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Posts Tagged ‘FEMA’

A Much Better Way for FEMA, Taxpayers, Says Manufactured Home Industry Professional

September 17th, 2017 No comments

I expect that all manufacturers, while agreeing with The Stafford Act, believe there is a much better way. Respect for the taxpayer certainly does not appear considered with many government purchases. 

To serve those affected by disaster, we should, but most believe we can:

Save the taxpayer money with an adjusted set of requirements, to build MHU units via the HUD code but omit the sprinkler system requirement and many other overreaching requirements. The savings are significant.

ControversiesErruptFEMAPressesHUDCodeBuildersManufacturedHomeRetailersIndustryProsReactMHProNews

These comments were shared in response to the story linked above, click for details. Off the record comments are a time-honored tradition in media, which we respect. Naturally, MHProNews routinely seeks to discern how valid (or not) a claim may be, and strives to publish only those that meets that discernment process standards. 

Save the taxpayer money by eliminating the need for storage yards through the ability to build with inventory manufacturers know they can procure and build almost immediately. The units could go immediately to FEMAs set disaster location and be immediately deployed. The savings could be significant.

Save the taxpayer money by disallowing MHU units to be pulled wherever, whenever and back again. With the ability to expedite production, this unnecessary transportation can go away. The savings could be significant

Save the taxpayer money through a warranty provision that is not punitive for minor cosmetics. Who cares? What family would be ungrateful for an MHU unit with A few blemishes? The savings to FEMA, would be significant. Manufacturers would not have to hedge.

Save the taxpayer money by streamlining the inspection processes, the IPIAs that are trusted to inspect/approve our industry’s homes that are bought by hardworking Americans with lenders respecting the loans should be able to inspect Temporary housing units. The savings would be significant.

Establish a requirement for care by the residents occupying the unit to protect it, just like any landlord might do. Design the floor plans for resale where the loss for purchase to liquidation is not so excessive.

There is much, much more that could be considered.

It is not FEMA’s money. It is the taxpayers. I believe our industry believes in a better way!

Please keep me off the record. Thanks.” ##

DefiningSICinJournalismDailyBusinessNewsMHProNews-com

iReportManufacturedHomeHousingIndustryMHProNewsTipsLogoGraphic(Editor’s Note: the above is from a respected veteran of the manufactured housing industry known by this publisher.  It came in response to the report linked here. Due to the sensitive nature of his role, he has requested anonymity, which we routinely honor.  The typos are in the original, and we opted not to use the SIC graphic where they occurred. There will be a follow up report on the Daily Business News on a related issue Monday morning, Sept 17, at about 3:04 PM ET. Other reports will follow. )

Moblehome, not Mobile Home

July 9th, 2014 5 comments

Does it not roll off your lips? Moblehome. It has a certain rhythm and melody to it. You can say it as one syllable, and not sound like an idiot.

Moblehome, as in a noble home, not a mobile home.

At one time HUD code homes were the only manufactured homes. Not any more.

Man-u-fac-tured-hous-ing, does not roll of your lips. In fact, it is quite laborious to say, with six syllables and no rhythm nor melody. It’s antiseptic. Moblehome is poetic.

Mobile Home is 100% all-American.

I know it’s crazy and against the grain, but I was in it long enough to spout off about it.

Mobile Home should not be a four letter word anymore.

I started in the mobile home finance business working for GECC in Dallas, in 1971, directly for Harry Gilmore, who worked for Fred Wiesenberger, who worked for Scott Conroy, my maternal uncle. Sometime prior to that, Uncle Scott had convinced General Electric to create a “Special Products” division of General Electric Credit Corporation, now GE Capital Corporation, for the sole purpose of offering wholesale and retail financing for mobile home retailers on a national basis.

At the time there were few national lenders, all full recourse, and limited to 84 month retail installment contracts.

I was a mobile home account manager handling about 1500 owners. I managed anything and everything to do with the financed home (primarily collections) from point of sale to completion of contract or repossession, by phone or in person at the residence.

Anyone who was in the business in 1971 knows exactly what kinds of mobile homes were offered to the public. It was not pretty, and in some cases, downright scary.

We all see, on a regular basis, unless you live completely in an urban environment, the vestiges and remnants of the sales heydays of the early 70’s.

There are hundreds of thousands of trailer houses and mobile homes across this country, from coast-to-coast and border-to-border, still in use, well after their intended life span, all pre-HUD, half of them currently uninhabitable by today’s standards, a fourth of them uninhabitable upon leaving the factory, and a fourth of them, like Rollohome, built exceeding the HUD code before there was a HUD code.

The HUD code created a new nomenclature, which has been described by Allen Wallis of

the Natural History Magazine as having four phases;

  • from 1928 – 1940 the travel trailer period;
  • from 1941 – 1954, the house trailer period;
  • from 1955 – June 14, 1976, the mobile home period; and
  • from June 15, 1976 to now, manufactured housing.

Since 1976, we, as an industry, without exception, no matter what sector of the industry one is involved with, as a group, were on a single mission; trying to eradicate all previous terms when describing manufactured housing built to HUD code specifications. It is a valiant and endless chore, perpetually trying to reach the general population, and primarily, our regulators and legislators.

Yet here we are, in 2014, and I still hear on local broadcasting; “trailer,” “trailer house” or “house trailer” and “mobile home,” rarely “manufactured home.”

On national broadcasting, one hears mobile home, an occasional trailer house or trailer park, and rarely, manufactured home.

I see National, State, and County elected officials being interviewed, saying trailer house and mobile home, never manufactured home. Sometimes they will call a HUD home a modular.

I cannot count the times an RV has been referred to as a mobile home, whether it’s a trailer or a motorhome. Motorhome, mobilehome, what’s the difference? Ignoramuses! Are the FEMA trailers ever called anything but the FEMA trailers, even though half of them are HUD code homes and not travel trailers. I doubt you will ever hear, “FEMA manufactured homes.”

I am not saying we have failed, but we sure seem to have a long way to go, after already working on it for 40 years. I have called and emailed I don’t know how many TV stations and networks complaining about their cavalier use of “trailer house” for the last 30 years, although I haven’t called lately. I don’t work in the business any longer, but I do follow it and I do try to educate morons from time to time.

The fact is, the general public has not embraced the term manufactured housing and probably never will. HUD Code manufactured homes are called about everything but manufactured homes by the general public and public officials.

Not mobile home, moblehome, or if you’re nutty about spelling, mobilehome, but one word and when we say it, we are not talking about your grand dad’s mobile home, we are talking about a state of the art, preferred single family residence, blah, blah, blah. I’m not saying give totally up on trying to get the general population to say

manufactured housing, but it’s a slow boat to China. I personally like to say moblehome and I make it perfectly clear I am not talking about a trailer, although the steel is always there, so technically, it’s a trailer with a house on it that trails behind a tow vehicle at some point in its life.

At least we are not called come alongs. ##

ken-haynes-jr-new-mexico-manufactured-housing-association-past-president-manufactured-housing-living-news-com75x75-Ken Haynes, Jr. Please see his commentary on the literally historic and very relevant today document attached to Drawn Quarters – Then and Now.

 

 

(Editor's Note: MHProNews strongly believes that accurate terminology matters, so the thoughts and statements made above are solely those of the writer.

Further, there are points in this commentary that are broad statements that could be construed as technically inaccurate, and should not be taken literally, eg; “half of them currently uninhabitable by today’s standards,” should be read as hyperbole to make the author's point, rather than taken as fact.

As on an issue of industry relevance, MHProNews accepts submissions of articles that may represent other viewpoints. Subject line, “Letter to the Editor” or “OpEd for Industry Voices blog” can be sent to latonyk@gmail.com.) 

2013 CFED-I’m Home Retreat Snapshot

October 20th, 2013 No comments

Following a retreat for Next Step and its Partners, I was privileged to participate in the CFED I'm Home Retreat in Denver. Imagine a “for profit” mind immersed in a “non profit” retreat. It would have been easy to allow your head to spin if the topics discussed were not so familiar.

The Retreat was fully immersed in the role manufactured housing (MH) could play for the working poor as an answer for initial and replacement housing.

George McCarthy, from the Ford Foundation, gave some great statistics about those living in MH and the percentage of those populations in communities. These stats further magnified the continuing role MH communities’ play in general housing and manufactured housing specifically.

However, energies soon were redirected to the discussion on funding, both for inventory and retail; appraisals; placement, yadda yadda yadda.

As Barry Noffziger, from CU Factory Built Lending suggested – if you close your eyes, you could have sworn you were in any MH association meeting. The concerns and challenges seemed to be the same as the “for profit” side of the industry. The plea was to unite in order to facilitate change.

It was an interesting juxtaposition to find myself in the middle of a segment of the industry I knew/know little about; but yet I could appreciate their passion.

Their energy was unbelievable. Positive – glass seemed to be half full everywhere I looked.

Paul Bradley from ROC was there and talked about their success and plans for the future. 

There was a testimonial about efforts to re-house victims in a MH community affected by Hurricane Sandy; flood victims in Colorado and other locations.

Architect Bruce Tolar, of the Katrina Cottage fame, provided an overview on the lessons learned and how the Cottage is morphing for long term housing solutions. It was noted that long after the national news crews left the Gulf area, there are still victims of Katrina struggling to cope with inadequate housing – 8 years following the hurricane – FEMA gone, almost everyone else as well.

chris-nicely-posted-on-mhpronews-comHeck, that was only the first day and sadly, I had to leave. How often do you leave a meeting saying, “I can’t go, I want to hear and learn more."

Curious, the effort in the room was focused on the resident/owner and how MH can deliver more value and provide life with dignity. This, for a segment of the population most writes off as un-qualified buyers.

It was refreshing and left me wanting to know more about what I could do to help. Hopefully, I will get the chance. ##

chris-nicely-posted-on-mhpronews-com-2.jpgChris Nicely
9052 Legends Lake Lane
Knoxville, TN 37922
865.385.9675
cnicely929@aol.com  

Dying to tell the Truth

July 2nd, 2012 No comments

New York Times Columnist, Tom Friedman,  wrote a thoughtful column about the hard truths leaders around the world seem unwilling and unable to tell their own citizens.

Citing problems including the “global credit crisis, the jobs shortage and the need to rebuild Arab countries from the ground up,” Friedman writes that their solutions require “extraordinary leadership that has to start with telling people the truth.”

Unfortunately, Friedman concludes, “that is not what we’re seeing from leaders in America, the Arab world or Europe today.”  A shame, says Friedman, because telling the truth is not only the right thing to do but it also binds people to you and results in their own positive action.

Smart, seasoned gents, like successful manufactured home community owner, attorney, finance expert and consultant Marty  Lavin have been telling us for years: 'MH, we are dying.  Wake up, smell the coffee and take the cure.'

One of Marty's many columns on manufactured housing is linked here.

Marty Lavin has communicated in part:

  • some will make money,
  • we may see FEMA,
  • oilfield boom related or other upticks,

but as an industry we are dying.  Marty has written for us at MHProNews.com, not because he was looking for a new client, but rather because he cares enough about the industry to tell the truth as he sees it.  That's a giving-back form of leadership.

Last year, IBISWorld named MH retailers as among the top ten dying Industries in America, along with:

> DVD, Game & Video Rental

> print publishers

> photo finishers and others. 

Maybe someone with an MH factory may think, it is a shame, but that's ok, I'll sell to communities or developers.  Maybe someone else reading this owns a community and thinks, that's okay, I still have 70%-80% physical occupancy…

…but the point is that if we fail to think of appendages of our industry as important or of value, we could in fact lose even more of the Industry in the process.

Ladies and gents, whatever you do in MH – even if you are profitable – there are warning bells that call for rapid change.   It's great that we've seen a 9 month rise in shipments, but to make that rise long term, business people like yourself will have to take concrete steps, or risk their future in our industry.

Until you fix – at least in your firm in your market(s) – what 's wrong in manufactured housing, sooner or later, you and your business will go the way of the buggy whip.   Who says?  Smart guys like Lavin and others.

Not because we don't have the best housing value in America, but in spite of that fact.

Until we get to the root cause of our issues, we may see bright spots here and there, but overall, individual businesses will be faced with decline.

There are reason why Tony and his team of expert writers and sponsors have built the largest audience of its kind in the industry.  A key part is telling the truth.  A willingness to put the facts or opinions out there, and openly take public or private comments from readers.

When a mistake is pointed out on MHProNews.com, guess what Tony does?  He corrects it, thanks the person for pointing it out.  With thousands of pairs of eyes on his pages daily, that’s a rare form of transparency and accountability. ##

 

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The Manufactured Housing Industry is ready to replace homes in Minot.

September 20th, 2011 No comments

The manufactured housing industry is ready to replace homes in Minot. Manufactured and modular home builders have the unique ability to build homes fast and in large quantity. Many Minot area residents are shopping for new homes, anxious to find something before winter. The area home retail centers are ready to help, but when the customers ask “where can we put these homes?” there are no answers. Why is the government moving so slow to help open lots for these people. Home removal in existing manufactured home communities is a major hurdle. In past press conferences, existing manufactured home communities were identified by FEMA as the fastest way to get people back into their permanent homes.

What is being done to remove homes in these communities that are destroyed? The homeowners in most cases can’t afford or coordinate the removal of these homes and in some cases they have completely abandoned their home. FEMA indicated in a previous press conference that they were looking for ways to expedite the process of removing flooded homes from these communities.

Time is running out. The potential for many homes to be replaced this year in established locations is fading away. The Minot and surrounding area has eight manufactured home communities that were flooded, which represents around 800 lots. These manufactured home communities have to do infrastructure repair and replacement, but the homes must be removed to be able to do that. The government did so much to remove trash and demolition materials from all of the valley neighborhoods, but it seems they left the manufactured home communities to fend for themselves.

Having 800 lots sitting idle through this winter would be a shame. While the government is building lots for temporary housing, 800 lots for permanent housing sit idle. A plan needs to be in place in days not weeks and not months.

Lance Kennedy,

President of the North Dakota Manufactured Housing Association,

Used with permission of

Minot Daily News

Avoiding the Perception and Reality of Discrimination

August 3rd, 2011 1 comment

In a disappointing scenario being played out in disaster-stricken communities across the nation, Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) policies are resulting in de facto discrimination against HUD Code manufactured housing as both temporary emergency and permanent replacement housing.  At the same time that these policies are unnecessarily complicating badly-needed relief for disaster victims, FEMA, on June 7, 2011, hosted a day-long meeting in Washington, D.C. to explore, discuss and otherwise consider the details of a possible “small footprint” temporary HUD Code emergency home design.  Given these two seemingly opposite directions, a good many HUD Code manufacturers, anxious to meet the current pressing need for post-disaster housing with the most affordable, transportable and rapidly deploy-able homes available, while facing historically low productions levels, are starting to wonder exactly what is going on.

What is “going on,” is that FEMA, facing an immediate need for both short-term emergency relief housing and permanent replacement housing in communities where the existing housing stock and infrastructure has largely been decimated, has, for now, seemingly retreated from the use of new federally-regulated HUD Code housing as a primary source of emergency housing.  Instead, displaced disaster victims have been put-up in rental housing as much as an hour away from their former homes, or in non-HUD Code modular units.  Media reports, for example, indicate that FEMA is currently constructing up to 324 three-bedroom modular homes in Kansas City, Missouri, that will be sited on city-owned land in the north part of town, for some 624 Joplin families and individuals in need of housing.

In part, this appears to be a reflection of specific policy choices by FEMA.  In a May 31, 2011 Associated Press article regarding Joplin, Missouri relief housing, a FEMA spokesperson stated, “despite the distance, putting people in permanent housing is preferable to trailers….”  Another FEMA spokesman commented  that “the agency will consider bringing trailers to Joplin if enough existing housing isn’t available.”  Consequently, FEMA policy seems to be that today’s HUD Code manufactured homes, despite serving as “permanent housing” for millions of Americans and being regulated under federal law as residential dwellings and not “trailers,” are somewhere down its list of options to house disaster victims.

In other places, like Cordova, Alabama, FEMA has failed to overrule — or even object to — local officials who have barred the placement and use of HUD Code manufactured homes as emergency relief housing based on local ordinances, even though such emergency housing is provided with federal tax dollars by a federal government that, under the Manufactured Housing Improvement Act of 2000, is supposed to “facilitate the availability of affordable manufactured homes.”  According to news reports, FEMA’s official comment on this HUD Code  housing ban affecting large numbers of displaced disaster victims, was that “it’s a local issue….”  Whether this is an outgrowth of a “second choice” policy for HUD Code housing or simply unwarranted deference to biased local officials, the result is the same — discrimination against HUD Code manufactured housing that hurts both disaster victims and the industry.

In the meantime, against this backdrop, FEMA, at its June 7, 2011 gathering, devoted an entire business day to a discussion — with industry members — of hypothetical “small footprint” one-bedroom HUD Code units that FEMA might be interested in purchasing under a “possible” future contract.  This, in turn, has led to the creation of  task forces, committees, discussion groups and the like, and meetings of those groups, to explore the particulars of such units, while, at the same time, it was apparent from the various FEMA presentations, that there is considerable confusion and disagreement, within FEMA, regarding the most basic aspects of such a unit, including: its size and configuration; its compliance with federal accessibility criteria; possible mandatory compliance with the International Residential Code; the installation and storage of such units; and the possible use of such “small footprint” homes as permanent housing.  And all this is if FEMA goes forward with such an initiative at all — with FEMA officials cautioning that nothing has yet been decided.

The bottom line for now, is that while there is the appearance of discrimination against new HUD Code manufactured housing in the field for both relief and permanent replacement housing, the industry has been left to chew over the details of a possible new opportunity that may be, could be, or might not ever be.  So, what to do?

Let there be no mistake, the industry can and should continue to work with FEMA.  The HUD Code industry has traditionally taken the lead in providing — on a quick, timely and flexible basis — safe, decent and readily deployable relief and replacement housing for disaster victims.  The industry should continue to pursue this role vigorously with FEMA at the policy level, which is why MHARR participated in the June 7, 2011 FEMA meeting and the Association has already started to follow-up on ways that the HUD Code industry can provide even more assistance to FEMA and other government agencies responsible for post-disaster relief.  The HUD Code industry already has the knowledge, know-how and experience to  provide whatever FEMA and disaster victims need.  But it must also address current FEMA policies.  Very simply, FEMA must be urged to change policies that have resulted, effectively, in discrimination against HUD Code manufactured housing and to re-commit to the use of HUD Code housing — of all types — as an equal participant in its federally-funded programs for both short-term emergency housing and permanent relief housing.

In MHARR’s view, the HUD Code industry has long been at the forefront of helping government provide both temporary relief and permanent replacement housing for victims of natural disasters, and with appropriate policies in dealing with FEMA, there is no reason why it should not continue in — and even expand — that role. # #

Danny D. Ghorbani is President of the Manufactured Housing Association for Regulatory Reform.  MHARR is a Washington, DC-based national trade association representing the views and interests of producers of federally regulated manufactured housing.  Danny can be reached at 202-783-4087.

CONSPIRACY or INACTION: Which is to blame?

July 15th, 2011 No comments

by Martin V. (Marty) Lavin

Our Friend

Ah, finally, I was intent on reviewing the innumerable documents, which built up on the computer I had used for several years.  As I scanned the dozens, no hundreds of files in my documents, I came upon some, which stirred memories.  Probably none more than R. C. “Dick” Moore’s “Perspective #61” of July 18, 2008.  Mr. Moore, as most know, is a longtime MH retailer and community owner.  As the spirit moves him, he puts out an occasional newsletter, Perspective.

And what was this memorable missive all about?  Well it was a fairy tale about a mysterious “friend up east” who had MH powers similar to Superman, able to unite the GSE’s, (Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac), Clayton Homes and maybe even Citibank, and Warren Buffett himself, in an effort to stifle all competition for chattel retail lending to the industry.  Wow!  Strong stuff indeed.

The gist of the tale is that our “friend” was paid by the GSE’s to advise them “not to buy MH paper.”  This would also lead to Citibank “pulling the rug” on Origen Financial and Palm Harbor.  Then, as all competition is wiped away, Buffett borrows $2 billion in the market which he deposits in the account of the Clayton Homes’ lenders, Vanderbilt Mortgage and 21st Mortgage.  While the story didn’t as much as make the back page of the Wall Street Journal, I hear Hollywood is interested enough in the story so they’ve spoken to Brad Pitt to play “our friend up east.”

Who is He!

Since “our friend” goes unnamed in the several other Moore Perspectives with stories which mention him, there has been substantial speculation on who “our friend up east” is.  Presumably with all the players involved in the alleged scenario, this has got to be one powerful S.O.B.  Who could it be to wield such power?  It’s not Warren.  He’s “our friend from Omaha.”

Some came forward during this series of Perspectives and had the gall to suggest that I, the writer herein, was the powerful and mysterious “friend up east.”  They have also suggested that Brad Pitt is a good semblance of Marty, and would be perfect for the starring role in the movie, or TV miniseries.  Well, I’m obviously flattered but can I be the mysterious, unnamed “friend up east.”  As H. Ross Perot said, let’s go to the chalkboard to figure this out.

The first clue is that “our friend” has been paid by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to “advise them not to buy MH loans.”  That assertion is partially right.  I did advise Fannie Mae for a number of years on many matters MH, especially about retail chattel lending.  Other than informal, unpaid conversation, which we all have with others, I did not work for or with Freddie Mac.  Nice people and all, but I never did have that paid assignment there.  Too bad.

No Secret

Parenthetically, my assignment with Fannie Me was never secret, no attempt was made to hide it, by either side, and I always had the assignment on my resume on my web site.  So, if I am “our friend up east,” Mr. Moore, who writes that he uncovered that “our friend” was being paid to advise the two GSE’s “about MH paper,” that “secret” information was hiding in plain sight on my web site.  Best place to hide is in plain sight, they say.  And while I counseled caution in buying MH loans, based on MH loan portfolio experience, I never counseled anyone not to buy any loans, only those likely to cause alimentary canal back up.  But that doesn’t establish me as “our friend up east,” does it?

A second allegation is that “our friend” and the Clayton folks were dining together.”  Well, yes Kevin Clayton is a longtime friend of mine, I’ve dined with him contentedly many times, including once in D.C. when I went to the hopper late in the dinner and Kevin managed to convince me when I returned that I had lost in a game to determine who got the check for the night’s dinners.  Since it was a very large group with lots of big eaters and drinkers the tab was well over $1,000.00.  I’d have paid, but . . . . Kevin had the last laugh, he intended to pay all along and he did.  Good boy.

Global Heart Burn

I must admit I did have dinner one night in Omaha, Nebraska with the Clayton folks during the Berkshire Hathaway annual meeting.  Kevin had invited me out as a guest and I was invited to dinner by Keith Holdbrooks of Southern Energy Homes, a Clayton subsidiary, and a whole host of Clayton “Big Shots” were there.  What was discussed at the table that night?  The only memorable discussion I recall is that the table of 12 or 14 people all believed in the myth of man-made Global Warming, except OleMartyBoy, who tried to hold his ground.  With religious fervor the group accused me of my disbelief as though I was skeptical of the Immaculate Conception, an uncomfortable situation for all.   Since that 2008 dinner my vindication is nearer.  But still, every American has the right to an opinion, even an uninformed one, and there are plenty around these days.

So the “dining with Clayton folks” can’t be used against me, unless we were discussing how man-made Global Warming could be used to de-stabilize MH chattel lending.  Can it?  Some would have you believe it can and perhaps that explains the religious fervor at the table that night.

Conspiracy Theory

So why do I go on about this?  Certainly Mr. Moore is not the only MH figure to write about an industry conspiracy.  The estimable George F. Allen, one of MH’s brightest stars, has often brought up the possibility of a conspiracy.  And of course, the conspiracy always centers around Berkshire Hathaway and Clayton Homes.  Fleetwood, Palm Harbor and Oakwood go unmentioned.  The conclusion being that the reason Clayton Homes is the best of what’s left is conspiracy related.  The strong management there, excellent home lines, disciplined retail lending by two of their companies, and the fortuitousness of being owned by cash rich Berkshire Hathaway, apparently account for nothing.  Would or could Clayton Homes be brought down to Earth if their financial backing disappeared?  Perhaps.

And finally, yes I do live in the “east,” Burlington, Vermont, being far east and regrettably, far north.  But let’s go back to the chalkboard and look at facts, not conjecture.  Here are some of the various facts to be considered to explain the industry slide.

  1. The packages of chattel loans originated and sold into the ABS market from 1995 to 2003 are amongst the very worst loans of any type ever sold to investors.  If sub prime real estate is a problem, and it is, MH ABS paper is the Uber King-of-Sub Prime.  Investors are loath to touch these MH ABS offerings, to this day.
  2. While the industry has severe operating model deficiencies, little has been done by the industry to shore up these deficiencies.  Get the same liquidity to the industry it enjoyed in 1995-1999 and securitize these loans, and the result would still be bloody.  Far too little has changed to make much difference.  And investors not always being stupid, know this.
  3. The MH industry is not seen as important enough by government to subsidize its loan losses.  It has been prepared to do so with conventional housing, but not chattel MH lending.  Scream about it if you will, but that’s the way it is.

Subsidy Withdrawn

So, how much easier it is to cry conspiracy than to accept that from 1950 to 1998, when the music stopped, the success of the industry has constantly been subsidized by lenders?  When that subsidy was withdrawn in the late ‘90’s-early 2000’s, the industry tanked.  Yet, I still hear from many “it worked for 30 or 40 or 50 years.”  Worked for whom, I might ask?  It did not work for the lenders, so most have left.

This brings us to the present, with 2011 expecting between 40-50,000 new home shipments, a continuation of a slide of 90% since 1998.  This is serious, right?  Yet the industry response has been anything but serious.  Most industry response has centered around Washington, D.C. activity.  How’s that working for us?

The question for some would be how to return to the 1974-1995 trend line of about 240,000 new home shipments per year.  This avoids the 1969-1973 bulge, during which we averaged 477,000 home shipments per year, and the 1996-1999 period when we were over 300,000 homes.  You know the record since 1998.

Whence the Volume

Let’s look at this return to a much larger industry size for a moment.  One would think that given the facts we know, the 40-50,000 home shipments might be “where it’s at” into the future.  Baring any new flood of “loose” retail lending money, how do we get back to 250,000 homes annually, or even to the 2004-2007, 125,000 homes, give or take?  We can depend on FEMA for some homes, floods, disasters and hurricanes willing, but not too many.  The LLC’s would like to buy new homes, but their forays there with buy here – pay here have not created profit enthusiasm for this model.  Thus we can’t expect much new home volume there.  Retail chattel lending is very constricted, so retailers are unlikely to help with volume.

Title I, the former “great hope” has proven to be a volume dud, not surprisingly so.  Most non-Clayton retail lenders have to stay on the positive side of 700 FICO to survive.  Can’t look to them for much volume, eh?

The Berkshire Group goes deeper, but they ain’t Greenseco re-incarnate.  Only their disciplined lending and strong servicing culture and yes, experience, makes it all work.  They are not about to pump out $6.3 billion in MH loans as Conseco Finance did in one year around 2001-02.  I would guess if the two Berkshire lenders got to $2 billion combined annually that would be a wondrous job.  So even there, not too much excitement either.

This leaves real estate placements of HUD’s, a long cherished dream to go against the site built industry and whip their azz.  We know that isn’t about to happen, no matter how fervent our dreams.  New “easy” lenders coming to the rescue?  Perhaps.  Have you tried to finance anything in your personal life recently?  If you have you well know the absolute difficulty of any sort of success.  Add in our depreciating asset, the manufactured home, and generally scratch and dent credit capability for most of our buyers, and the hope of a new lender exploding on the scene seems demented.  But hey, we all live in hope.  Remember, Tarzan always said, as he went in and out of terrible scrapes, “Where there is life, there is hope.”  Amen.  Just don’t plan your entire business on the return of Conseco, CIT Group, The Associates, Green Point Credit and the others, though heaven knows their return could carry on long enough to shore up my retirement.

Regulatory Guillotines

Unaddressed yet are the new laws affecting lending and the new consumer agency.  I can only make one comment here.  When was the last time you encountered very complex lending laws, licensing requirements, and a super consumer agency which fueled a burst of sales activity for you?  In my time in the industry since 1972, I’ve seen none.  Perhaps the impact of many new laws, such as the very HUD code itself were overstated, but without the HUD we were shipping up to 580,000 homes per year.  Have you seen that many since in one year?

My best guess, and it is only an experienced guess, is that the industry will not be able to roll back the requirement that most industry transactions will come under the purview of one or more of these regulations, will control transactions, and will cause another reduction in HUD volume.  Even as the industry struggles with ways to avoid their prohibitions, the impact is most likely to be substantial.  I do surely hope I’m wrong.

And what will be the impact of LLC owners extending their own financing for the sale, or rent with option for homes in their communities?  Again, like everything, things not done during good times but becoming a fallback during bad times usually have warts on them.  Self-financing may well be a necessity, and I readily accept that.  If you have an LLC with substantial vacancy and the normal financing available will not fill it, one must save themselves, and self-financing, properly executed, can do that.  But, it does not speak to the substantial work and personnel necessary to make it work, the need for your own capital, the ever-decreasing used homes availability, the specter of violating some arcane lending law, and not least, a liquidity crunch which would drive one to try to cash out their loans and find there are no buyers or only buyers with a huge 80-90% haircut in value.  Some deal.  Pay attention here.

LLC Fallback

So one can’t help but think that as the LLC sector, perhaps the most vibrant and last to fall goes through a contraction in numbers, that only well-located communities with a value component to their offering will weather the storm.  It has been happening already, as the supply of used homes dries up, and new homes are found wanting for self-finance, the corn fields which became communities may be headed back to corn fields or for other use.  Wal-Mart, anyone?

If you struggled through reading my “Saving Chattel Lending” you had to ask yourself, “Can it be this hard, Marty?”  I surely ask myself the same question each time I prepare one of these papers.  If it’s going to be this hard, where does one start, and of the umpteen cures I recommend, which are the five most important?  Answer:  I don’t know.  Second answer:  Note that virtually none of my suggested measures have been tried.  The only change in the industry financing model, which is “the” defect, is that we’ve gone from “fogging a mirror” to 700 plus FICO, real credit capability, a completed application, full and adequate documentation and a belief the borrower is qualified in every way to get the loan and pay for the home successfully thereafter.  That is the quantum industry leap, which has occurred, and it certainly increases lender survivability, but has destroyed lender and industry new home volume.  Want to increase home sales volume?  Find a way to attract many more folks with better credit.  Stop building many new HUD code homes and selling them and what do you think the outcome will be for most industry segments?

So I come back to an industry conspiracy.  This all has to have happened because a mysterious, unnamed “friend up east” used his magical powers to convince some very large, knowledgeable lenders to quit MH chattel lending to throw all the volume to just a few special lenders.  Now if only that powerful friend can get SACU, Triad, and USBank to leave the industry, that will be the final step in the conspiracy.

Come Now

Speaking from atop the “Grassy Knoll,” I’d feel better if the industry might look at the known factors, which have brought the industry to its knees, and worked hard to Saving Chattel Lending.  Believing in “The Conspiracy” may let you off the hook of having to do anything, but will do nothing in resurrecting the industry.  It will take far more than conspiracy theory to do that.  # #

Martin V. (Marty) Lavin
attorney, consultant, expert witness
practice only in factory built housing
350 Main Street Suite 100
Burlington, Vermont 05401-3413
802-660-9911, 802-238-7777 cell
web site: www.martylavin.com
email mhlmvl@aol.com

Editor’s Note:  As with Mr. Lavin’s earlier articles, we have honored his request to post his article “as is.”  Read his other articles:

 

PROLOGUE TO SAVING CHATTEL LENDING

June 23rd, 2011 2 comments

WHAT?

When I started speaking with MHMSM Publisher Tony Kovach recently about writing some pieces for MHMSM.com NEWSline, the usual question came up.  “I know you’ve carefully explored in the past your ideas as to the dire condition of the MH industry, but how’s about some solutions, Pal?  Do you have any?”

Ouch!  That question can mean only one of two things; either Kovach has a short memory regarding the eight years of my monthly newsletters and the MHMerchandiser articles I wrote when that great resource was still alive, or, the boy doesn’t or hasn’t read my work.  Do I have solutions, you ask?  Does that mean solutions that “will” work to change things, or suggesting solutions which “might” change things?  I guess mine, of which I have plenty, are mostly in the “might” category.  For as we shall explore, there are no easy or surefire solutions to the industry’s problems.

WHEN?

Since the last home shipments top in 1998, the industry has slid through what I see as three separate phases, below:

  1. Phase One: From 1998 to 2003, the peak of the industry activity ending in 1998 and then starting a pretty aggressive decline.  During this period the industry was convinced this was nothing more than one of the usual episodes of industry disturbances, which had been regularly seen over the previous 50 years.  There was concern, but not much more.  Chattel lending dissolved all during this period, which saw the last of the Greenseco “balls to the walls” lending
  2. Phase Two: 2004-2008   Shipments started to stabilize in the 125-150,000 home shipments per year range, helped especially by frequent hurricane destruction and FEMA using MH as “temporary” housing, which turned out to be 10 years-to-forever housing.  Chattel lenders by this time are winnowed to a small number of able and cautious lenders.  Not many loans under 660 FICO closed, and the industry is starved for more aggressive lenders and lending.  The last great hope is FHA Title I, which is to be the “industry savior,” unless you read the 60+ page Government Accountability Office (GAO) report on the experience of chattel lending under Title I heretofore and the recommendations made to FHA in the report.  Had you done so, as I did, you might not have been so enthusiastic. Still, the industry waxed poetic about this great new lending source, which I hear produced a whole 1900 loans nationwide in 2010. All during that period MHI and MHARR, especially the former, were holding industry leader retreats with the goal of fixing the industry, going so far as to spend $250,000.00, as I recall, on an industry study by Roper Associates.  The “catastrophic” findings of that report led to an impetus to start an industry image campaign similar to the “Go RV’ing” campaign.  That move ended when disparate industry segments clashed as they thought they knew more about how to proceed than the pros we hired, apparently not busy enough in their MH business. But more importantly, when the industry’s “Godfathers” pronounced the campaign as “too expensive”, the movement died.  Amongst those are some still surviving, if not thriving, and several surviving in name only as they went to BK, which does not mean Burger King.
  3. Phase Three: 2009 to whenever.  The industry slides further down to 50,000 annual shipments, even flirting with 40,000, looking for a bottom.  Chattel lending remains ever-more constrained, enough so that many community owners resort to self-financing. Liquidity for loans within the industry is severe, even as Title I lives up to its failure to really fuel any sort of shipments surge, as I predicted well before it began. It seems FHA read the GAO report and heeded the warnings and recommendations therein.  The GSEs rejected “Duty to Serve”, the other industry “savior” as revealed in the Elkhart meeting in mid-2010, and the string is still counting down on the ability for LLC owners to keep vacancies at bay.  One large community owner, who had for years championed self-lending chattel loans to be highly effective, sold off a large package of LLCs producing those loans and the loans therein. Weren’t getting enough loans, apparently. More ominous, several new federal laws and a new consumer protection agency arrived to inject substantial constraints into chattel lending, this on an already overwhelmed industry and one which has not dealt effectively in the past with these types of regulations.  The industry response, as usual, has been to attempt to get released from the provisions of the law which are doing exactly what they were meant to do.  Presumably about the same time Subpart I of HIA 2000 is corrected, so will be those provisions of Dodd-Frank and S.A.F.E. which are biting so deeply.  I’ll be dealing with this in an upcoming Phase Four piece in the future.

HOW?

This prologue is followed by my Saving Chattel Lending article from 2007, written at the height of “what can we do to make it better,” during Phase Two.  I can say with Biblical certainty I did not save chattel lending, but then again virtually none of my recommendations were even attempted.

If you read the whole article, and I applaud you if you do, look at it from this perspective: there are two causes of defective chattel lending, and all recommendations made therein are calculated to try to correct these grievous defects:

  1. The Roper Factors The industry study I already referred to was meant to identify how we were treating our customers, what they thought of the industry, and how to correct our terrible performance.  This is the “Customer satisfaction” component.
  2. Home Depreciation The rapid loss of home value endangers the homeowner, his lender, the community owner, and ultimately the whole industry.  Were our MH financed for a short term, like an auto, then the depreciation might not bite.  But the home deprecation typically is so great and so quick; the entire process destroys any hope of making chattel lending a “main stream” bank product, as the loan repayment term used to finance homes is too long to defeat the rapid depreciation.  But, shorten the loan term, and the all-important affordability factor of MH is destroyed. Rock and a hard place, eh?  This is the good value component.

Don’t believe me on these two most important components?  I’m not surprised, neither did the 50 plus attendees at the Industry Salvation Chicago Meeting in May, 2005.  They did came up with many other answers, all of which were components of these two, which are at the very root of our problems.  Since the meeting never did identify “the” problems at their most basic, no answer was possible, and the cost of a trip to Vegas or Miami beach for OleMartyBoy was squandered getting to the Chicago Airport Hilton, which meeting came to nothing.  Make up your own list and see how basic you can make the industry problem(s). Then start your own list of possible industry cures.

AGAIN

I read my “Saving Chattel Lending” article again for the first time in years.  Virtually nothing has changed except the industry seems to have stopped all organized and concentrated attempts to save itself and the industry cannot and will not succeed unless the industry saves chattel lending, unless you think it is saved at 40,000 shipments. There are now scattered attempts to retrace the same industry steps previously made, mainly by people of short memory, or who didn’t participate before.  These efforts are very likely to come to naught. HIGH FIVES!  # #

June 21, 2011

MARTIN V. (MARTY) LAVIN
attorney, consultant, expert witness
practice only in factory built housing
350 Main Street Suite 100
Burlington, Vermont 05401-3413
802-660-9911 802-238-7777 cell
web site: www.martylavin.com
email mhlmvl@aol.com

email mhlmvl@aol.com

 

SAVING CHATTEL LENDING

By Marty M. Lavin

Manufactured Home MERCHANDISER, December 2007

As I get ready to journey to New York City to attend MHI’s Manufactured Housing Finance Forum, I’m going to propose some measures I think need to be instituted throughout the industry to correct the existing deficiencies of the chattel lending model. I do not believe we can have much of an industry recovery without better chattel (home only) lending especially in land-lease communities, and I have been saying so for years now.

I’m still surprised some folks fail to understand even today that manu­factured home chattel lenders haven’t “lost their nerve” and are not “conspiring” to control the market for lending. No, the reality is far easier to explain. If heretofore (pre-2003) the basics and statistics of manufactured home chattel lending were poorly understood, today that has all changed. While the “smart” industry lenders have continuously updated their loan performance figures, always seeking the keys to more expansive lending while remaining profitable, the general understanding of manufactured home chattel lending still survives today on immense caution. Profitable manufactured home chattel lending is still very much a niche product best practiced cautiously; and therein lies the constraint to increasing the shipments of HUD Code homes.

In order to believe chattel lending is the key to industry growth, one has to reflect with clarity on the inability, so far, of real estate-secured HUD Code transactions to lift the shipments to any extent. As the late 1990s progressed and chattel deliveries first stalled, then plummeted, many in­dustry participants and outside pundits believed conforming and non-conforming real estate mortgaged HUD Code sales, tied to the land, would pick up the slack. That was not to be.

Drop to low levels

While chattel secured homes, placed in land-lease communities and scattered sites were dropping to unimagined low levels, real estate-secured transactions did in fact in­crease slightly, but hardly enough to make up the loss of at least 150,000 chattel financed homes no longer being financed as the “Greenseco Finance” chattel loan model fell from favor, its non-profitability lethal for those using it, and dangerous even to bystanders, especially the borrowers who lost their homes in record num­bers. That episode was a preview of the current subprime mortgage problem.

As we survey the last 50 years of lending on our product, there has been a constant effort to “mainstream” the product. By that, I mean allowing an intelligent lender, with good money availability, at market rates, staffed by average lending personnel to enter the manufactured home lending market, proceed as they might lending on boats, cars or site-built housing and stand a good chance of financial success, creating a lengthy history of profits. This makes a lending product popular with banks, credit unions and finance companies, and spurs industry success. It is indisputable that only successful manufactured home lending can revive this industry. Keeping it a niche product for just a few companies to exploit might help them, but will do little for the totality of the market. The ability to mainstream the product has thus far elud­ed successful chattel lending.

Come and go

Historically, while innumerable lenders have come and gone in the in­dustry, profitability has eluded al­most all of them, with exceptionally few successes. That of and by itself says a great deal about lending on manufactured homes, most of which (historically 80-85 percent) has been chattel, especially into land-lease communities.

During the 1960s and early 1970s era, the “automobile lending model” was in vogue for manufactured home lending. Apparent down payments were generally higher than today (if not actual), homes were far more modest, repayment terms were far shorter and mobile home parks, where the vast majority of homes sold where sited, were in the hands of people whose primary source of income was from the sales of the homes going into the parks. It wasn’t until much later that rental income from the parks became the greater income producer rather than the sales of homes. When this occurred throughout the industry, it brought new players and many changes occurred which are being sorted out even now.

Today of course, the refugees from the late 1990s-2000s downfall in manufactured home lending populate lender staffs at enumerable banks and Wall Street firms. Their experience was so bad and our market size of profitable lending today is so small, why get involved? Why indeed.

And as I head to the Wall Street/MHI lending forum, I believe that thought is very much on the minds of many of the participants we expect to attend. “After the crippling losses suffered by manufactured home securitized loans from originations between 1994-2003, perhaps the greatest percentage ABS bond losses of all time, what are the reasons we should get involved in manu­factured home receivables?” I assume they will ask that?

And there are some positive answers we can give. Fraud in loans is far less. Loan documentation is very good, a previous weakness. Loans are made to far, far better credit risks than before and defaults will be decreased by an order of magnitude of 3-5 times less than before interest rates are significantly higher as compared to site-built housing than before and should render a good investor yield. And finally, you have a better customer, buying a better house, with more loans tied to land in some fashion, with ABS bond-performance-prediction recently being met and even surpassed. All pretty good stuff, frankly.

Good, but not enough

Yes, all the positives I’ve enumerated above are great, but to paraphrase the Wendy’s lady, “Where’s the volume?” You see, industry lenders have rationalized lending to become survivable based on loan quality, but they are having great difficulty changing other aspects of the industry model, which without changing, loan volume cannot increase much. There simply are no loan volume increases as new and even used home sales are skimpy. Is there a great HUD Code home buying demand? Yes, but it’s primarily coming from a non-financeable group of chattel buyers.

The HUD Code industry recently grafted many elements of rational lending, enumerated above, unto an overall industry model, which has arisen over many years of insufficient safeguards activity, lacking transparency, with few borrower/lender protections, and the industry seems incapable of sorting out what the final changes need to be or  how they can be implemented. I think the situation is pretty clear; the marketplace has already rationalized manufactured home lending into an 80-130,000 homes per year industry, even now as company consolidation  continues to drive down capacity and costs for people and places no longer needed in the industry. A permanent resizing is almost in place. Anyone who does not recognize that must be listening to industry rhetoric rather than viewing industry results.

Changes

All right, let’s get into the changes that, in my mind, need to occur in order to start a new industry shipments increase, sustainably derived, and tending to make it a more mainstream lending product. You cannot create a larger industry without a profitable and survivable lending model, which can successfully accommodate at least double the present volume, in an attempt to grow it back into the long-term new annual home shipments annual pace of 250,000 homes. This will require survivable lending to an average FICO tier at least 60-70 FICO points lower than recent ABS bonds and increased buying demand from reasonable credits.

I’ve spoken to a number of people lately, industry stalwarts, who finally agree that the industry model is broken. They recognize that the present grafting of a highly protective underwriting and loan closing regimen onto an otherwise disorderly industry model may well benefit some individual industry participants, but in the end, we are creating a far smaller industry. Some few prosper even as the industry sinks further.

At the Chicago industry retreat, which met several years back, I volunteered that I thought the industry defects could easily be broken down into two key elements:

The Roper Study Factors: Those are items which our consumers identify as industry weaknesses and tending to have our product sales, delivery, installation and after-sale yield far less satisfaction than our customers would like.

Home Value Deprecation: Those industry practices which tend to cause the home to lose enough value that with a modest down payment at purchase, the home is not later resalable within a reasonable time so as to allow the homebuyer to gain sufficient proceeds to pay off his or her home loan.

Note that without controlling home depreciation, significant industry growth is not really possible. And in the alternative, if you do control it, then the “Roper Factors,” while always important, take on less importance although complete industry salvation will require action on both weaknesses.

General Measures

Let’s start with general measures which tend to create better consumer satisfaction and progress into measures which tend to reduce home depreciation. An easy breakpoint between the two is difficult as a better home warranty, as an example, will not only create better consumer satisfaction, but also tend to reduce home depreciation. And many measures will be like that.

Without prioritizing measures, let’s just start a list.

• Image campaign

As I sat around John Diffendal’s (BB&T stock analyst) “investor dinner” in New York City the night before the MHI Financial Forum, my table was composed of several Wall Street investors, Larry Keener (CEO of Palm Harbor Homes) and myself. After listening to Keener and me respond to their queries, Christopher Abbott, senior vice president of Chilton Investment Company asked a simple question:

“You guys have a great story to tell, but I don’t think the public knows it. Have you thought about a ‘Go-RVing’ Type campaign?”

Whoa, that made ole Marty jump for joy! That has been one of my drumbeats for years. An image campaign to tell the public the role factory- built housing plays in the American housing segment is simply a necessity. Every day that goes by we cripple ourselves because we are not doing it. I suggest it is not only necessary, but frankly, inevitable. Why wait?

• Builder responsibility for integrity of the home installation/delivery

One of the big problems our consumers face is that they often feel left to their own devices after they buy. Our builders often don’t want to take responsibility for the shortcomings of their retailers and their subcontractors, because they don’t trust them. And the retailers don’t want to take responsibility for the installation subcontractors, again, for lack of trust. Yet both seem to have no difficulty transferring the results of that mistrust to the consumer and, by default, to the consumer’s lender. This is a major problem and the new MH select conforming mortgage program at Fannie Mae is the first to require significant protections for the consumer from that weakness in the present model. In a sense, this is like the recourse model so effectively used by many for years in the industry to protect a vulnerable lender from the troubles of manufactured home loans. This will ultimately spread to the chattel model as well.

• Longer and better home warranties

The consumer needs far better warranties and longer ones, say three or even five years, to insulate them from the financial shocks home repairs or breakdowns can bring. In the event some major home system dies at 18 months after purchase and the repair is $300 or more, a default causing event may have occurred and, without the warranty providing this protection, we’ve potentially created a repossession. Make no mistake; warranty adherence is expen­sive, but far cheaper than selling a whole industry down the river for lack of overall consumer value. We cast our customers aside because with very limited warranties, meager war­ranty compliance (see Roper Study) and short warranty term, the cost of homeownership, especially during the early years when its impact has the greatest financial impression, can strain the homeowner’s ability to pay his or her loan, if an untoward event happens.

• Cost of home site occupancy

After we put the homeowner into the dwelling, we frequently have sited them in land-lease communities, where the future cost of site occupancy has become an unknown, often with annual rent increases outstripping the ability of the homeowner to keep pace with costs through his or her earnings. This has contributed to substantial home value depreciation, resulting in a large decrease in chattel lending into communities placements.

• The high gross profit, low volume of sales model

The industry has evolved into low sales per location. This has seen an average of 36 new homes delivered annually by the average retailer. A sales location selling more than 100 homes is a giant retailer; however very few of those exist. The sales volume at each location is so low that a high gross profit must be achieved on the home in order to have any chance to survive. Even today, with far more rational lending, it is not unusual to see loans being made that represent 125 percent of the “invoice.” Note that this does not exclude the “slush” al­ready in the invoice, such as volume bonuses, advertising allowance, dues and other items. Nor does it encom­pass the customer’s down payment, being the 5 percent or greater we see today in most lending. With down payments commonly averaging more than 10 percent and invoice “slush” more than 10 percent commonly; it is easy to see that basic home gross profit can easily be 145 percent of true invoice or more. Home value depreciation starts there. This type of mark-up will have to be throttled back. The industry must try to move to the “high sales volume, low gross profit sales model.”

• We treat used homes differently from new for financing

Most lenders will admit that given similar underwriting and scrutiny, loans for new homes and resale homes will perform in similar fashion. Still, the loan-to-value advance, the interest rate and other loan factors are usually harsher for resales than for new. This continues the home value depreciation as such treatment for resales creates value depreciation at first sale. The industry is not good at treating resale homes with the same respect it does new. In the whole, they treat resales as “throw-aways” and so they’ve become. A con­certed effort to treat resales better is necessary.

• Our home loan closings lack formality

The real estate industry has evolved a voluntary and mandatory sales and closing routine calculated to protect the consumer, who is often unsophisticated in these matters. While it hardly guarantees an entirely trouble free transaction, it does a far better job than we do. Our industry has essentially refused to comply with real estate-type safeguards for chattel loans and only a few jurisdictions have forced such safeguards on us. We chafe at those few restraints. Transparency and consumer protec­tions seem little on our mind.

In manufactured housing, we see few non-real estate escrow closings or earnest money going into trust, little involvement by appraisers, lawyers or the various other measures created as transparency and safeguards for the consumer. Many of these measures are avoided in chattel lending on manufactured homes and loan performance has been far below that of real estate loans. Many don’t want these safeguards in place because it slows the “process” down. I can’t help but think there is a lesson somewhere in there.

Without attending to these two, the Roper Factors and home value depreciation, there is little beneficial change that is likely to result. The marketplace is currently rationalizing the manufactured housing industry, imposing an ever-lower shipments basis that is survivable. This is caused because profitable lending cannot occur at the level that is needed without significant industry changes and we have yet to find a way to increase the attention of better credits in and to our products, igniting the demand side.

Changes in attitudes

And what are those needed industry changes? In no particular order, we need help in these areas:

• Invoice Database

All invoices of all homes produced must go into an MHI controlled data­base available easily and inexpensively to lenders, appraisers and homeowners, with the proper protections as they are accessed via the Internet. This also allows cradle to grave tracking of the home with uses we don’t even know yet. While invoices are provided for every loan for new homes, the industry does not make them available for used.

• Shorter loan repayment terms

When I polled chattel lenders to prepare for this article, to a person, they all recommended reduction of loan terms to 10-15 years on single-section homes and 15-20 years on multi-sections, both with sales price cutoffs. More than $40,000 to get 15 years on singles, and more than $60,000 to get 20 years on multis. This would tend to reduce the nega­tive impact of home value depreciation with far quicker paydown of the note. Sales proceeds would then more commonly allow note repayment.

• Tighter loan-to-value advance

Lenders limit what they advance on all sorts of products. If using an invoice to loan on autos succeeds, it is because the allowable advance over true invoice rarely exceeds 10-12 percent, more commonly 5-7 percent. We have been allowing 140-150 percent and more of true invoice lending—and it is proven not to work well. A large loan advance to invoice amount guarantees home value depreciation. A high gross profit can only work on items which have high consumer demand coupled with scarcity of supply, like diamonds. Manufactured housing has neither high demand from creditworthy buyers nor limited supply. Continuing to get a high markup from a commodity in plentiful supply sold primarily to people on a budget is keeping the industry at low levels of volume. Tighter loan-to-value advances of not more than 10-20 percent over dead invoice, with limits on profit at sale will need to be instituted. This will tend to re­duce home value depreciation. Using real home value appraisals for new homes might be even better than con­tinuing loan-to-invoice to determine loan amount.

• Using standardized forms

The more we standardize procedures, regulations, safeguards and underwriting, the easier we make it to enter the industry and appeal to mainstream lenders. Keeping manufactured housing a small niche industry with arcane operating procedures, documentation and practices tends to shield existing participants from competition, but under current conditions, creates a very small industry. Standardized forms, like everyone using the same credit application, delivering it to lenders via the Internet and using standardized closing documents, as they do in conforming mortgages, is an important element to better action. Industry lenders must move towards this if we are to mainstream product lending.

• More use of appraisals

Using real value-based appraisals is said to reduce sales. Yet, if the consumer does not do an appraisal for us, they surely can’t avoid it by going to real estate. They will get one there if they go forward. The use of “books” only, with standard lender formulas and advance-to-invoice is no way to run a large, profitable industry, which delivers value to everyone. The book is only a cog in a complete appraisal, not to be used alone. Knowing the real market value of the collateral is a necessity for sound lending. Only market-based appraisals can do that.

• Longer house warranties

Homebuilders must find a way to deliver a fairly comprehensive three to five year warranty for homeowner protection. This might be done by the use of appropriate third party warranties, the cost of which is built into the invoice of the home. This will help stabilize the cost of home ownership for the early years when the borrower is most financially vulnerable. It also is a unique benefit differentiating our product from site-built.

• MLS system

We have the beginnings of an MLS for manufactured homes in several venues already. Most are just in the beginning stages. Far more is needed. Industry zeal must be directed at true issues, such as working towards an MLS, training of manufactured home resale brokers and every element of creating an organized resale marketplace. Can we partner more effectively with Realtors? Without a well-organized resale market, the homeowner is left to his or her own devices to resell the home. Failing frequently in that effort, they resort to “giving the home back” to the lender or selling, at a sacrifice, to another. Creating an organized resale marketplace is a centerpiece to rescuing the industry.

• Manufacturers statement of retail price (MSRP)

This is needed for several reasons. First of all, it provides greater clarity and shopping comparison opportunities for the consumer. Secondarily, it allows the builders to “guide” its retailers into a proper sales profit, consistent with volume and profits for the builder and the retailer. The current lack of pricing guidance is a disrespect to our consumers, putting in their minds that we are a disreputable bunch. Finally, the MSRP helps lenders deal with all customers being treated more alike. No one wants the black eye of “certain” consumers being treated differently. It also can be illegal.

• Posted home prices

I really don’t even know why this one is an issue. Most people do not like to buy items that are not priced, as they fear they are not being treated fairly. Yet, nothing is more common in the industry than waiting for the “up” to demonstrate an interest in the home before he is quoted the price. This simply is not ethical treatment and undermines our regard in the minds of our consumers. And this is an issue AARP and others have railed about. Isn’t it the right thing to do? What is the hold-up? Every home for sale at a retailer should have a clearly posted sales price. (The largest retailer chain told me recently every home they have for sale will have a posted price shortly!)

• Final Inspection of the home before delivery

No lender should fund a loan until it is convinced the home is properly delivered and the customer is satisfied. While this is moving towards industry lender practice, we are not there yet. Until the industry has established a long-term track record of compliance, this must be required and verified. The walk-through punch list site builders use before their closing with customer sign-offs is a good start for us. Not foolproof, but one more safeguard for all parties to the transaction. It is one more step to assure the integrity of the process and deliver more value to the consumer and his lender. It also keeps the sellers and builders on their toes making them do the right thing.

• Community Attribute System An important compendium of the details of land-lease communities in a database owned by MHI and operated by Datacomp Appraisals in Grand Rapids, Mich. Still in its infancy, the data is building, the cost to get data is low and over time can be used in tandem with an in-community MLS. No lender should be lending in landlease communities without accessing this data. It doesn’t take a genius to look at the 100+ attributes compiled therein, and if correct and current, a lender has a very good idea if that is a community wherein you want to lend. This is an important lender safeguard and allows better loan decisions. Lenders are using it and the data fields are being updated. It is also an important spur to community owners to work towards excellence

• Better finance treatment of resales

No Virginia, all resale manufactured homes are not crap-boxes to be financed for 5-15 years less term than when they sold new. We should require a real value appraisal so the quick “appraisal book” standard formula won’t undervalue (or overvalue) the home. We should not have the significantly higher interest rates on resales than we now see on new. We now know debasing the value of resales debases the new homes as well and you see the result of that all around you. For profitable lending and delivery of value to the customer, as go the used, so go the new.

• Proper and easy home identification

I did a quick study once on the damage caused by standard formula book appraisals coupled with improper home identification. I found the loss of value substantial. We all know the industry produces a bewildering variety of homes, often with enormous differences in selling price and some even being the same size and having similar model names. Yes, content does count in a home. Drywall construction, better windows, upgraded appliances, architectural details, better insulation and a number of other factors can make a big value difference.

Since most builders do not provide good (or any) home identification in their serial number, the true content aspects of the home may not be readily available, except in the invoice. At resale, invoices are rarely available, if ever. Lenders being the highly pragmatic bunch they are will take the lowest value that home could be, often without a great deal of further inquiry. In the event of calls to the factory for better home identification, some are helpful, but many are not.

The invoice database I discussed above is a great way to properly iden­tify the house. A second way is to use a standardized serial number as is used in the automobile and other industries. The special serial number range could identify the many relevant factors so that by using the proper code sequence one could know all about the home. This would make home identification certain and more importantly, stop the guessing and depreciation of value occurring by use of standard valuation formulas because we can’t properly identify the home easily or at all.

As between the two, if I could only have one, I would prefer the serial number, as once you know the number all the relevant information is available to you immediately and free of cost. But the invoice databank is important for good identification purposes and also may have cost data, which appraisers and lenders love.

This one is the canary in the coalmine. By that I mean it will be a sure tip-off that if the industry is not serious about taking action to assist lenders, appraisers and homeowners with proper home identification after the home is sold, and being resold, where can the industry start to solve our dilemma?

• Third party final home inspection

No loan should be funded without a reasonable third party inspection and assurances that the home installa­tion is proper, the customer got what they bargained for and the homebuy­er has had a walk through the house and is satisfied. Expensive you say? It will create problems because we find out the process is incomplete or wrong? The retailer doesn’t want you to do this? Just think about those reasons for not doing it, as though defaults are cheaper or unhappy homebuyers don’t cause problems. We continue to avoid this at our own peril.

• Quality of homes

I am the first to tell my clients that in general, the industry builds com­petent homes and actually some are better than competent. However, I’ve been in far too many homes which are three or more years old and my impression has often been how “used” the home appears. Many times the visual impression is one of a home many years older than it is. Yes, I am aware some of our cus­tomers can be hard on a home. We can build for that.

It is easy to create extra space in a manufactured home and often builders will induce buyer interest by the large amount of space at very low per square foot costs, but use non-durable materials to achieve it. Our industry is very cost driven. The downside is that the home appears so “worn” in short order, that it creates problems at resale. The tatty home appearance reduces its appeal in contrast to the new similar home offering, which the homebuyer can get with more attractive financing, for little more in price than the payoff amount of the loan on the resale. Can you say “home value depreciation” anyone?

Substituting more durable materials of better quality and reducing home size might be a wise tack for the industry. Sell the consumer on durable materials for their satisfaction. Consumers are not all stupid, are they? At least not the ones with good credit who make informed decisions, which are the ones we need.

• Residential architectural characteristics

A recent industry move is to create homes, even modest ones, with a residential appearance. Couple this with more durable materials and we increase consumer appeal and create far better resale action. Extremely modest, chattel financed homes seem an endangered species. Appearance and good presentation grow ever more important, reducing home value depreciation.

• Factory invoice with clear retailer costs

The Truth in Invoice Practices Statement (TIPS) is calculated to try to create a verifiable home invoice so that any lender and its appraiser can see what is being paid for the home. While recent changes have created more reliable invoices, the fact is that only within ranges can a lender today easily know what the retailer is pay­ing for the home. Strange you say? I agree. Invoices should clearly show what the home costs the retailer. Period.

• Long-term leases and lender /community agreement

Many of our best rental homesites are bent on maximizing rents. Often that is done without other considerations. In order to induce in-community lending, the elevated depreciation homes in land-lease communities undergo all too frequently, must be abated. One of the ways to do this is to negotiate lender/community agreements which determine a course of dealings between the two, especially after default and repossession. This can save lenders large sums upon default and gain the community owner’s valuable assistance to handle the repo, refurbishment and resale. The other necessary ingredient will be the use of long-term leases to induce a lender to extend a loan for a home going into the community, tying the rent increases to real increases in operating expenses plus real increases in earning capacity of the homeowners. Since we’ve allowed people to borrow on 20-25 year loan terms, closing a land-lease community without homeowners recompense or relocation assistance is a major and increasing problem. “Google Alerts” sends details of a new community closure almost daily. It does and will continue to cause the industry major problems.

• Use of indices for long-term leases

There is a current popular notion that a homeowner should be paying as rent the capitalized value of the homesite according to the OFHEO index of single-family residences, plus the increase in operating expenses. This has tended to be less than successful for both the landlords and the resident. The former has gotten increased vacancy and the latter suffered a high default rate caused by the resulting home depreciation. Lending in communities has greatly diminished as a result. This industry cannot prosper without a strong chattel-into-land-lease business and neither can the land-lease contingent.

The homeowner we need, as lenders to finance, will not value the rental homesite anywhere near as much as the OFHEO. And that index usually overwhelms the resident’s ability to pay based on annual earnings. As homesite rents increase annually, the resident “buys” the site over every year, unlike the real estate-secured borrower, who unless he refinances and gets money out, has fixed the cost of the purchase of the site until he or she sells. With rising rents, we never fix the cost of homesite occupancy.

Lenders will want to be protected with long-term leases to create more surety that the value of their collateral will not drop in tandem with overzealous rent increases. As lenders, we all understand the desire of landlords to maximize their return on their land-lease community. Still, if done at homeowner/lender expense, lenders must draw the line. The line drawn has tumbled in-community lending and without significant changes, is going to change little in the near to mid-term future.

• Proper installations

Recently, I heard a lender describe the actions his company has taken to encourage proper home installation. He rewards low set homes, those looking more like site-built foundations than the easy-to-do, not-so-good looking high pier home installations so common heretofore. He wants to see covered entryways, proper porches, front and rear entry stairs, good architectural design. And this is not conforming mortgages, but chattel! And why is this industry leading lender doing this?

Simple, good installations, completed on time, delivered as agreed upon with the homebuyer, set low with a distinctive home creates far greater home satisfaction for the homebuyer, AND when it comes time to resell the home, appeals much more to subsequent buyers than modest homes, poorly sited and installed, sitting on stilts up in the air. This reduces repossessions by greatly increasing the ability to resell and pay off the home loan through sales proceeds. To say nothing of the increased consumer satisfaction delivered and increased homeowner desire to keep the home “because he likes it.”

This lender is using the carrot approach. He gives a substantial interest rate reduction for such installations. It may take more than that in the future.

• Too many defaults

Part of the defense subprime lenders have given the media and regulators for the elevated defaults and repossessions likely to occur is that “they gave subprimers a chance for homeownership.” I’m not sure how much currency this will have as Congress and the regulators stick their nose into the causes of the subprime mess. But I would guess that in the case of manufactured housing, were we to continue to loan into communities, with known default rates in the 35 percent range (even with good credits), that if we use the above excuse and justification, we may well see an eyebrow or two raised. Me thinks that while the carrot approach can work well with a very hands-on lender who really works at his craft, in order to mainstream chattel lending in community placements may require a little more stick. And charging high chattel rates and having high defaults may work financially, but it is a poor business model. It smacks of “Buy Here, Pay Here” and is below what our dignity level should be. It also may catch the unwelcome attention of “busy bodies.”

• Retailer/builder relationship

It seems that the relationship between these two important industry segments has always been a handful. Retailers with good financial capability and experience in the industry are rare. It has historically been a “bootstrap” industry where retailers came with little, made little over a business career, tried to hang-in during the down times and ultimately faded into the sunset.

Along the way, consumers had various difficulties with them and consumer surveys find this industry participant, the retailer, with low grades. The industry itself views the retailer as a weak link. The difficulties lenders have with them are legendary, although I must admit that lenders too often have failed to protect themselves.

Lenders and builders are going to have to have far greater concerns over the experience and financial capability of the retailer. Where those are insufficient, and that is common, retail lenders are going to have to secure back-up performance from the builders the retailer represents. Without this builder back-up, the process continues to be a high default/large charge off endeavor which stands little chance of shipments increases, unless of course you believe that Greenseco Finance is alive and well in the wings, ready to burst back on the scene, chattel loans a-blazing.

• Protected territories and a good chance to make a profit

By being well capitalized, experienced, with protected territories and guided by their franchiser builder, we can turn retail locations into real businesses with an excellent chance of success. The ability to make a reasonable profit, consistently, draws retailer candidates with both experience and capital. We see this does work in some parts of the industry where builder-owned sales outlets are made financially capable through the parent’s financial strength, their managers are carefully selected and guided, and they have protected territories. Often, their managers are selected with greater care than their franchised retailers. Builders must move towards distribution representation, where franchised retailers are commonly experienced business people, with strong financial capability and protected territories.

As an industry, this very perplexing matter will need serious attention. But whether the industry fixes it or the market does, it will be settled. The market is likely to settle it at lower shipments than a unified industry approach that precedes a pace.

Final reflections

I’m not sure there may not be other needed measures. I have never been able to sit down and read this list of industry model enhancements needed to correct the failed model. And if you disbelieve me that the model is failed, I repeat the words of the “World’s Greatest Investor,” Warren Buffett. In my March 2004 newsletter, which was the early precursor to the comments in this letter, I quoted from Buffett’s Feb. 27, 2004 statement to his shareholders. In part regarding his view of the manufactured housing industry, Buffett said the following:

“During those years, (the 1990s) moreover, both the quality and variety of manufactured houses consistently improved.

Progress in design and construction was not matched, however, by progress in distribution and financing. Instead, as the years went by, the industry’s business model increasingly centered on the ability of both the retailer and manufacturer to unload terrible loans on naïve lenders. (emphasis mine)

“A different business model is required, one that eliminates the ability of the retailer and salesman to pocket substantial money up front by making  sales financed by loans destined to default… Under a proper model—one requiring significant down payments and shorter-term loans—the industry will likely remain much smaller than it was in the ’90s.” (emphasis mine)

And I agree with Buffett that if only down payments and shorter loan terms are involved, we are likely to remain much smaller. The measures I proposed are to start a return to the 250,000 annual home shipments industry long-time trend line, with far more comprehensive action.

And why do I repeat Buffett’s words again? Because when I say what he says I know many people do not believe me. I’m a “nobody” and when I speak of a “failed industry model” in manufactured housing, people think they can disregard it. And for others, the concept of a “failed model” is beyond their comprehension.

I can hear their words. “This industry has always worked in the past”, “The lenders have just lost their nerve” (In reality, what the lenders lost was their shirt) and “This is simply a collusion by certain entities to take advantage of the market.” The only people I know who are doing well would prosper even more with a robust market. Alleging market collusion is so childish and avoids reality so deeply, that I can only shake my head when I hear it. It’s usually spoken from atop the “grassy knoll.”

Warren Buffett is a SOMEBODY. As you read his words above, can you afford to ignore them? Hasn’t he been proven right with such force that we should not doubt his words and undertake an immediate series of steps to correct the failed model?

That would seem an intelligent result, finally, and as the industry study committees met again in Hilton Head, S.C., we’ll review for industry progress. Can we rescue ourselves from the housing niche into which we’ve fallen and can’t get up?

Martin (Marty) V. Lavin, is a 35-year veteran of the manufactured housing industry from Burlington, Vt. He is an attorney, consultant and expert witness to factory-built housing interests. He is past chairman of the MHI Financial Services (2001-04) and recipient of the Totaro Award for Outstanding Achievements in the Manufactured Housing Financial Services Industry….
Editor’s Note:  We have again honored the author’s request to post his article and the original “as is.”

Update on “FEMA In-Community Housing Relief”

June 10th, 2011 No comments

Editor’s Note: Spencer Roane is keeping us updated on the task force behind using manufactured homes as a part of post-tornado solutions to housing.

Tony and Catherine,

Here’s a note which we sent to FEMA, GEMA (Georgia counterpart), and various others with whom we hope to work on the idea of using vacant land lease community sites for disaster relief. It may also serve as an update for your readers.

From the time of David Roden’s first report here on May 7 – Manufactured Homes Could Be Part of Post-Tornado Solution in Georgia – our task force has continued to pursue the use of manufactured housing as an option in disaster situations. We are currently working to schedule a meeting of the Georgia Disaster Housing Task Force to explore issues of common interest. In the meantime, allow me to identify the players in this effort at this juncture:

The Georgia Manufactured Housing Association (GMHA) represents the interests of all segments of manufactured housing in Georgia, including manufacturers, transporters, retailers, communities, lenders and suppliers. Jay Hamilton is our executive director. He is new to the position, but has extensive experience in the industry. His office phone is 770-955-4522. David Roden is a community owner (CO) and active member of GMHA. Steve Case and Spencer Roane are also community owners who serve as community representatives on the GMHA board.

Our national organization is Manufactured Housing Institute (MHI) in Washington, DC. Thayer Long is president. MHI formed a task force to work with FEMA on the design of MHs for disaster relief and to advance the concept of placing disaster relief homes in land lease communities (LLCs, aka mobile home parks). Lois Starkey is the primary contact at MHI for this program. Spencer serves as one of several community owners on the MHI task force. Several members of that task force attended the “Industry Day” Seminar with FEMA personnel in Washington DC on June 7. We will learn more about that meeting next week.

David volunteered in the cleanup effort after the April tornadoes struck Georgia and Alabama and subsequently proposed that MHs be located on vacant lots in LLCs for use by disaster victims. Since then he and Spencer have been exploring that concept with MHI, GMHA, FEMA, GEMA, and community owners across the country. Several relatively recent developments in our industry have come together to make this more feasible than ever:

• Most LLCs have 5-15% vacancy rates, mainly as a result of the economic slowdown and the same finance meltdown that affected conventional housing. “Best guess” at this point is that there are about 200,000 vacant LLC lots across the country.
• As COs have sought to fill vacant lots with new MHs, many manufacturers have begun building “Community Series” homes (CSHs). George Allen and Don Westphal have worked closely with Business Development Managers (BDMs) with most manufacturers to develop this concept. These are generally lower priced, single-section, usually 16’ wide by 70-80’ long, 3 Br 2 Ba, vinyl sided, shingle roof, with attractive exterior and interior features. INSERT PHOTOS OF TWO CSH HOMES. The cost of these attractive, functional homes is about $25,000, delivered to the LLC. Setup, utility connections, A/C, skirting, and decks add about $10,000 more to the cost.

 

Community Series Home 1

 

Community Series Home 2

 

• To provide quick and efficient support to disaster victims, a database of available home sites which are in close proximity to a disaster is a necessity. Several alternatives exist in Georgia and elsewhere:
• The Community Attributes System (CAS) was developed as a joint effort between MHI and Datacomp, which also owns the Internet marketing site “MH Village.” Dan Rinzema is president of Datacomp. Although the database contains approximately 40,000 land lease communities (LLCs) across the country, much of the information is outdated. The website is www.mhicas.org.
• We just learned of another database which serves Georgia and 29 other states. The Georgia service is Georgia Housing Search.Org.  We understand that it currently contains about 170,000 rental listings, including manufactured homes, LLC lots, site-built houses, and apartments, and experiences 8,000 – 9,000 searches per day for available rentals. The parent non-profit organization is www.socialserve.com. The services are apparently funded by state or federal agencies and are free to landlords and prospective tenants. We’re still collecting information on both.
• Some real estate brokers and agents who specialize in LLCs have surveyed many LLCs in states in which they broker properties. Max Baker, a GMHA member and agent with Marcus & Millichap, recently compiled a database of about 900 LLCs in Georgia ranging in size from a few lots to about 500. We know there are others elsewhere with similar LLC data who are willing to participate in this disaster housing relief effort.

Since CSH homes are compatible with other homes in LLCs, COs would be glad to have them moved into their LLCs for disaster relief, provided the CO screens the new resident as he/she would any other resident. Also, since COs want homes to remain in the LLC, they would be willing to purchase the MH after FEMA/GEMA use. This would seem to be an efficient, cost-effective “exit strategy” for FEMA since the homes would not have to be moved to a storage facility, rehabbed, and stored for the next emergency.

We welcome the opportunity to work with GEMA, FEMA and others to implement this program. We are planning a meeting of about 100 COs in the Atlanta area in mid-October and would be glad to have someone from GEMA and/or FEMA discuss this program at that meeting. We also encourage FEMA to contact George Allen who holds an annual meeting (Roundtable) of COs across the country in mid-September. This year’s meeting will be in San Antonio, Texas. It would be an excellent means of publicizing this program on a national basis. # #

David Roden, davidroden@yahoo.com, 423-760-4819
Spencer Roane, spencer@roane.com, cell ph. 678-428-0212

Manufactured Homes Could Be Part of Post-Tornado Solution in Georgia

May 7th, 2011 No comments

Manufactured home community (MHC) owner/operators in Georgia are mobilizing support to make manufactured housing part of the post-tornado disaster solution.  David Roden and Spencer Roane are leading the charge with GEMA and FEMA officials to have vacant manufactured home community sites used to house storm victims.  They outlined a plan that would:

– save the government money,

– help get storm victims out of hotels and into homes,

– create jobs in GA and neighboring states,

– avoids the errors learned from the post-Katrina FEMA response.

Roden said part of the problem with the post-Katrina FEMA response was in not using existing infrastructure.  Vacant MHC home sites represent an obvious opportunity to save time and money for state or federal officials.  The MHC owners also expressed the wisdom of using 3 bedroom 2 bath homes rather than 3 bedroom one bath floor plans.  Local HUD Code home manufacturers could rapidly respond, creating jobs.  They say MH community owners could buy the homes when the disaster relief phase passes, making this a complete approach that avoids Katrina missteps.  This would also underscore the fact that manufactured housing is a valuable resource for rapid response to disaster housing.  Contact David Roden to support this effort.

David Roden, Mountain View Estates, 423-760-4819 or davidroden@yahoo.com