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Posts Tagged ‘MARTIN V.’

Exhaustion Sets In

August 8th, 2014 1 comment

I’m exhausted, Jerry, exhausted I tell you. “Exhausted, Marty Boy, why?” Well there are many reasons, and in trying to sort it all out, I’ve exhausted my feeble brain.

I speak of course about the state of the industry. It starts with L. A. ”Tony” K, the MHProNews impresario, whose boundless industry enthusiasm doesn’t quit. Now all this, mind you, as we scrape along on an annual shipments level which in the past we equaled and surpassed in a single month.

Getting your head around that enthusiasm is hard to sort out. So many reasons why MH should be great but woeful results, that’s what is exhausting me.

Story Time

Let me tell you a little story. Sometime along the mid 2000’s, say 2006 or 2007, I was invited to join Urban Land Institute, ULI, a well-known and respected real estate trade association/think tank. It is populated by some of the largest and most powerful real estate interests, a pretty awesome “who’s who” of the Big Boys in real estate.

Inside Trailerville then were people who had come to our industry from the real estate industry and thought manufactured housing communities was a land use that should be represented at ULI. An MH council was formed and I was invited, along with 30+ others, to join and was frankly flattered to accept. ULI has a great reputation.

I started going to the ULI meetings and the MH luminaries were everywhere in the council. My consulting assignment at Fannie Mae at the time profited from my attendance as I was at the industry’s train of thought at the highest level. All good, right?

First Class

Now, understand something, ULI is not MHI or MHARR. ULI goes first class only, no Motel 6’s here. They meet at the very highest level venues, read this to mean “Expensive,” and invite powerful and well-known guests and speakers. Contrasting this with the MH world is eye-popping. If one spends an average of $1,000-$1,500 to attend an MHI convention, ULI seems to come in at $4,000-$6,000 per conference, a not inconsiderable sum for poor boys like me who peeled those dollars out of my own back pocket to attend.

I don’t really mention the cost of attending an MHARR meeting, as long distance phone rates are so low that the occasional MHARR meeting takes little time and virtually no expense. Networking is not really what MHARR is all about.

Lacking Candor

Back to ULI. I found most of the early meetings of the MH council, or whatever its name, a poor version of MHI meetings. While the intent was to foster an exchange of ideas and information from the very highest level of MHdom, the Big Boys were there, but they were all wearing vests so they could keep thoughts and information close to their vests. Even when we were to break for lunch seemed to be a secret. The lack of candid response from participants, who seemed to be going through the motions, disappointed me.

Here we had the greatest minds in MH, but I could gain better industry knowledge and information from the third string attendees from the same companies at an MHI meeting, at 1/3rd to 1/4th the price. I was beginning to waiver about my continued involvement in ULI.

Excited

Then, a ULI conference was announced, where the MH council was to feature a housing study by a prominent economist whose expertise was in housing demand. Whoa! Here’s something I could get my head around. Maybe after the study was presented I could relearn the words to “Happy Days Are Here Again” which in ’06 or ’07 I hadn’t sung since that 1998 post-HUDcode record of 373,000 home shipments. The best industry performance since the 1973 573,000 homes shipped, which had occurred when I was a young man and before the HUDcode.

The economist came, the lights went out, and the demand charts started to flow. Holy craps, Robin, get that song out! It was back. So I kept following the economist’s report carefully and he said the same things then we are still saying today: low cost housing demand, high conventional housing costs, factory built quality, yada yada yada, it was all falling into place, Jerry. Music!

But despite the obvious buy-in by most participants there, their choirboy gleams revealing, I had the uneasy feeling that, just as I do today, of an unfinished report.

Finally, biding my time, as I was as insignificant a participant as there was there, I screwed up my courage and asked the following: Yes, of course, I understand the demand side of the MH equation, but can you tell me, Mr. Eminent Economist, how your exuberant MH sales expectations will be financed?

What?

Huh? He was a housing demand expert. not a finance guru. He hadn’t the slightest idea as to how it would be done. Note that as you hear all the reasons today why MH should be kicking housing azz, that question remains unanswered for the most part.

I could see narrowed eyes around the room directed at me, the thought clear on its face; how dare you, you F’ing Azzhole, challenge Mr. Eminence? He just returned from Mt. Sinai with this report! I though it a fair question to ask, just as I do today.

In 1972 I came into the industry. By the time of the ULI economist meeting I had been kicked around HUDville 35 years. Even with my extraordinarily thick cranium, some knowledge had managed to creep in. By the early 2000’s I had seriously begun to question whether the 1998 shipments top and heavy decline thereafter was a “normal pullback” as had happened frequently in the past. Ah, it will all be back soon was the industry refrain. If I believed that early on, by 2002 there were clear signs to me this time was different, very different.

Not This Time

Working against the industry grain, my study of MH loan performance, the horrific losses suffered by lenders and their investors, got me to thinking the industry had real, long-term problems, from which recovery would be difficult, at best. Did I envision a drop to 50,000 annual HUD shipments? No, I was not born in swaddling clothes.

Further, and this was hard to grasp and accept, since the industry’s real volume emergence in 1969 to the 1998 top, the great volume the industry enjoyed was based on faulty lending losses by most lenders during that period, averaging close to 250,000 annual shipments. I then did the presumptive math on what volume might be with a rigid, but survivable lending regimen, and the numbers were scary low. Not as low as they got, but low.

If you don’t understand the preceding paragraph, read no further until you do. Every time you hear of glowing future prospects for HUD Code homes ask the predictor “How will they be financed?”

Huge industry volume subsidized by huge lender losses. It was an illusion, and it went on so long we all believed it would always continue. When I wrote about this early on in my Newsletter, “Marty’s News and Notes,” I can say the concept was neither generally accepted nor was my writing and lecturing about it well received. Let’s just say I was not the industry’s Favorite Son.

The Book

Fast forward to the present. I just plowed though “Dueling Curves; The Battle for Housing” by Bob Vahsholtz. This is a prodigious work, with the slant from a man well familiar with much of the industry’s early years and a home designer with great home building knowledge. His book is worth reading for the history lesson and for his ideas for reviving the industry going against the site builders.

I sought the answer from his book to my “How will it be financed?” and found in his multiple step program to improve the industry the following on finance:

Accept the penalty of chattel financing or leasing and use it to include such necessities as skirting and exterior storage. Repos should result only from family disasters and crooks. Even better financing – even from local small-town banks – will come with a proven track record. Good affordable homes need no subsidies. Earn a solid reputation from performance rather than waiting for the government to enforce its arguable notions of engineering and financing.”

Very little to argue with there, but will that guide us back to 150,000 to 250,000 HUDcode homes? Annually? I wouldn’t hold my breath.

Phewff

Exhausted, Jerry, exhausted, I say, that questions just exhausts me.

Let’s be clear here, whether I was writing my newsletter, on my consulting assignments, at ULI or MHI, reading Vahsholtz’s book, or discussions with L. A. ”Tony” K and others, THE question which must be answered is to find a way to finance the demand for our housing, at a 150,000 to 250,000 annual sales level. The present sales level just won’t create a stable, growing industry.

So what is it that causes such low sales volume with such high demand? It is because a great part of our demand comes from a tier of people whose credit capabilities make them unfinanciable. Yah, Marty, no big secret there. And when we can finance some of our demand, it comes with a high tariff, an interest rate generally applied by Guido in his transactions These rates, often more than twice and even three times the present rate for site-builds, are needed to ameliorate our high default rates and high losses on defaults.

How?

Let’s deal with the most important reason for this missive; how does MH create demand that has a greater chance of being financed, assuming stupid lending money is not stage left, waiting to enter? How, indeed?

Sometime in the mid 2000’s, the industry commissioned a market study by Roper Associates to ascertain the public’s view of MH. Let me cut through the bull pucks, they reported they had never compiled a study where the industry had such a negative public perception. Oh, man, we finally were the best at something!

A lengthy industry discussion set in, mostly at MHI, meeting after meeting, innumerable committees, and finally a joint meeting with the RV boys to discuss the merit and results of their “Go RVing” campaign. The RV’ers were exuberant about their campaign and urged us in the strongest terms to do our own campaign.

The RV industry had a different problem than MH, just the opposite. Their customer demand came from buyers with good credit, they just weren’t seeing enough of them. On the other hand at MH, we see many customers, enough to fuel many more sales, we just don’t see enough customers with sufficient credit capability. We needed to find a way to get more credit capable people tromping our sales locations. The intent of the Roper study and the follow-up presentation was to lead to a campaign to induce more credit capable buyers to our stores. You know, a campaign to boast the image of the industry and consumer acceptance through increased positive knowledge.

Embarrassment

So meeting after meeting, discussions aplenty, and finally two outcomes, one embarrassing the other catastrophic. The first result was the campaign presentation meeting should have climaxed in a buy-in to move forward with the pros.

The initial presentation was hardly a finished campaign, but the MH Yahoos raised such a ruckus about their vision of what the campaign should be, that it turned into a bitching session of the first water. I saw MOBES who can’t spell “campaign” reaming the pros, turning into a bewildering babble of conflicting ideas. I found that in their other job, sales lot operators and LLC managers, carried out image campaigns, professing to know more than the pros, howling with authoritative criticism. The pros didn’t know MH. They, on the other hand, are the folks who brought you the 40-50,000 annual sales volume, so yes, they know MH.

I met one of the leaders of the campaign presentation after the meeting and he could only shake his head. Yes, not everything they had ever done for others went smoothly, but this was a different order of foolishness. He wondered why they had been hired, as the industry appear to have all the answers. Why, indeed?

Worse

But bad as that was, and yes I was embarrassed to see all of the negative comments I had heard about the industry from outsiders played out before me, the following was worse.

I don’t think I spill any secrets saying a small coterie of individuals run the industry associations. A cocked eyebrow from one of these Brahmins effectively ends any discussion. So the industry opportunity at salvation, already fleeting as all this occurred, tumbled completely due to the well-engrained industry principle, “never do anything that might help a competitor.” And the industry moment when there was still barely enough $$$ muscle to fund an image campaign passed, and with it the last of the passing life rafts.

Succinctly stated, so no one misses my meaning: The industry must find a way to attract a far more capable buyer to our sales locations, or what you presently see is what is likely to prevail. Chances are the image campaign train has left the station and another does not follow close behind.

Bear in mind that some people are prospering under the present scenario. Not too many, but a few, especially those with eyebrow power. Reduction of competition can be salubrious, even if it only consists of a larger portion of a smaller industry. I can only assume as the image campaign was eye browed down, people would know that, or at least suspect it.

No Mojo

So we now find ourselves as an industry with insufficient muscle to fire up any sort of campaign. Some have wondered whether social media or other Internet driven endeavors might substitute for the traditional media campaign we can no longer fuel as an industry, being a real block buster campaign driven by a $20-30 million effort, one that can successfully reach a broad segment of American consumers and educate them about the many advantages we claim for our housing, to attract those folks we so sorely need. Whether the vaunted Internet driven efforts can succeed, I have no knowledge, but I’ve seen no evidence it is being much attempted or positive residue therefrom.

Phone Call

Would it be that in 5 years someone calls me and says “Yah nana nana, you F’ing jerk. See I told you the ad hoc campaigns could work.” I’m not staying up nights in fear.

The years go by, the same silly things are repeated endlessly, about industry promise, the quality of the homes, the future of all homes to be factory built, the far lower cost, and on and on. All great stuff of course, but how do you sustainably finance 150,000-250,000 HUD homes annually? On that, which is the number one issue, the industry is remarkably silent. ##

marty-lavin-posted-on-mhpronews75x75MARTIN V. (MARTY) LAVIN
attorney, consultant, & expert witness
350 Main Street Suite 100
BURLINGTON, VERMONT 05401
802-660-8888 office / 802-238-7777 cell
marty@martylavin.com

Not Panicking, even when in Deep Trouble

February 18th, 2014 No comments

Tony,

I just bought a single section home, 20' x 72', three levels.

SpySea-TransomML&amp_PL 001.JPGBut it is not an MH, it's a motor yacht, the Spy Sea. We live on it in Miami Beach during the winter. As I found out recently, the most simple acts in life can have life-altering consequences. Careful! The below episode is one such occurrence.

I think I had two closings Feb 13th. First on the 72' Tecnomarine Italia Pilot House Motor Yacht, Spy Sea, and almost closed on my life. We closed the purchase of the boat in the early afternoon and my wife Pat and I went to be on the boat.

Around 6 pm, Pat had gone to the car to bring our dog over. It was very rough at Sunset Harbor Marina in Miami Beach where the boat was berthed, almost gale force winds blowing. The boat was really moving around, being pushed away from the dock. After following Pat, in trying to get back onto the boat, all I remember is starting to take a very long step from the concrete dock to the boat's swim platform, then next, being in the water, at the transom with my head above the water, not how I got there.

I don't remember hitting the water or going under, which I must have, or anything else about the fall.

I could swim, but was struggling, bogged down by wet sweat pants and shirt, and had taken several bad hits to my legs, my shoulder, and worse, had very badly banged my head, temple and ear. There was no way to get out of the water, no ladders and the boat's transom was high above my reach. I was alone and in trouble. No one was around or saw me fall.

I was struggling holding on to the trim tabs on the transom waiting for Pat's return, as there is no dock ladder there to get out of the water.

Finally, after several minutes, Pat returned to find me in the water, far below her. She quickly beckoned a passing lady who threw me a rope. The rope was behind a locked gate and Pat couldn't get to it. 

I grabbed the rope and the lady steered me towards the boat next over. The captain of that boat finally lowered his hydraulic swim platform to water level so I could get on. I was bleeding pretty badly from a chopped up ear and head bang. I was so wozzy I could barely stand.

I have no recollection of what happened that sent me into the water, but know I was taking a very long step to the swim platform from the dock and didn't make it. My front foot must have slipped on the side of the swim platform, and I must have tumbled in to the water. Then I hit my head and body against something hard, probably the concrete wall behind me or swim platform (less likely).

Why I didn't get knocked out and go under, I do not know. Had that happened, no one would have known what happened to me, as no one saw me fall. Pat would have assumed I was off visiting. Geezuz!

Only the gods saved me to be with my wife on our new boat.

Its the little unexpected occurrences that happen in life that can be big life changers. I dodged a bullet. Just wasn't my time yet, but it was close. Can I take any solace? I never panicked though I knew I was potentially in deep trouble. ##

marty-lavin-posted-on-mhpronewsMARTIN V. (“Marty”) LAVIN
attorney, consultant & expert witness
350 Main Street Suite 100
BURLINGTON, VERMONT 05401-3413
802-660-8888 off / 802-238-7777 cell
marty@martylavin.com

Nov. 2013-May 2014 Address
C/O Bill Bird Haulover Marina
10800 Collins Avenue
Miami Beach, FL 33154

Rent Control in MHCs

September 4th, 2013 1 comment

Tony,

The phone rang one morning and a young man returned my call to him, we'd been playing phone tag. I had left a message with his wife in Oregon earlier, and he was calling about two Vermont MH communities I have listed for sale. From the voice of each, I guessed they were both far younger than I.

Speaking with him, as I answered his questions, it was obvious this was not his first call on LLCs for sale. In a knowledgeable way he wound thru the obvious questions, finally asking whether Vermont LLCs are rent controlled. Yes, I explained, they are. I went on to explain Vermont allows CPI, about 3% annually presently, without concern, and a big one, allows provable capital improvements in addition, annually. I told him that as a former VT LLC owner I had found the scheme fully workable, as do many of my contemporaries.

The next day I got an email message saying he and his partner/wife had decided not to invest in any locale where rent control is in force. OK, I get it, but that removes quite a swath of locales, many which are hot purchase markets. This philosophy allows investment in say Mississippi or Alabama, but negates purchases in Florida or much of California. Oh…

After that, my mind wondered over my experiences of the dangers of rent control and lack of it. Yes, I said the danger of the lack of it. I actually was pretty young once, had hundreds of apartments and almost 2000 MH/RV sites. With the exception of a Florida LLC, I was in no jurisdiction where rent control was in effect. And when rent control was threatened in a jurisdiction, I was the first to the battlements opposing its imposition. I was and am a capitalist, and rent control seemed an anathema to my beliefs. I'm not alone, right?

But time went by, slowly the days passed, and some of my beliefs at 40 years of age made transition to a more measured understanding as I aged and acquired experience I previously lacked. Let me be frank, I was an accomplished and notorious rent increaser, which in my twilight years brings me no acclaim by others, and more importantly, myself.

What I found was that in apartments, and we're not speaking of New York City here, the market rents in an area kinda act as rent control. You find yourself as the top dog in rent rate for your 1000 sq. ft three bedroom apartment in your area. What you are very likely to find, as I did, your apartment rents last and less, staying empty longer than it should. Recovering the lost time and money brings you back to Earth and unless your calqy is busted, your late debt payments slap Hai Karate hard. I found apartments very self correcting as to rents.

Now, on to LLCs. We all know the reasons we invest in communities; they own the dwelling unit, they can't move the house, etc. All good stuff, of course. So as I bought LLCs from original owner/developers, I found that as longtime owners they had allowed their rents to slip behind the market, keeping their management easy, with many long term residents.

Of course, the purchase price always reflected the oft unspoken premium of raising rents to market. "Hell, they can pay a lot more than that!" So I paid more than cash flow to get the community, not real unusual, right? Then the rent increases started. Often stiff and early increases happened shortly after closing.

The first few increases were swallowed, albeit with plenty of bitching by residents. We raised rents as much in two-three years as the former owner did in 10 years. Note that in some instances the increased rent still didn't pay for the capitalized investment costs. I knew that, they only knew and cared their rent had doubled in short order. No esoteric explanations of cap rates and other MH investor jargon seemed particularly persuasive to the LLC residents.

Who was it, Newton, who theorized every action has an equal and opposite reaction? I raised rents, they moved out. And I acquired a reputation in that community as a rapacious rent increaser. And these reputations are hard to escape. I wouldn't really care that much except the reputation had a very bad impact on homesite rentals. That, I did care about.

At first I did the calculation I see many others doing. Yah, I had 100 homes at $100 per month, and even though I'm quickly down to 90 homes at $111 per month, hey, I'm getting the same money with less work and expenses. And it keeps going this way as rents increase, residents fleeing like a torrent, out the MH Paradise Estates gates, which has turned into Hell Bent Acres.  And as vacancies mount, you lose control of the community, no longer able to count on the desire to live in your LLC to keep people in line. And that desire includes pricing.

Were I the only one to have followed the raise-rents protocols, then only I would have suffered the residue, but of course, such was not the case. The MH industry's then flawed model, subsidized for years by flawed lenders, finally collapsed, dropping from 373,000 shipments in 1998, then tantalizing us into believing the hurricane-inspired 135,000 shipments of the mid 2000s was the stopping point, to the grim reality of 50,000 homes in the 2010s. Yah, I hear 60,000 homes could happen any day now.

I sat in on some very contentious MHI committees in the late 2000s era trying to formulate a chattel long term lease the GSEs could swallow. In concert with this I reviewed many LLC profiles showing monthly rent and occupancy. It probably won't surprise you that the vacancy was truly scary, yet rents occurred steeply and frequently.  I had already tried that, and even with the generous retail financing by GreenTree, CIT, The Associates, Security Pacific, Chase and their ilk, it didn't work. Now we were dealing with the GSEs, who I did not find stupid, and we were trying to equate rents in LLCs to the capitalized valuation of single family conventional real estate lots. Any thought of sharply limiting rent increases to gain long term and low rate financing being the trade-off, got serious push back. Such was not to be and by then as the effort lost all bouyancy, the GSEs woke up to far bigger challenges.

As a post script I am the very first to admit that some major figures in that committee have since come far closer to the rent restraints advocated in the long term lease effort as their stated belief for industry resuscitation.  Will that be enough? I greatly doubt it, but I sure think it is an indisputable industry wide measure in the road back to something other than Warren Buffett's table scraps.

So to my young friend in Oregon, rent control, other then confiscatory NYC apartments or some California cities in MH, can be a useful LLC owner restraint, quieting some of the early animal spirits we can all exhibit before experience shackles us. Did I like going to the rent hearings in my community in Florida and taking phallus down the throat to the gag control center? Oh, I loved it.

Still, Florida LLCs are and have long been highly prized acquisitions, not greatly injured by the relatively manageable process for raising rents.  With the relatively benign rent control such as in Florida and Vermont, you and the industry are actually protected from many of the practices employed in the industry, leading to so much push back against us.

Before you believe I'm asking you to petition your jurisdiction for rent control, let me disabuse of that notion. Nothing could be further from the truth. I rail against governmental intrusion in to my affairs daily. Everyday the beast grows larger, only a financial collapse likely to abort its growth. The only point I am making is that one must practice rental increase restraint on your own. Sometimes laws can help a process.

The flip side is that lack of restraint causes lack of residents at a time LLC vacancy nationwide forebodes another step down in industry size. In places like Vermont and Florida and others, rent control, which one should practice on their own, is instilled by statute. Perhaps not the best solution, but the record says the world did not end there.

Yes, we tell a great story which seemingly has legs of truth about our affordable housing heritage. But for whatever reason, even though its great dog food, the dogs won't eat it. Perhaps a legacy of rapacious rent increases, closing parks, high default rates and high home value depreciation could be a good place to start the industry resurgence. We build great homes, but my friends, that, by itself is not enough. ##

marty-lavin-posted-on-mhpronews(MARTIN V. LAVIN
attorney, consultant & expert witness
350 Main Street Suite 100
BURLINGTON, VERMONT 05401-3413

802-660-8888 off / 802-238-7777 cell
marty@martylavin.com

(Editor's note: The hot link was added by us, not Marty, nor was the link requested in any way by Marty. We think it is good for others to realize that while Marty is 'retired,' he is still involved in this industry and clearly cares about manufactured housing deeply. That is why he sounds off on issues, because he cares enough to raise them for discussion, thought and action.

As always, letters and articles by you or your colleagues that may agree or take other perspectives are encouraged. Send them to latonyk@gmail.com with Industry Voices Guest Column in the subject line. )

Captive Finance Redux: Are you dealing with the Gestapo/NSA or Colonel Klink?

August 21st, 2013 No comments

Tony,
I've been delighted with the self-financing articles and feedback you have gotten on the subject. I've never doubted self-finance can be done properly, but that said, I don't think most can or will do it properly. Instead I believed the industry would often take the course many are revealing in your discussions; non-compliance, "I'll take my chances."

Interesting, but hardly surprising.

As I've written in the past, the various recent lending laws, federal and state, will and are having a demonstrable effect on the industry, likely to put the finishing touches on what little remains of the industry, reducing it even further.

Does this mean total death? Oh, I doubt that. Remember companies still sell buggy whips, not many, but they are still sold. As long as the industry continues to put people in homes who are not good at putting themselves in homes, a segment will remain. As will homes going on to owned land by those who trotted down to their friendly Hometown Bank, sat with their hard working banker and earned a loan for a HUD going onto their land.

Not many homes you say? Well, yes I agree with that. But some will still sell. Captive Finance will do some, but risky, unprotected self-financing will sell most homes. Is it illegal to speed? Yes, if you get caught. Obviously the same holds true for non-compliant lending.

There are few if any reports of originators of non-compliant loans being called to the gallows, or of loans declared invalid, (big deal in an industry with innumerable invalid loans), but, and this is the big one, still few if any reports of fines and crowbar motel residency. I suspect until the crowbar alternative becomes far more common, as with your various admitters, non-compliance will grow and perhaps even prosper. This leaves open whether in 1935 Berlin, oops, 2013 America, the Gestapo/NSA is checking the papers, or like Sgt Schultz, will see nothing. So far, they see nothing.

I have no doubt many of these offensive laws were carefully crafted to include MH, which leaves the futility of trying to change these laws to not include us as somewhat pathetic, but as an industry we still seek the get-out-of-jail card, which is in the deck right beside Marvin Place. These are both hard to get, kiddes.

So's, we's takes our chances, the "buyer" gets his desired home, the retailer/park owner gets a down-payment, resident, a stream of income and everyone lives happily after, until "innocent buyer" defaults and Illegal Aid gets involved, and reports the non-compliance to the massive Inadequate Buyer Protective Society. Then, the soggy brown stuff could hit the fan with the strong arm of The Man going full force against TrailerBoy. Ouch!

Can or will that happen? Well, yes it can, but will it? My 40 year experience with destructive retailer fraud on buyers was that it was little noticed by the authorities, it had to be BIG.

It remains to be seen whether we now will be dealing with Col. Klink or Buford T. Justice on non-compliance with this panoply of laws. For the sake of the MH self-admitted "misdirected," lets hope Klinky is still doing reruns and too busy to notice the industry's escape attempts.

But if it turns out these Alphabet Laws are actually enforced by Henrich Himmler's heirs, I'm not sure it is wise to be "non-compliant." Sometimes you have to admit the cards dealt are a very bad hand. It seems that way for MH and the spate of new lending laws.

I know one park owner who simply rents the home to the buyer for three years or until early default, which ever comes first. Once the buyer demonstrates a pattern of payments, he conveys the home, takes a promissory note not secured by the home, and hasn't found a big difference over his past experience with home sale with mortgage, etc. But he sleeps well knowing he might get his azz rumpled by the  borrower in this process, (so what is new?) but says at least at night he can sleep without the overhang of Att'y Gen Eric Holder visiting him for non-compliance.

Holder can bring those Philly Bad Guys from the voting place with their iron pipes to assure compliance. There is a true, Ouch! ##

marty-lavin-posted-on-mhpronews(2).jpgMARTIN V. (Marty) LAVIN
attorney, consultant & expert witness
Practice only in factory built housing
350 Main Street  Suite 100
BURLINGTON, VT 05401-3413
802-238-7777 cell  802-660-8888 office
Forget what people are saying, especially politicians. Instead, watch what is happening.” – Marty Lavin

 

Editor's Note: Marty's column is in response to these keenly read, linked articles:

Publisher Tony Kovach will plan a comment on this topic on the Masthead blog, to be published later on 8.21.2013

Interview with Marty Lavin, JD

April 3rd, 2013 1 comment

Marty, before we get into the meaty topics that will follow, let's establish your credentials for readers who may not know you and your background.

  • 1) MHProNews: Please tell us about your years involved in manufactured housing, including legal, as a community owner, expert on financing and any other. Include a sense of your MHC, financing and other business interests.

marty-lavin-50-posted-mhpronews-com-industry-voices-blog Marty Lavin:

I’m now 70 years old and I look back to 1972, when as a summer intern I entered the mobile home business. I was a junior in law school and was working at Ray’s Homes, who operated owned and franchised lots up and down the east coast, from New Brunswick to Florida.

For you youngsters, 1972 and then 1973 following it were the absolute pinnacle of the mobile home industry, reaching almost 580,000 shipments both years. At today’s shipments level, that is about eleven years of shipments, in each year, back to back. Those were giddy times, and predictions of 1,000,000 annual mobile home production seemed heady, but few seriously doubted it could happen, there seemed no barriers.

There were factories building homes all the way from some constructing them in their garage to the industry giants, Champion and Fleetwood or their compatriots. Time dims my full memory of 1972 and ’73, but not the excitement of those incredible times.

What it does not dim is that our sales organization was a national scope powerhouse, selling over 5,000 new homes in 1973. Think of that, almost 1% of all national sales, in one small outfit run by 3 people! I was proud of that then and still am.

What I remember most about 1972 is a time I was asked to go to a local land lease community owned by our organization. The community had about 214 homes in it, as I remember, a very large community in our small State of Vermont.

I was to field resident complaints. As I recall, a modest rent increase had just gone in and there was an uprising. I was to go up and quell the unrest.

I arrived at 5:30 PM, alone, at the community ballpark, and I met with 200+ very angry folks, and since they had been playing softball there were lots of baseball bats in the hands of the angry. Lesson: never attend a resident meeting alone with 200 angry people with baseball bats in hand. Actually a number of lessons came from that incident, which later served me well in both the MH Community and the apartment business. After all, the folks who inhabit apartments and MH Communities are not so different.

I came back after law school graduation and spent the next five years managing the legal affairs of sales lots, calling on banks for our service company, doing other legal work, and giving zoning presentations for MH Communities and strip shopping centers. Let’s say that the strip center zoning was easy compared with zoning MH Communities in most eastern states, as it was a serious challenge, even in the 1970’s. Always the endeavor was contentious, costly and endless, not a good business model.

By 1977 I became a General Motors dealer, selling Chevys for 4 years, then Oldsmobile and Cadillac for another 5 years. Sad to say, as much as I liked selling cars, I could not succeed financially although my sales were excellent, but profits, not sales volume sets the business paradigm, in cars or MH, and I fell short there. At the time the U.S. auto business was under serious pressure from the foreigns, and GM was already a doomed giant.

Back I went to real estate and the MH business.

From 1985 until 1995 I ran fast and hard buying communities in several states. As I remember at one point I was in George Allen’s top 75 list or thereabouts of community owners. These were communities I owned mostly on my own, few partners, just bank and seller debt. And of course, whether it is equity money from public subscription or money partners, or purchase money debt, they can all be harsh masters, and the vicious real estate depression of the 1989-1993 and the RTC (Resolution Trust Corporation) had us all in workouts. Most of my friends and partners declared bankruptcy. I thought that foolish, as it seemed unnecessary. Lots of talking and court appearances, but I got through it in spite of $55 million in debt, in 1989 dollars.

Rather than bankruptcy, my own course was entirely different. I chose to be prickly, but reasonable. Prickly, in that I could not be easily rolled by the creditor, and reasonable in that sometimes a property is not working, and it needs to go to someone with greater resources.

By 1988 I had formed an MH chattel loan service company, representing a large number of northeast area banks in originating loans, for home only, going primarily into communities. The general downturn of 1989-1993, with a steep decline in MH sales and lots of repossessions, stopped the service company’s climb to the big loan numbers. But they ultimately did come. In 1998, our company, Mortgage Services, Inc. (MSI) originated over 6,500 loans, totaling $188 million in originations. Those are big numbers in chattel loans by a broker. But as proud as we are of our volume, our record of clean paper without games, is a greater source of pride.

We originated loans for Vanderbilt, Chemical/Chase Bank, The Associates, CIT Group and many others. As one lender said to me a couple years after they left the industry and was running off the portfolio, “If every loan we bought were like yours, Marty, we’d still be in the business.” Satisfying words, indeed, in an industry enshrined in the Lending World Hall of Shame for Fraud.

We hung on with ever-smaller loan volume throughout most of the 2000’s, finally calling it quits after 2008, when we could no longer make money and my eyes glazed over trying to reinvent myself.

In 1999 or thereabouts, I was elected Vice Chair of the Financial Services Division of MHI, a two year assignment, which then leads to a two year assigned as the chairman of the Division. But, the industry was cratering so quickly, that the then chairman’s company exited MH lending, dropped out of MHI, and my term of almost 4 years as Financial Services Division Chairman began quickly.

In spite of an industry decline of frightening proportions, for many the reality had not yet sunk in. Mid-2000s shipments ranging from 125,000 to 150,000 homes, only with the grace of God who sent hurricanes and the industry built homes to house the dispossessed. But for anyone who could put it together, it was obvious: things in the industry were unraveling very quickly with scant hope of recovery.

For almost ten years I wrote a monthly newsletter, “Marty’s News and Notes,” commenting on the scene in Trailerville. What was obvious to me seemed less obvious to many. The industry was putting itself in an ever-shrinking situation and was not lifting a finger to try to save itself. The MH Image Campaign was endlessly pondered, but in the end, powerful industry forces that would profit by a weak industry joined hands with industry nabobs who to this day contend that our present situation is just an industry pullback, to kill the image campaign. Today, the industry has no ability to do any general industry promoting being too small to raise the money.

The highlight emotionally of this fading late 2000’s era was my dis-invitation from a community owner’s conference I was accepted to attend. My ideas of the industry decline, its causes, potential cures, and likely outcome were too radical. “Lenders could make money, they just got scared,” they said. They’d be back. I reasoned with even “good” MH chattel portfolios into land lease communities suffering over 30% lifetime defaults, lenders were unlikely to return, and so they haven’t. My one satisfaction since is that those who dis-invited me to the conference have of late finally grasped what I was saying over 5 years ago. Welcome to the party, even if belatedly so.

I very much enjoyed my assignment with Fannie Mae from 2003-2009 as their factory built housing consultant. I tried, as did Fannie, to bring some useful and survivable lending programs to the industry, but essentially they were rebuffed. To the end, the industry wanted to shuck and jive lenders to take losses in their behalf. I found the people at Fannie to be very intelligent and knowledgeable. They knew how to research a subject.

In many regards industry performance and industry attitude have never meshed. One would think an industry which had shrunk by 80% would go into bodies they were soliciting for help with hat-in-hand. Instead, bolstered by the industry shibboleth of “America’s Most Affordable Housing Form,” demands were more common than requests. That operating form continues to this day! I call it Pit Bull lobbying.

My proudest moment was in October, 2004, when my peers at the MHI Financial Services Division awarded me the Totaro Award of outstandinglifetime achievement to the division and industry. An award of this type makes one feel that all those meetings, flights, conferences and commuters, time consuming and personally expensive as they are, did not go unnoticed.

              

2) MHProNews: Tell us what you think the outlook is for us on the legislative or lobbying fronts on initiatives to modify regulations with the CFPB (Consumer Financial Protection Bureau) in Washington DC and why.

Marty Lavin:

One must look at the world as it is, not as one wishes it to be. Since the enactment of the Patriot Act in this nation, government found that they could pass very onerous and controlling laws, with relatively muted public outcry. In fact, the general public mood was that we wanted to be regulated. “Me, I’m ok and can be trusted, but that guy over there, let’s put him in regulatory shackles,” seemed to be the prevailing attitude.

An onslaught of rules and regulation ensued (Osama, you won, pal!). Many of them came as a response to the 2008 financial crisis, leading to an endless array of rules, regulations and laws. Nothing was left to chance. Endless government employees were hired to man all fronts. People not wanting to sit around in their government office with nothing to do, wrote their hearts out with rules and regulations. This necessitated a whole new group of people to enforce the laws, to make sure knuckles were broken for transgressors. Dodd-Frank and the Alphabet Laws ensued, and who knows what else (ObamaCare).

And what industries were targeted?

Well, all those mortgage lenders who had caused or appeared to cause the 2008 fracas. One would think the manner in which our industry had responded to being entangled by the regulation was that was they had “clean hands.” The industry acted as though they had not caused any of the lending problems which brought the regulations. Forget that from 1999 until 2005 or thereabouts, millions of MH homeowners lost their homes to the depredations of our sellers and industry lenders and the highly flawed portfolios they originated. “But we gave them a chance for home ownership,” was the industry refrain. Some chance, when portfolios were originated with well over 50% defaults.

This led to many problems for the lenders, but the primary losers for those bad portfolios were the homeowners, and the investors who bought the portfolios, just as occurred in the 2008 mortgage disaster. In the MH 1999-2005 loan meltdown the plight of homeowners with lost homes, lost jobs, divorces, financial problems, moves for other housing and the emotional distress it caused seemed unreported and without concern by anyone. But did it escape the gaze of the regulators?

When these things occurred in the real estate lending meltdown of 2008, the scope was so great and consequences so extreme, that homeowner plight did not go unnoticed. To the contrary, many undeserving homeowners were given breaks they did not deserve. Little of that occurred in the MH debacle.

The CFPB arose from that wellspring; Chattel loan shenanigans led to homeowner/borrower consequences essentially identical to the mortgage mess, so why treat them differently? To say nothing of the industry reputation for loan fraud, and dealing with many financially fragile people who were not viewed as able to protect themselves.

Don’t misunderstand my drift; I’m simply reporting what I see as the motivation for the formation of the CFPB, and by extension, the prospects for any serious changes in their rules and regulations.

Were I sitting across the table from industry lobbyists, in the back of my mind is the knowledge that exempting the MH industry from these rules is loosening the grip on an industry who hasn’t acted as though their past lending was fair to the consumer.

Yes, as the industry claims, a few more homes might be sold if rules were relaxed, but the CFPB rules and regs do not by themselves stop a 580 FICO buyer from getting financed. That’s a self-sustaining process by industry lenders for the moment. But it might protect the 660 on up FICO MH buyer from some of the known operating defects from which the industry has suffered. That’s the thinking the industry faces in seeking changes.

So, what do I think the industry lobbying efforts will gain as to the CFPB? I seriously doubt that any meaningful loosening of regulations will occur as making the case for it is not easy. At best, a few more homes could be sold and financed to responsible buyers, but regulators do not see loosening regulations which simply allow people at the bottom to “buy” more MH, and suffer a high loss of homes. And that is what the industry seeks, at its heart. My advice, onerous as the regulations are, learn to live with them and take advantage of a new competitive factor introduced by CFPB. Master the requirements and get a leg up on those who will not, of whom there appears to be many.

3) MHProNews: What is your impression of the working relationship between various industry associations, HUD and the DOE?

Down through the years I have known both sides of the continuing lobbying drama. The industry wants this and that, most of which conflicts with the regulators desire to control the industry and protect the consumer. We now have a history of going at this since the late 1970’s, without any magical results for the industry. It has recently become a highly regulated industry which heretofore, though the industry viewed itself as highly regulated, it was not. That changed. Welcome to the new America where regulation of all stripes holds sway.

Of the major industry associations, MHI (Manufactured Housing Institute) has been the compromising industry element. While individual members have been combative, the association has tried to be firm, but compromise has not been unknown.

The other group, MHARR (Manufactured Housing Association for Regulatory Reform), has catered to the industry segments which feel we can go toe-to-toe with industry regulators and have our way with them.

I think if we took a long and serious look at the actual achievements of both associations, the record reveals little success by the pit bull faction, and some, though limited success from the compromisers. But what would we expect from an industry whose main claim is that it is America’s most affordable housing, when government now finds non-profits or developer-required low-income housing as the better vehicle to deliver affordable housing, not the MH industry. The industry has become suspect, and that is at the heart of the regulations, just as it was with the mortgage industry which brought on their highly increased regulatory burden.

I’ve written at some length in this publication in the past on this very matter of the associations, and a view of that might shed even more light on the subject as to my thoughts on our associations and their operating style and effectiveness.

I do not want to leave this matter of lobbying without speaking to the state associations.

All during my 40+ years in Trailerville, I’ve dealt with them. They have many very talented people involved and members can really get involved without the major time and money cost of national association meeting attendance. Some belong to both, but at my speeches at various state associations I met many I never saw in Washington, who obviously were very involved in state matters. Their record of storming the state capitols to seek redress shows how effective close relationships can be. We see an effectiveness locally we simply do not see on the national stage.

Locally we may represent a strong voice listened to. Nationally, even when we had a fairly strong PAC $$$$, we were a minor player in most regards and were treated as such. Today with our PAC having the same money as the allowance for an 18 year-old, we don’t get too much respect or time.

In most states, with strong associations, getting into the halls of power and talking with a regulator or politician who is a personal friend of yours yields excellent results. Would it be this action was transferable to DC. But in DC relationships seem to hinge on $$$$$.

4) MHProNews: What do you think would help the industry's working relationship with regulators?

Marty Lavin:

The industry needs friends. It has few if any in government, and none I know of in the non-profit world, which takes an ever greater share of attention within government. As we’ve seen repeatedly, at all levels of government, a few loud critics, especially from non-profits, have enormous sway over board and regulators. Meanwhile, everything we say is questioned and mostly disbelieved.

Long have I encouraged MHI to join folks like AARP, who is a serious critic of the industry, in trying to resolve issues between us.

Is the water too poisoned to join with various non-profits? Perhaps, but if we can work with them on specific issues, powerful forces could be unleashed on our behalf, which would greatly enhance our clout with government. Against us they seem to be prevailing. But we must get past the ingrained industry belief that we do no wrong and do not need to change or compromise.

By ourselves, in an essentially buggy whip industry (fading), I do not see the regulators doing anything we request, save at the margin. And any slide back from regulations will quickly be rescinded as soon as industry infractions occur once more. History tells us that will happen quickly. Just look at the number of industry people trying to slide around the numerous lending regulations now hung around our necks.

5) MHProNews: What do you think would be useful in having a positive impact on our lobbying efforts for modifications in Dodd-Frank with Capitol Hill?

Marty Lavin:
I fail to come up with any positive, easy solutions to our problems, heaven knows I tried. The industry reputation of “bad-actor,” who treats consumers unfairly, who closes communities to sell 150 families out so a Wal-Mart can be built, who champion chattel lending where very financial fragile people have high default rates in communities, who raise rents endlessly, have led to not only Dodd-Frank, but to highly restrictive zoning laws, rent control laws, and a myriad of lending and non-lending regulations. These have help squeeze the life from the industry.

But let’s confront the real culprit for the fall from 580,000 homes in 1973 to the 50,000 range today, even as population has increased by 50% since 1973.

Listen intently here, Junior, it ain’t the regulations which plague us.

It is this simple fact, like it or not: Chattel lending to the average customer drawn to our product is not sustainable because of high default rates and the attendant high loss upon resale of defaulted collateral.

I needn’t remind you this is a complex, intractable problem at least for now, and solutions are extremely elusive. If lenders lend only to those customers likely to default at less than 20% lifetime rates, then this is a small industry, as we now see. If lenders follow the lending regimen of 1960-2003, then defaults will lead to huge lender losses, even as sales soar, for a while anyway.

Since the ABS MH meltdown of the late 90’s and early 2000’s, lenders are aware of this fact. Sad to say, after innumerable industry meetings, I note only our lenders seem to appreciate this fact. The rest of the industry seems unconvinced, not wanting to be confused by the facts.

Thus the present extreme caution in lending, as even six months of lending error will likely bring an enterprise down, results from the reported facts of the ABS era. MH Lenders have decided that it will not be them who subsidize the industry through loan losses.

The GSE’s were probed to take over that role and even though they did so with real estate mortgages with disastrous ramifications, they refused to do so with MH.

HUD/FHA through its lending programs has always been probed to have them assume that role. Once the 50 year lender subsidy of the industry was withdrawn, reality set in as to the real size of the industry. Not the 1975 to 1999 trend line of 250,000 homes annually, but a mere 50,000 home shipments per year, was the real size.

And even if the hurricanes run wild again, will government turn to us again for homes?

That leaves only government-subsidized loan losses in order for the industry to be able to return to those golden 250,000 annual home shipments. So far every government agency has refused to do so, especially after the losses suffered in the Title I, Chattel Loan program, which the GAO report demonstrated was a serious loser. No one wants to be our bitch.

I dare say that the loan losses and its connection to industry size were well recognized by some by the late 1990’s, when I heard a senior GSE official say that only with government subsidies could the industry succeed once lenders retreated. That hasn’t happened. I was gape-jawed at the time, but how right they were!

So going to Capitol Hill on Dodd-Frank almost seems like deck chair moving. Let’s suppose all Dodd-Frank and other new lending license requirements were repealed, does selling self-financed used homes to 580 FICO borrowers save the industry?

I think not and clearly stated as such years ago when an industry scribe was waxing eloquent about the potential for self-finance to save the industry. It is not going to happen for a variety of reasons, and I told him so as well. It may help some individual organizations, but the entire industry? Yeah, right.

6) MHProNews: What closing thoughts would you like to leave with industry readers today?

Marty Lavin:

Tony, in those dozens of “Marty’s News and Notes” I wrote in the 2000’s I proposed many changes in the industry operating model I thought would help. Of course, most all of them were unenforceable, were likely to be violated by many, and some were deemed to make industry action more difficult, as though if not enacted the industry would get better and easier.

The Image Campaign was an excellent example. After Roper Associates polled the public on industry public perception, their report to the industry said that in their 30+ years of polling, no industry had been so poorly perceived by the public and their customers. This was strong incentive indeed for an industry seeking to refurbish itself. We did nothing. So they don’t like us? Who gives a rat’s azz?

Regulators deal in the real world. They read the newspaper account of another tenant revolt in a community after a rent increase. The photos of another community closing with pathetic people having to move a worthless 40 year old home to another elsewhere and not having the resources to do so can’t help but move the public.

Not our problem you say? Perhaps, but our regulators and critics wield their dictatorial power against us, even as the industry seems oblivious to it. And like the drip of the Chinese water torture, little by little our operating style has gone out of style. Yeah, but dick-head, we are moving to create green homes! That will help.

In spite of everything I’ve said in here, let’s zero in on the most important fact I can remind you of today.

Like the stock market which is a market of individual stocks, this is not an industry, but an accumulation of individual opportunities, all revolving around a factory built home.

There are plenty of players surviving, even flourishing in their own endeavors.

It would be nice to have a strongly growing industry to help business, but the industry has shrunk enough, shedding many enterprises, as it seeks its new level. Some elements, like the communities, will likely continue shrinking as the cornfields which became mobile home parks courtesy of crazy lending, revert to cornfields.

You know that from those endless real estate broker-sent emails asking for offers on troubled properties, with 50% occupancy, almost all of which are owner financed homes. Mercy, Jesus…

Don’t plan your business around Dodd-Frank, or SAFE or CFPB being modified or overturned. The chances of that are slim. Pay attention to your own unique niche. Follow the rules, stay out of trouble, and meld business needs with empathy for your buyer or community resident. Become the “good guy” in a sea of others.

Hard as it is, do the things required by law if necessary to succeed. If the laws are overturned or modified, you can quickly revert, but you are wasting time trying to battle what is in place now.

Know that GreenTree Financial is not returning and the industry lenders, few as they are, will not become GreenTree. Don’t worry about that rumored 580 FICO industry chattel lender coming to the sales lot close to you. It isn’t happening. And if it does, keep those bottom right drawer loans denied by everyone else flowing to it quickly, as the life expectancy is about three years.

Nothing is likely to change. Partner with your local hometown bank(s), protect them, and reap the rewards that can flow from that association. Make your plans based on increasing regulations, not less. Your ability to operate easily in that regulatory environment will be the key in the future.

Finally, the hot button of this moment; titling what has historically been personal property as real estate, that is the home-only, even in land lease communities.

I first bumped into this around 2004 at a meeting of land lease residents and non-profit employees who ran the communities. This was described as the new panacea, after all, we know how secure real estate secured mortgages can be, especially with sub-prime lenders and borrowers. This change in titling protocols would fix everything for the homeowner.

Then about 5-6 years ago a law professor from the University of Minnesota contacted me to discuss the concept. She was writing a law review article on the matter, as I remember, and had liberally quoted a lot of my written work. Very complimentary. I will tell you the same thing about titling personal property homes as real estate by fiat as I told her. You can do it by law if you chose to but to what end?

Presumably, doing this well-intended move is a desire to remediate the whole purchase, default, repo resale process. That process entails two issues: first the incidence of loan defaults, or what percentage will default, and severity, or how much money will be lost on the repossession and resale of the home. With broadly expansive chattel lending, these two have plagued the industry since the very first, and by extension, plagued the homeowner.

Of course, if by fiat one can entirely change the character of an item, I am all for it. I would start by declaring Martin V. Lavin as a young, handsome, vital man instead of an old, ugly, tired man. Well, of course logic tells us that in both the home and the man, the declaration by fiat of something it isn’t is doomed to failure.

Don’t let that hold you back. Perception is reality. Remember, put a tooth under the pillow and the good fairy comes.

The refrain always is; it works in New Hampshire, why not elsewhere?

This is a refrain that can only come out of a mouth of someone who hasn’t been in a three year old home which has gone into default, the home has been owned by uncaring people, the rugs stained, the appliances and furniture taken with the former owners, and during the repo period, neighborhood kids stoned all the windows and took a dump on the floor in the bathroom. They missed the hopper.

I’ve been in those homes, often located in a community with very substantial home vacancy and the owner just loves those substantial, frequent rent increases. So why does it all work in New Hampshire and a few other states as well even without real estate titling? The key to low frequency and severity hinge, on several factors:

  • High home values in conventional housing in the area
  • A relatively tight area housing market
  • A home placed in a community with low vacancy
  • Landlords/community owners who exercise rent increase restraint or rent control
  • Low numbers, if any, of community-owned homes

New Hampshire has most of these factors. Take away the vaunted “real estate” designation and do you think the MH market in New Hampshire would noticeably change. I think not.

Alternately, go to rural Alabama or Mississippi and go into some of the typical communities there, which do not share the factors above enumerated and do you think that real estate titling will change anything? “Hot damn, my trailer just became a mansion by the new law passed,” said Johnny Hayweed. All I can say, is if passing a law which says that chattel is real estate is all that is needed to correct frequency and severity, bring it on! Do you really think that is the answer?

From the recollection I have of dealing in New Hampshire financing years ago, the process was more onerous than a simple chattel loan for whatever that means. On the positive side real estate financing brings with it a number of borrower protections that pure chattel transaction have not always enjoyed. I’m not sure that with all the Alphabet Laws plus Dodd-Frank that protections on pure chattel transactions are now lacking.

But again, it doesn’t really matter whether this move has any particular merit or not, get your throat ready for the shove-down, its coming. And who is pushing it? Why the aforementioned non-profits, especially the Ford Foundation and its many allies. You know, the people the industry has failed to engage and who are now calling the tunes. Wake me when it’s over.

For the record, I still own a manufactured home community, remain comfortably retired, but keenly interested in the manufactured housing industry. And I still get an occasional consulting and expert witness assignment. ##

(Photo Credits: Supplied by Marty Lavin)

(Editor's Note: As with all of our Industry Voices guest articles and other featured articles, the opinions expressed are those of the the writer, or in this case, of Marty Lavin, JD, who thoughtfully and candidly replied to each of our questions. A careful look at Marty Lavin's thoughts will reveal that this is not pure 'doom and gloom,' as he points out exceptions to the rules that he has witnessed. We at MHProNews.com welcome posted comments or reply columns on this article and encourage similar or differing points of view. You may submit a guest column with the usual editorial guidelines to us by email. Use the words Letter to the Editor or Industry Voices Guest Column in the subject line to: iReportMHNewsTips@MHMSM.com or latonyk@gmail.com Be sure to ask for a message confirming your submission, thank you.)

Reading The National Association

August 12th, 2011 2 comments

The Journal

I get “The Journal” monthly, the Jim Visser published magazine that appears to be the sole remaining print manufactured housing periodical. Others, including the much beloved Manufactured Housing Merchandiser, dropped by the wayside in the recent past, as advertising support fell off. Take HUD Code home shipments from 372,800 in 1998, and let them free-fall to some 50,000 in 2010, and that 86% drop annihilated much of an entire industry. We see the results about as everywhere.

I read The Journal regularly, reading some articles carefully and skimming others of less interest to me, but I look at all of them. Note that all of the writers therein are either executives at MH trade associations, or consultants. The tradeoff for the publication is a plentiful supply of written material for free, which they sandwich around their advertising. The writers, mostly consultants, get no pay but are happy to write the pieces to highlight their acumen in their area of expertise, sometimes leading to paid consulting assignments.

We also get some “infomercials” from paid advertisers. They buy an ad and the periodical allows them to write a “puff piece,” often nothing more than a glorified press release. No worries mate, The Journal is not the Wall Street Journal and no one expects it to be.

All the materials therein provide information, which is what advertising is meant to do. The reason Jack uses Enzyte after playing golf is that it makes him a “bigger” man. Informative, right?

Read the articles written by a number of the regular contributors in The Journal or an online ezine like MSMSM.com, and you begin to have a feel for the person or organization producing these pieces.

Trade Associations

As an example, both the manufactured housing trade associations, Manufactured Housing Institute (MHI) and Manufactured Housing Association for Regulatory Reform (MHARR) use the pages of The Journal and MHMSM.com to report their goals and positions on industry matters they deem important. It is also very obviously a recruitment tool for them.

And what can we glean from the decade plus of pieces there by the two national associations in The Journal?

The first thing we deduce is that MHI, through its last three leaders, strikes a measured approach to Washington matters. Being a collection of both home production and the dreaded “post production” segments, they come across as informed, conciliatory, and doing what they can to further the industry’s goals, as envisioned by a few large and powerful members, especially those who are heavy dues payers.

The MHI employee count has plunged in the last 10 years almost as much as industry home shipments, yet I do not notice that much fall-off in their accomplishments. This either says a great deal about the efficiency of the present crew there or the common occurrence in organizations to grow employees more than accomplishments.

On the other hand, MHARR has been, with a brief hiatus in the last few years, almost exclusively the venue for the HUD Code home producers. At MHARR “post production” seems like two dirty words. The HUD Code, the feared federal regulatory scheme of the late 1970’s, brought cries of “it will destroy the industry” before it’s taking effect. Since then, like the “Stockholm Syndrome” it has taken full control of MHARR, and their strong expressions in the pages of The Journal and everywhere else they’ll be heard.

One can only view it as a hate-love relationship with the HUD Code as interpreted, declared and attacked by MHARR’s fearless battering ram, Danny Ghorbani. Say what you will about Danny, he is knowledgeable about the HUD Code as no one else, and relentless in his pursuit of seeing it applied as he sees its meaning.

Danny’s problem, of course, is that not everyone sees it his way. I haven’t noticed MHI being quite so animated in its pursuit of “the Code.” Oh, I’m still waiting for Danny to complete the Manufactured Housing Improvement Act of 2000 (MHIA 2000) Subpart I mandates, his 10-year quest I think as yet uncompleted.

Different Heads

Anyone who has read the pieces by the national association heads here at MHMSM.com and elsewhere will have the feeling that MHI and MHARR are very different organizations. If I’m asked which is more effective I can only comment that neither has been able to stop the regulatory onslaught nor marshaled a unified approach to correcting the deficiencies of the Manufactured Buggy Whip industry. Their efforts have all been in Washington, where they all live and work. Other than the “Duty to Serve” inserted into the GSE mandates, I’ve seen little or nothing which would sell one more home, which should be the aim of the national associations, not the ease of home production.

Blocked weather radios?

Well Hells Bells, Boy, that saved $40.00 per home! Look how that saved $40.00 spurred the sale of homes!

The industry has a whole news media constantly telling the public of the danger of turbulent weather towards manufactured housing. So the battle against weather radios comes off in the media as lack of care for consumer safety by the MH industry. Instead, the weather radio, perhaps not the best weather Paul Revere, could have been taken by the industry and used to show how much MH cares about consumer safety in a lemons to lemonade move. The industry might also have supported proper installation and anchoring of homes. Those moves were fought everywhere, including Florida, where anchors were slammed down our craw. Who was the first to take credit for the very fine job anchored MH demonstrated after the numerous hurricanes in Florida? You tell me!

Waiting to See

But here’s the article I’m awaiting to see in MHMSM.com and in The Journal, by both organizations: Here is a list of the items we have accomplished in Washington, and elsewhere WHICH HAVE LED TO THE SALE OF x MORE HOMES AND MADE THEM A BETTER VALUE FOR OUR CONSUMERS. Wanna see that one? I sure do.

Perhaps it’s unfair to pick on the two national associations. They are both staffed with good people doing what they think is right for the industry. Maybe our expectations for their results are too high.

Could it be these national associations exist only to create and support networking opportunities between industry players and to inform of matters deemed to be important or interesting as it affects the industry? Long ago I came to that conclusion.

The starkest example of the inability of the national associations to really matter beyond information and networking occurred during the period of 2001-2010, especially in 2004-2008, as frequent attempts were made to “restructure” the so-apparent industry defects which were destroying industry sales.

For a variety of reasons, none of the grandiose measures proposed, vetted and formulated in writing came to fruition, as we saw our associations have no ability to restructure an industry. Only the marketplace has that ability, and it proceeds to do so apace. Note that shipments through June of 2011 were down almost 12.3% from last year. Let’s face it, we blew what little wad we had in Elkhart in June of 2010 when FHFA, the GSE’s regulator, told the industry plainly: Our Duty to Serve (DTS) the MH industry doesn’t extend to chattel lending, as the GSE’s already have enough problems without getting into new and potentially troublesome areas, where they have very limited expertise. So much for Duty to Serve and all the homes it would sell through new chattel financing from the GSE’s.

Minor Success

The associations did help get FHA Title I (Chattel Loan) reformed last year, after the program was long time moribund. First year loan volume in 2010 was hardly encouraging, but OK, put that on the list as an accomplishment, limited as it is.

The horse has left the stable on SAFE, Dodd-Frank, other regulations and Super Consumer Agency. Both national associations are actively trying to reform major portions of the laws to exempt MH retailers and others from the force of the laws and their regulations. I suppose a strong selling point by the industry can be the straightforward reputation MH has for integrity in the sale and financing of homes. (Ah, they may have to back off from that one.) I think instead they are going to use affordability of our homes and limiting consumer choices as reasons to exempt manufactured housing from the new regulations. That event, should it transpire, should turbo-boost new home shipments! Right?

Wait a minute. Those laws, bureaus and regs haven’t been in effect all during the explosive industry dismantlement since 1999, so even if the above laws do not take effect against MH they will only reduce the slide, and do nothing to increase shipments. Whoops!

Communiqués Aplenty

Every month we read the numerous communiqués from both national associations. MHI seems the more measured with a range of information and an attempt to influence law makers and regulators with an effort to strike a balance between persuasion and facts. They do not seem to get much done, but then again, why should we expect the MH industry, a true 90 pound weakling, to get things done on SAFE, Dodd-Frank, and Super Consumer Agency when real powerhouses like the Mortgage Bankers and Realtors have had so little success. How, indeed?

Read one of the missives from MHARR and at first blush these beautifully structured sentences and paragraphs speak of power, passion, and a non-compromising attitude. I suppose the reality would be more palatable if not for the fact that this association is a loud-mouthed 90 pound weakling, but a weakling nonetheless. Their endless wrangling with HUD and others almost seems like that cartoon where Bugs and Elmer Fudd go to work every day, punch the time clock, spend 8 hours abusing each other, then punch out at day’s end and go home for a burger and a cold beer. It’s all a game.

And I don’t really blame the staff at MHARR, as they are employees who are guided by the officers and members of the association. It is they who foster this pugnacious attitude. If they have turned MHARR into a “wind them up and let ‘em pummel” HUD or whoever, it is because many in MH have this deviant thought that the “affordability” of the homes the industry produces allows them special prerogatives at the political table. What they do not apparently understand is that affordability of our homes is in the eye of the beholder, and in any event, loan defaults trump home affordability. The industry and their national associations make too much of “affordability” and the results show.

This would all be amusing, of course, if in the course of being a lobbyist, which MHARR is, it actually got things accomplished. Instead, we see a lobbying effort whose response from those they lobby is to roll their eyes about MHARR and call in sick when they are expected to visit.

MHI is conciliatory but gets little done and MHARR is pugnacious and gets little done. Maybe our expectations are too high for what each can and does accomplish. And certainly as shipments have plunged, so has the industry’s importance, PAC money and influence. Hang on to that affordability, it’s all we’ve got!

The Roles

Currently, as the MH industry press explores the roles of the two national associations and whether another is needed, or whether there is any hope the existing two could and should merge, I’m bemused by all the attention to this concern. (Merger you say? Sure! Fool me once, shame on you, etc.) The role of each seems clear to me. MHI is the broad purveyor of consensus and civility, calling on uncaring bureaucrats who do little for them, but meet with them. MHARR is the pit bull, knocking on D.C. doors wherein frightened bureaucrats lie prostrate, with the door well locked. Don’t come in! One tries persuasion, the other intimidation. Both can work in the right hands and proper hands, but the limitations of each, as it applies to the industry, is clearer than ever.

At the heart of the matter is that mortgage defaults and loan losses trump home affordability and consumer choice. No matter the strategy employed by the two national associations, talking home affordability has its limits. In fact I daresay it is not affordability which drove bloated 1990’s MH shipments and sales. No, it was transaction ease, that is, it was easy during the Greenseco era to buy and finance a manufactured home. Home affordability to a degree remains, but transaction ease left, with the results we now see. I’m not sure how the national associations can react to that, for in order to re-establish transaction ease, someone has to take on some massive chattel loan losses. Any volunteers? Danny? Thayer? Anyone? # #

Post by

MARTIN V. (MARTY) LAVIN
attorney, consultant, expert witness
practice only in factory built housing
350 Main Street Suite 100
Burlington, Vermont 05401-3413
802-660-8888
802-238-7777 cell
web site: www.martylavin.com

email mhlmvl@aol.com / marty@martylavin.com