! GFA

From an historical perspective, manufactured housing’s grand
c o n s p i r a c y has been whispered since the late 1970s, coinciding with implementation of HUD’s infamous national, federally preemptive, performance – based building code circa 1976. Upon entering the manufactured housing business in 1978, it was ‘splained’ to me, that left unchallenged and unchecked, HUD’s design demands would price this affordable housing product right out of existence! Well, that didn’t happen. If anything, manufactured housing industry aficionados managed, to their credit, to make ‘lemonade out of a (regulatory) lemon’, by taking national housing market advantage of the federally preemptive nature of their unique factory – built housing product, to Sell More Homes! One might also view this beneficial switcheroo as the industry’s first inaccurate weather warning of an impending storm.

Next indicator of a grand c o n s p i r a c y, or ‘storm warning’? This from an industry veteran who participated in an early futile attempt to achieve housing equality: “You’re right about the c o n s p i r a c y; we learned it for sure when we lost ‘frame removal’ in the early nineties. Not sure we can stop it (c o n s p i r a c y), unless we’re an economic power to deal with – which we are not. So, probably the ax (sic) will fall, unless we move ourselves first, and become a part of traditionally supplied housing.” NB. The ‘frame removal’ defeat, along with the Hiler Amendment (The industry’s first legislative initiative to modernize the HUD Code) falling to internal political skullduggery, were motivating precursors to drafting and enacting federal legislation: the Manufactured Housing Improvement Act of 2000, a.k.a. ‘MHIA@2000’, designed and intended to give HUD Code manufactured housing a level playing field with traditional, site – built housing. More too on ‘MHIA@2000’, later.

Then there’ve been these perennial questions: Which has served manufactured housing better or worse; the watchdog (Some opine ‘junkyard dog’) tactics of ‘manufacturer only’ focused MHARR & its’ lone executive over several decades; or, repeated and ongoing attempts at regulatory – related consensus – building by MHI, representing all segments of the industry (Referred to, by MHARR, as ‘the aftermarket’) & its’ four different executives during the same period of time? And what overt and covert roles have either or both advocacy bodies played, and or continue to play, relating to grand c o n s p i r a c y maneuvering or stormy weather making? *1

Finally. Manufactured housing shipments, during the period 1978 thru 1998, remained stagnant at about 250,000 homes per year, never again coming close to the 575,940 shipped during pre – HUD Code 1972. And it wasn’t long after HUD Code housing’s mini – renasance in 1998, when 372,843 new homes were shipped, that chattel (personal property) financing all but disappeared, and grand c o n s p i r a c y talk resumed as ominous storm clouds gathered, all the while we worked (reselling) our way through hundreds of thousands of repossessed manufactured homes.

The first time manufactured housing c o n s p i r a c y appeared in print, that I’m aware of, occurred a couple years ago when Tennessee MHRetailer and landlease (nee manufactured home) community owner Dick Moore, in his business newsletter INDUSTRY PERSPECTIVES, floated the alleged connivance on everyone’s mind. And guess what? Besides relief that someone finally said and penned the ‘C’ word, there was near immediate response from one MHIndustry leader (manufacturer), intent on disabusing Dick of any possibility of such a radical notion! And frankly, he might have been successful to that end, if it didn’t turn out his overture was followed by not one, but two additional personal assurances from other executives within the same large firm. Hmm. The c o n s p i r a c y plot appeared to be thickening…

Be that as it may, what are indeed key factors apparently contributing to manufactured housing’s grand c o n s p i r a c y or ‘near perfect storm’ talk today? Not in any priority order, here’re some obvious and obscure indicators:

• Department of Housing & Urban Development (‘HUD’) now headed by a political appointee tapped from the real estate mortgage (Think conventional single and multihousing finance here versus chattel or personal property variety) side of the national housing scene. And HUD continues to stonewall, after ten years, Congress’ intent, in the ‘MHIA @ 2000’, to have a non – career appointee head the Manufactured Housing Consensus Committee (‘MHCC’), not a career bureaucrat! Now, for the first time in its’ history, the MHCC is devoid technical expertise from the aforementioned MHARR or MHI trade bodies! And there’s more that could be said of HUD’s role in this sorry scene….*2

• Trend analysis of the 39.2 percent decline in new home shipments, from 2008 thru 2009, when applied to years remaining until 2020, demonstrates only 215 HUD Code homes will be shipped that year! If so, the manufractured housing industry will be dead! Or, a similar declining trend analysis, among years 2007, 2008 & 2009, demonstrates, by year 2020, we’ll be shipping only 3,000 new homes. At that level, the manufractured housing industry might as well be dead! Get the point?

• There’re three laws ‘on the books’ that aren’t presently functioning as intended. One has to ask ‘Why’? Why no full implementation of MHIA@ 2000? Why no progress on Duty to Serve (private financing)! And why the perennial delaying tactics, effectively neutering FHA Title I, now a.k.a. ‘The $$$ Promise that isn’t & likely never will be!’ Grand c o n s p i r a c y anyone? Or, just another indicator of a ‘near perfect storm’?

• Then there’s the nearly 50 percent national manufactured housing market share; increased national political influence per presidential election of 2008; an effective cornering of remaining chattel (personal property) finance market; and, recent foray into realty mortgage (Think landlease, nee manufactured home, communities!) financing – all by one extended family of firms! The seminal question that begs asking: ‘Is all this Good or Terminal for the HUD Code manufactured housing industry as we have known it till today?’ *3

• Add to this, curious but quiet corporate memberships and past employment relationships, among various national homebuilder, real estate, and manufactured housing advocacy bodies, and one wonders where personal and business loyalty might end, before career legerdemain and or political skullduggery begins…

With all that said, what’re possible or probable consequences of manufactured housing’s grand c o n s p i r a c y or ‘near perfect storm’? Clear and murky at the same time; depending on how this potentially nefarious cabal or severe weather event plays out by year 2020 or before!

• HUD has long given the impression there’re other (public) housing avenues it’d prefer to focus on, than continue being the sole federal regulatory agency overseeing an entire business model. Ask yourself, ‘When was the first (and last) time you saw, heard or read of HUD overtly promoting manufactured housing as this nation’s unique homegrown brand of truly affordable, quality, energy efficient, green, transportable, non – subsidized housing?’ Possible end game here? ‘Ah, sweet relief for HUD!’ – and this aftermath of the Law of Unintended Consequences: ‘HUD – related bureaucrats face unemployment when manufactured housing factories close!’

• Certain homebuilder groups have long been a nemesis to factory – built housing, particularly when it comes to protecting highly paid union carpenters from market incursions by inexpensive industrialized housing and housing components. Balderdash you say? Don’t forget the lost off – frame battle of the early 90s cited earlier. The end game here? ‘Ah, no more ‘affordable’ manufactured housing competition. Let housing costs rise again, again, and again!’

• Realty specialists. Hey, I’m in the real estate business and know firsthand how little love is lost between that business model and affordable housing providers; those who deign to help common folk become homebuyers of inexpensive (up to 50% less cost per square foot than new conventional stick – built housing, not including land cost), attractive, comfortable, energy efficient, often factory – built housing! And since the U.S. Supreme Court recently opened the door to manufactured housing marketing access to local realty board Multilisting Services; well, here’s this end game: ‘Ah, there goes the competition on two fronts!’, when HUD Code manufractured housing disappears by Year 2020!

Any idea how ‘what’s left of the manufractured housing industry’ will look post grand
c o n s p i r a c y or after the ‘near perfect storm’ passes? Easy to envision four or more possibilities:

• Like the automobile industry at the turn of the 20th Century, further consolidation among today’s remaining home manufacturers will segue from several ‘dozen’ to maybe a few; specifically, one very large firm and a dozen regional, privately – owned, solid enterprises. They’ll continue to ‘ship’ (Don’t look for even these survivors to ‘keep score’ by tallying ‘home sales’) say, 40,000+/- HUD Code homes per year post 2020.

• Wholesale switch from HUD Code manufractured homes to modular homes

• Enter some sort of hybrid home; borrowing features from the HUD Code housing product, mating same with characteristics of other types of factory – built housing, as local or national building codes allow or demand. But no more HUD Code manufractured housing market stigma!

• And this, not – so – novel suggestion, by another 30 year industry veteran intent on surviving the grand c o n s p i r a c y or ‘near perfect storm’: “Assume the manufractured housing industry settles into two manufacturing segments, driven by available financing. Primarily, multisection product for land and home installation (conventional realty financing); and, singlesection product for siting in landlease communities, i.e. filling vacant rental homesites and upgrading older homes, using chattel (personal property) financing.” SR. (Lightly edited. GFA) But ‘Ah, there’s that perennial bugaboo: financing by type, availability, and volume.’

Any other positive hopes or thoughts for the future that have potential to Save Our Industry!? Sure. But you’ll have to read next week’s blog to learn what they are….

Well, there you have it. This is how manufactured housing’s grand
c o n s p i r a c y, or, if you prefer, ‘near perfect storm’ is viewed by numerous Free Enterprise businessmen and women from grassroots housing markets across this nation, active in all segments of the manufactured housing industry and landlease community real estate asset class. What can you do to comment on this sad state of affairs; maybe proffer an idea or two to ultimately ‘Save Our Industry!’ (‘SOI’)? We’d like to know! Respond to this blog via email, or phone the MHIndustry HOTLINE: (877) MFD – HSNG or 633-4764 or (317) 346-7156.

End Notes.

1. One industry observer opines: ‘Unfortunately, MHARR manufacturers care more about combating bureaucratic BS than saving the industry; (thus preventing) an entire industry (from) addressing its’ strategic future, because they cannot get past their anti – HUD/bureaucrat resentment.’

2. An industry observer, describing the department, suggests: Under performing bureaucrats are shipped to the MH office, the equivalent of HUD Siberia. If you were a power hungry bureaucrat in the department, would you want to be assigned to regulating house trailers? That’s how they see it. They do not believe in the real potential of manufactured housing’ (As quality, affordable, green, energy efficient, non – subsidized, transportable shelter alternative for American home buying citizens!).

3. A contrarian view or simple fact? ‘This firm’s execs go to work everyday, driven to beat the competition, and they are winning. This (firm) understands the retail customer, (while most) manufacturers do not. Manufacturers are competent at counting nails per home, not satisfaction per home.’

Important Reminder. This weekly Official MHIndustry & LLCommunity blog posting just tells only part of what you need to know to achieve a level of success during these difficult economic and business times. If not already a paid subscriber to the new Allen Letter professional journal, access the contacts listed in the previous paragraph today! With your $134.95 annual subscription, you’ll receive a Free copy of the 21st ALLEN REPORT (a.k.a. ‘Who’s Who Among Landlease Community Portfolio Owners/operators Throughout North America!’) – which alone sells for $250.00. March 2010 issue of the Allen Letter professional journal will include the ‘12th annual National Registry of Lenders and Brokers Specializing in the Origination of Acquisition & Refinance Landlease Community Realty Mortgages!’ April issue will include the ‘11th annual ‘Who Ya Gonna Call in 2010?’ directory of several dozen freelance consultants working nationwide in manufactured housing and the landlease community real estate asset class. No other manufactured housing industry trade publication provides more actionable, accurate, and timely business information, by writers active in the industry and LLCommunity asset class, than the new Allen Letter professional journal!

Postscript. If you plan to be in Massachusetts on March 25th, or Springfield, IL., on April 29th, join me at a no – host networking dinner, along with a dozen or more individuals registered to participate in the Manufactured Housing Manager professional property management training and certification class the next day. Not only will there be superb interpersonal networking opportunities at both evening events, but an Open Discussion of manufactured housing’s grand c o n s p i r a c y or ‘near perfect storm’! Don’t miss this firsthand opportunity to make your views and ideas known about this important period of our industry and asset class history! For details, phone (317) 346-7156. And, if you plan to attend the networking dinner, consider staying over and participating in the MHM class the next day? Only costs $250.00 per candidate. FYI! Additional no – host networking & Open Discussion dinner meetings are being planned in Florida, Indiana, Arizona & elsewhere. Read this weekly blog for details and specific locations, or call…

*****

George Allen, Realtor®, CPM®, MHM
Consultant to the Factory – built Housing Industry &
The Landlease Community Real Estate Asset Class
Box # 47024
Indianapolis, IN. 46247
(317)346-7156

ETAOIN SHRDLU

Sunday, February 14th, 2010

ETAOIN SHRDLU*1

A Potpourri of General, MHIndustry & LLCommunity Signs, Jokes, USPs, Reflections about Data Overload & Excessive Social Networking, and the Presaging of a C o n s p i r a c y Theory Many Believe but None Articulate

A (billboard) Sign of the Times’, observed in downtown San Francisco, CA., during the Urban Land Institute’s (‘ULI’) Manufactured Housing Communities Council (‘MHCC’) ‘Think Tank’ meeting in San Francisco this past Fall: ‘I was closer to retirement at 40 than I am at 50!’ How many of us can identify with that?

Joke of the Times. Is your local banker pining for ‘the good old days of 3 – 6- 3’? You know; when he borrowed money at 3%, loaned it out at 6%, and was on the golf course by 3PM.

What’s your business USP? That’s the well known abbreviation, in business marketing circles, for Unique Selling Point, Proposition, Perspective, or Promise! Synonyms? Sex appeal, or ‘Selling the sizzle and not the steak!’. For dentists? ‘Gentle & painless!’ For Starbucks coffee? ‘Handcrafted beverages!’ For churches? ‘Seeker sensitive!’ For Certified Financial Planners or CFPs? ‘Wealth preservation!’ For Don’s Gun Shop? ‘Hi, I’m Don, and I just love to sell guns!’ For multifamily rental properties? ‘Superb curb appeal!’ For manufactured housing? ‘Half the per square foot cost to build! And your landlease (nee manufactured home) community? Fill in the blank: __________

“I see (Twitter) as a kind of time suck I don’t need anymore of. Just too much “I got the most awesome new pair of sweatpants.”’ per Brian Williams opining at time.com. And this from David Hornik, upon observing groups of tech veterans and computer gurus carrying ‘good old – fashioned notebooks’ into meetings, forsaking the digital world for analog. He asks, ‘Why?’ Their answer? Data overload from emails, social networks, corporate wikis and portals, and knowledge management systems! Advantages of notebooks? Faster than laptops; unlimited storage; direct sunlight not a problem; only power management issue is when a pen runs out of ink; no requirement for connectivity; not susceptible to viruses; and highly portable. Hornik’s conclusion? “I’m a firm believer in a laptop in every room and a smart phone in every pocket. But, when it comes to keeping track of priority information, it appears notebooks are becoming the tool of choice for technology’s elite.” (USAirwaysmag.com) Next? Maybe resurgence of The Lead Pencil Club of years past?

Forewarned is forearmed. Be aware of niche investors and ezines, as well as freelance writers and teachers sans bona fide ‘cred’ in the MHBusiness! Some examples. ‘…we lease the park (LLCommunity) from you based on current economics, and then buy your park when the market returns at a price more in line with what you feel it’s worth. In the meantime, we buy and bring in homes to fill vacant lots (rental homesites) and address any other management issues.’ Hmm. Or, how ‘bout self – proclaimed experts, with shaky credentials, telling us online how to operate our businesses? And, for that matter, writers and teachers who ‘no longer practice what they preach’ (i.e. No longer own or actively manage LLCommunities, but continue to ‘tell and teach’ us how to do so.) Here’s how to separate the wheat from the chaff. Ask, how long they’ve been in the MHBusiness and in what capacities, and if they still are; then, request non – partner references along with contact information. And here’s the truth – teller, if claiming regional or national presence in the MHIndustry and or LLCommunity asset class: ‘Which state and national trade and advocacy organizations do you actively support with dues membership, and participate in their industry events as a ‘presenter’?’ For example: MHI & the NCC, ULI & the MHCC, NSAC caucus, annual INRs, even the MHCongress.

Up until now, many have talked about it, but no one I’m aware of, has written about it. What? The grand c o n s p i r a c y to regulatorily (Yep, that’s poetic license.) ease ‘HUD Code manufactured housing’ out of factory – built housing altogether, in favor of – well, you’ll just have to wait to read about that in next weeks blog! All I’ll tell you now, is what’s motivated me to bring this perennial c o n s p i r a c y theory cum reality (?) ‘out of the closet’ into broad daylight! Remember ‘The Perfect Storm Manifesto’ premise blog posting # 61 during November 2009? “Imagine No New HUD Code Homes Manufactured in Year 2020!” Well, that premise spawned strong reaction during the intervening three months; vast majority of which, via email, letters and personal as well as telephone conversations, has agreed with that sad inevitability, even some questioning whether the MH demise date might not be closer to 2015 – if we don’t get access to reliable, copious amounts of chattel (personal property) financing soon! Well, upon returning from MHI’s disappointing (For me, anyway.) Winter meeting in Savannah, GA., last week, a colleague demonstrated how taking 2009 year end total of 49,789 HUD Code homes shipped, then applying the negative performance trend of 2008 thru 2009, on out to year 2020, shows a total of only 215 new HUD Code homes to be shipped nationwide that year.*2 Now that’s motivation to talk about what else, besides lack of chattel financing, might be involved in HUD Code manufactured housing’s continuing death spiral. So, read more about the c o n s p i r a c y in next week’s blog….

In the meantime; have you read the 21st annual ALLEN REPORT yet? It’s available only from PMN Publishing, for $250.00 per copy; or ‘free’, when you subscribe to the new Allen Letter professional journal! That’s right, this ‘Who’s Who Among LLCommunity Portfolio Owners/operators Throughout North America!’ is available nowhere else. (317) 346-7156. And the 12th annual National Registry of Realty Lenders Specializing in LLCommunity Acquisition Mortgages & Refinance will be included as a lagniappe in the March issue of the new Allen Letter professional journal. Order it today!

*****
End Notes.

1. ETAOIN SHRDLU. ‘The twelve letters most often appearing in printed text, arranged in order of decreasing frequency. E, the commonest, appears an average of once every five letters.’ From The Dictionary of Wordplay by Dave Morice.

2. Using negative trend numbers between years 2007 & 2008 & 2009 & 2010, the year 2020 nationwide HUD Code home shipment total is 3,000; way down, again, from the 49,789 shipped during all of year 2009.

*****

George Allen, Realtor®, CPM®, MHM
Consultant to the Factory – built Housing Industry &
The Landlease Community Real Estate Asset Class
Box # 47024
Indianapolis, IN. 46247
(317)346-7156

MY EPIPHANY, and sadly, more…

Sunday, February 7th, 2010

MY EPIPHANY

‘It’s the Issues, Stupid!’ & sadly, more…

What’s an epiphany? It’s ‘a sudden, intuitive perception of or insight into reality or the essential meaning of something, often initiated by some simple, commonplace occurrence.’ Random House Webster’s College Dictionary

First the issues, both macro (‘large, great’) and micro (‘very small’) in size & import.

The macro issue as of February 1, 2010? Amazingly, it’s the same issue today (Now, read this carefully…) as in 1990, when the Hiler Amendment (Our industry’s first legislative initiative to modernize the HUD Code) fell to political skullduggery (Guess by whom?); a decade later, when the Manufactured Housing Improvement Act of 2000 passed, but has never been fully implemented (e.g. Still awaiting the much needed non – career administrative appointee!); and now, another decade later, as manufactured housing ‘fights’ (Wrong word choice there; think instead…) ‘flounders’ toward Free Enterprise oblivion, with bane – like assistance from federal regulators and career bureaucrat(s) at the Department of Housing & Urban Development. The macro issue?

Modernize and segue HUD Code manufactured housing away from its’ trailer heritage of the 1960s,’ mobile home’ image of the 1970s, and manufactured housing identity of the 1980s & 90s, to compete on a level playing field with every other type housing in the U.S.! This is the macro issue that’s failed to materialize in years 1990 and 2000; and now, with dawning of year 2010, unless elected and salaried leaders of this industry bring us together collectively, effectively, and soon, to face known challenges, the micro issues before us today, we’ll indeed fail to survive by year 2020; or as has been said frequently of late: ‘Imagine No New HUD Code Manufactured Homes by Year 2020!’. With that said, what’re the micro issues? List begins here, in no particular order:

• Non – Career Administrative Appointee by HUD
• Residential Fire Sprinklers in Manufactured Homes & Other Types of Housing
• Installation Program & Installation Standards Implementation
• DOE Oversight re MH Energy Standards (Think loss of federal preemption!)
• MHCC Member Composition (No MHARR or MHI staff presence; more later)
• Lack of Secondary Market for Manufactured Housing Sales
• Carried Interest
• Finance (Consumer/Inventory); Fannie Mae & Freddie Mac; FHA Title I Reform
• MHCC/HUD Program
• GSE Duty to Serve Provision
• Weather Radios/disaster Alert Systems
• Formaldehyde – CARB standards
• Energy Tax Credit Extender Legislation
• Pre – 1976 Replacement Home Legislation
• FEMA Emergency Housing Specifications
• FEMA Accountability/Disposal of Temporary Housing Units
• Homebuyer Tax Credit
• Water Submetering
• Frost Free Foundations

So, where to go from here? It’s pretty simple really. Besides motivating and directing our elected and salaried leadership – no small challenge in itself*1; focus their and our attention and action, not inaction, on the macro issue; as well as, identifying, evaluating and confronting, not evading, the micro issues, as new information and legislative initiatives become known and evolve over time! And it’s vital these micro issues be widely and regularly publicized and openly discussed; but no longer in confusing point – and – counterpoint MHARR – MHI Press Release battles played out in the trade press! Speaking of the trade press. Guess how many were represented at MHI’s Winter meeting in Savannah, during early February? One. Our last advertising – supported tabloid, though registered as a Special Guest, was absent; as were all the online ezines and reports. Only the Allen Letter professional journal and the Allen CONFIDENTIAL! business newsletter were represented!

Speaking of the Allen Letter; if we, as an industry, are to continue floundering with two disparate national advocacy bodies attempting to do manufactured housing’s bidding inside the Washington beltway, let’s regularly post their views on macro & micro issues, side – by – side, in the professional journal! The first example of this surprisingly simple, but illustrative, exercise occurred in the January 2010 issue of the business newsletter. What happens if one or both bodies decline to publish their position on a micro issue? Think about it. February’s issue of the new Allen Letter professional journal introduces M.H. Ronin, penname for an articulate, 30 year experienced, and highly motivated observer (No, not me!) of the manufactured housing scene. His/her job is to take MHARR & MHI’s published public positions on macro & micro issues, parse them, then attempt to ‘make sense’ of them for you and me!*2

And here’s the ‘sadly more’ part, referenced in the blog title; my take on what was experienced and not experienced at MHI’s Winter meeting in Savannah, GA., on 1 & 2 February 2010. Bottom line first? I’m no longer confident MHI is worthy of efforts and resources to keep it going as the manufactured housing industry’s primary advocate! Huh? You read that right; so now, by way of explanation:

• Only 108 MHI members, non – members and guests registered in advance to attend this meeting. There were several ‘no shows’, and a few add – ons, like Brian Mills, real estate mortgage originator, now correspondent with Centerline Capital Group in St. Petersburg, FL., and the only RE lender present! MHI’s 2009 Individual (print) Directory contains 650 entries. And did you know? MHI’s 2010 Directory will likely be in electronic format? Anyone ask your preference?

• Manufactured Housing Division meeting featured an agenda containing ten specific micro issues and this macro one: ‘Other Goals & Priorities for 2010 for Industry Recovery!’ Care to guess which issue wasn’t even mentioned during their meeting? Yep; the macro one which coulda – woulda – shoulda address The Near Perfect Storm Manifesto’s premise: ‘Imagine No New HUD Code Homes Manufactured by the Year 2020!’ Why? My guess is manufacturers simply didn’t care to discuss the matter. After all, they shipped 49,000+ HUD Code homes during all of 2009 didn’t they?

• Then there was the less than stirring monologue by William W. Matchneer, III; Associate Deputy Assistant Secretary for Regulatory Affairs & Manufactured Housing at the Department of Housing & Urban Development. Challenged on at least three issues: 1) HUD’s failure to appoint a non – career administrator to replace him; 2) restaffing the Manufactured Housing Consensus Committee (‘MHCC’) so there’s no MHARR & MHI technical staff representation on this body for the first time since its’ inception ten years ago; and 3) ‘Why change the rules by which the MHCC functions now?’ Responses? Not worth repeating. But will tell you this. Post – luncheon remarks were more telling than those from the podium, e.g. “A code body (‘MHCC’) needs an industry expert (staffer from MHARR or MHI) on board to examine and communicate the impact of code changes on the MHIndustry!” Guess which advocacy body no longer has anyone on staff with technical expertise? And this, from individuals who insisted on speaking privately: “Thanks for asking the hard questions most of us don’t have the guts to ask!” Faint comfort there.

• Other voiced but unanswered questions from this same meeting? ‘Where’s the much ballyhooed Manufactured Housing Congressional Caucus of years past? Why aren’t they helping us now with our macro and micro issues?”

So, where does all this leave us? For starters, and it pains me to announce this, but I’m not going to waste time and resources organizing and effecting the ‘hinted at’ meeting on February 26th, 2010, at the RV/MH Heritage Foundation Hall of Fame facility in Elkhart, IN. Many reading this blog have been agitating for a National State of the Asset Class (In this case, industry wide) type gathering, a la 2/27/08 in Tampa, FL., to caucus, discuss, agree upon, and widely publish a grassroots – generated Plan of Action to Save Our Industry! So, why no meeting? For the first time in 30 plus years, I’m convinced we do not have national advocacy bodies capable or willing to effectively ‘Carry our coals to New Castle!’, even if we were to create and codify what entrepreneur businessmen and women in this industry and asset class demand they do on our behalf!

Here’s one further example addressing that very point. Is it the Manufactured Housing Association for Regulatory Reform (‘MHARR’) that’s the answer to manufactured housing industry and landlease community asset class travails inside and outside the Washington beltway? No! And here’s why. Read the following paragraph, quoted directly from an MHARR Press Release dated 3 February 2010, one day after MHI’s Winter meeting concluded; then answer the pointed question posed at the end:

“It is…not surprising an increasing number of grassroots industry members
(particularly MHRetailers and LLCommunities), baffled by such delays and
tired of excuses from half of the industry, in Washington, D.C., have become
disenchanted (when) an industry, such as manufactured housing, a leading source
of affordable, non – subsidized housing and jobs throughout the United States,
is being ignored, neglected, penalized and discriminated against in the Nation’s
Capitol – and are looking for strong pressure to be applied in Washington,
D.C. to break this logjam.” (lightly edited. GFA)

The pointed question. ‘How can MHARR apply ‘strong pressure’ on anyone’s behalf, outside HUD Code home manufacturing circles, when every other segment of the industry (e.g. suppliers, financiers, MHRetailers, LLCommunities, and state MHAssociations, a.k.a. ‘the aftermarket, in MHARR’s vernacular) is pointedly excluded from membership in that organization?!’ Accordingly, sufficient ‘strong pressure’ simply isn’t going to occur or come from one shrinking segment of the manufactured housing industry!

So, what’re your views on these end time events, issues and circumstances plaguing the HUD Code manufactured housing industry; and by extension, the landlease community real estate asset class? I’d like to know! Contact me via this website, respond to this blog, or simply phone the MHIndustry HOTLINE: (877) MFD-HSNG or 633-4764 or (317) 346-7156. Again, there’s no meeting planned for 26 February 2010; unless, something unexpected, inspiriting, and compelling (to do so) happens in the meantime..

*****
End Notes.

1. One of the unsolicited responses, to this leadership issue, first raised in the blog: ‘Sarah Palin & ManuFractured Housing!’ put it succinctly: “MHIndustry leaders, & by default – our industry per se, are care – less & leaderless.”

2. To obtain a Free copy of January’s new Allen Letter professional journal, &/or to subscribe to the business newsletter – to also receive a Free copy of the 21st ALLEN REPORT, a.k.a. ‘Who’s Who Among Portfolio Owners/operators of Landlease Communities in North America!’ (By itself, the report retails for $250.00), phone the MHIndustry HOTLINE: (877) MFD-HSNG or 633-4764 or (317) 346-7156, or respond directly to this blog via the community-investor.com website. Never heard of a ronin before? It’s ‘a covert operations specialist with no governmental ties.’ Can you think of a better handle for a columnist writing about a federally regulated industry? Neither could I!

George Allen, Realtor®, CPM®, MHM c/o Box # 47024, Indpls, IN. 46247