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The Value of IMAGE, The Image of VALUE

July 9th, 2014 No comments

There is much talk of the need to “do something” about our industry’s image. Wow, that’s some understatement!

But what? And how? And who will pay for the refurbishment?

It’s a deep problem. It’s hard to refurbish an image that was never really “furbished” in the first place! The MH industry has a lot of growing up to do, and it’s quite a challenge.

Tony Kovach recently published the following graph.

manufactured-housing-mobile-home-shipments-graph-chart-calculatedrisk-posted-masthead-blog-mhpronews-com-

Our eyes jump to the trend of the past decade, which emphasizes the need to “do something.” I invite you to study the other end of that graph. The sixties.

In that decade, as today, the rule of thumb for a stick builder was to dedicate about half of construction cost to materials. That didn’t work for those building homes in factories. They had to build a product sturdy enough to ship a thousand miles on its own wheels, and if material content dropped below 60 percent—lock the factory doors. No reputable dealer would buy. In those days, despite buying all that material factory-direct and very efficient labor, the MH cost was far higher per square foot than a house (excluding land).

By the end of that decade, the rule of thumb—the MH optimum for sales maximization—was 70 percent material, 10 percent labor, 10 percent overhead and 10 percent pretax profit. In good years, that worked and profits rolled in. In bad years, you got hammered.

Sounds like a loser business?

Not if you knew your stuff. If you managed 30-plus inventory turns, collected cash on delivery of the homes, operated in a pole-barn factory and had nominal investment, you could operate on your supplier’s 30-days-same-as cash payment plan. Banks released floor-plan cash upon delivery of the home. 100 percent return on equity was not out of the question. But everything had to work.

Look again at Tony’s graph. Everything did work during that decade for those who managed well. A year of no sales increase was considered a recession.

Manufacturers had to master that formula or get out of the race. Competition was brutal, but everyone understood that no one could do it alone. Manufacturers, suppliers, dealers, developers and banks. All were highly profitable when they got their sums and strategies right.

The quality of manufactured homes soared and the cost of producing them plunged. Such was the magnitude of opportunity in the sleepy housing industry.

It was Skyline, Fleetwood and the like who got the publicity—biggest MH manufacturers, most profitable companies in the stock market and all that. Surely they should have stepped up to the plate and “done something” about the industry’s image?

Well, they did what they could, but their hands were tied. Every nickel of such a manufacturer’s profit would have funded just one percent of industry sales for an image-building program. And what, one might ask, could a manufacturer have done for its image more useful than investing in product improvement? That’s what the critics and customers requested, and rightly so.

The largest manufacturers each held less than 10 percent market share and had plenty of competition snapping at their britches. Which of those “leaders” should have stepped up to the plate and invested significant funds in the industry’s image? Sure the profits were good, but they didn’t stay that way.

Look again at Tony’s graph, and what happened when things stopped going well for the industry in the early seventies. That’s why there was so much resistance to the HUD standard, and still is. That’s why it has always been hard to get those “big manufacturers” to spend “just a little bit more” on the want-of-the-week. If the competition doesn’t do the same, you’re toast. Real competition is not for the faint of heart, but it works wonders for customers.

Competitive product improvement, step by step. Learning curve. That’s how the MH industry cut the cost of building homes in half. Focused, efficient, production in a housing market where nobody was in charge, regulation was rampant and good times were rolling. Don’t hold your breath waiting for a repeat of that kind of housing opportunity.

My enthusiasm for today’s outlook is based on the fact that the leaders have survived and now have commanding market share, while retaining—improving—their production cost advantage over the stick guys. I don’t know what the Big Three’s margins are, but they’re profitable. We’re in a new and potentially better ball game.

The outlook is marred by the yo yo of housing demand, fluctuating with the whims of the economy and regulators. That’s why, when asked to write a book on the potential of manufactured housing, I said, “You’ve got to be kidding!”

It didn’t take much research to change my mind. The survivors seem to have learned to cope with such market volatility and stifling regulation. The production cost advantage is still increasing and the competition continues to doze. Well managed surviving MH producers remain profitable in a scenario that would have crushed any normal manufacturing industry long ago … but woe to the manufacturer who single-handedly takes on the cost of a major industry image upgrade.

It needs to be done, but has to be a team effort, with participation by most members of the industry at large. And there has to be strong leadership so we all head the same direction.

Given the squabbling we all see and regret, is there any hope?

Of course there is! The MH industry has always been a teamwork affair, where even bitter enemies worked together to keep the system functioning, because we all had a vested interest in keeping this marvelous housing system pumping, cranking out houses and profits. That has not changed.

Sure HUD, Dodd-Frank and their ilk are a royal pain in the butt, but they strangle the other guys, too. Despite best efforts of bureaucrats to rule by regulation, economics will win in the end, and we’ve figured out an inherently better way to build houses.

Yes, for a time we fouled our nest. Young industries do that. Yes, the public disdains “trailers.” Tell me what sort of low cost housing they like? Nobody wants low cost housing except those having a nose for value or low income. Those are huge markets that no other product can satisfy that need as well as manufactured housing.

What we lack in image, we more than make up in value.

Let’s build on that. ##

bob-vahsholtz-author-dueling-curves-battle-for-housing-posted-industry-voices-guest-blog-mhpronews-com-manufatured-housing-professional-news-75x75-Bob Vasholtz is the author of Dueling Curves. Bob Vahsholtz is the author of DUELING CURVES The Battle for Housing. Bob can be reached at kingmidgetswest@gmail.com. Web: www.kingmidgetswest.com

A prior guest column from Bob – Who's in Charge Here – is linked.

 

(Editor's Note: The chart show above is courtesy of CalculatedRisk and was used in the following article, Manufactured Housing's Declaration of Independence. As with all letters to th editor, articles and guest column, the views represented are those of the writer. Other perspectives are welcome, email latonyk@gmail.com with Letters to the Editor or OpEd in the subject line.)

The RV Industry is Attempting to Amend the HUD Manufactured Housing Code

May 28th, 2014 No comments

The Recreational Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA) is pushing a proposal through the U.S. Congress to change the definition of manufactured home in the National Manufactured Home Construction and Safety Standards Act.  The proposed change would specifically exclude certain “RV trailers,” including Park Model RVs, from the definition of a manufactured home in the federal HUD Code.

The stated purpose of the proposed change is to provide regulatory certainty to lenders, state or local taxation and land use officials that a Park Model RV is a recreational vehicle, not a manufactured home.

Their urgency for this change is that some lenders are apprehensive about making Park Model RV loans in light of the new Dodd-Frank Act requirements.

A concern with the language, as proposed, is that it may allow ANSI Park Model RVs to expand beyond the current 400 square foot size limitation. 

This would be harmful to the HUD-Code RV Park Model industry in states like Florida by encouraging the sale of ANSI Park Models that exceed 400 square feet.

The proposed amendment states, “a park model RV that has a gross area not greater than 400 square feet based on the exterior dimensions of the unit measured at the largest horizontal projections in the set-up mode, including all floor space that has a ceiling height of more than 5 feet” (emphasis added). 

The ceiling height language was inserted to codify a 1997 HUD interpretation that loft areas which are less than 5’0” in height are not considered in determining the size of the structure. The proposed language does not limit the ceiling height exclusion to loft areas, thus allowing for the possibility of “slide-out rooms” or “build-outs” less than 5 feet high.

RVIA is emphatic that the intent is not to increase the size of ANSI Park Model RVs.

According to RVIA, concerns about enlarging the size of Park Model RVs are unfounded because specific rules are in place to measure the size and calculate the square footage of Park Model RVs. Additionally, Park Model RVs are built to standards administered by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI), a national voluntary consensus body. The ANSI A119.5 standards would have to be amended to allow for larger structures.

While these safeguards are in place today, the statute will drive future requirements. If the federal law is ambiguous enough to assert that larger ANSI RV Park Models are allowed, then the rules will change to accommodate this view. 

The RVIA is working hard to get this amendment accomplished during the 2015 HUD appropriations process. RVIA is not looking for industry support, but rather seeks to quell any opposition.

MHI has taken a neutral position on the proposal, while MHARR is adamantly opposed to it.

This proposed change to the National Manufactured Home Construction and Safety Standards Act will have a negative impact on the HUD-Code Park Model industry in Florida. Most Park Models are permanently sited and larger ANSI Park Model RVs will encourage permanent, year round living. ANSI Park Model RVs are designed and intended for recreational use and seasonal living only and are not built to the more stringent HUD building code.

The Florida Manufactured Housing Association (FMHA) has asked RVIA to consider amending its proposal to specify that the 5 foot ceiling height exemption applies to loft areas only. This will ensure that ANSI Park Model RVs are not built in excess of 400 square feet.

Reasserting the current size restriction in the proposed amendment will satisfy the RV industry’s objective of clarifying the differences between ANSI Park Model RVs and HUD manufactured homes for financing and land use purposes, while promoting ANSI Park Model RVs as a desirable option for recreational and seasonal accommodations. ##

james-ayotte-Florida-Manufactured-Housing-Association-posted-on-mhpronewsJames R. Ayotte, CAE
Executive Director
Florida Manufactured Housing Association
3606 Maclay Blvd. South – Suite 200
Tallahassee, FL 32312
Ph:(850) 907-9111
F:850) 907-9119
jayotte@fmha.org
www.fmha.org

What Manufactured Housing Competes Against

August 7th, 2012 5 comments

l;ance-inderman-mhpronewsI think we need to take a serious look at what our industry is competing with in the housing marketplace and the regulation that each of our housing competitors are facing.

We worry way to much about what one of the 3-C's of manufactured home building are doing than we should. As a percentage of new homes sold, we just keep loosing ground.

The site builders are pushing us further and further into the rural abyss. I have a partner that builds homes with me in Lubbock and we are able to build a brick home with porches and 6/12 roof pitches for around $40 a square foot including material and 100% subcontract labor.

I have another friend that builds about 125 new homes a year with annual sales of about $35,000,000 and a little over 10% net bottom line. He does this with 9 employees, no multi-million dollar building, total work in process and finished goods of about $1,500,000. He has no licensing requirements. His company and his salespeople have no continuing education requirements. He does not offer paid vacations to his employees or laborers. He is not faced with massive unemployment taxes if he does not have a house to build tomorrow. Government mandated health insurance does not affect him. Basically he has almost no regulation and very little overhead. He builds a quality product and is very successful.

I drove down the beach between Beaumont and Galveston and pass one RV park after the other with all types of RV's up to buses that cost over a million dollars.

I saw manufactured homes that were at least 12 feet in the air to protect a $40K double wide from flooding. The construction cost to complete these jobs has to be close to exceeding the cost of the home itself. This does not appear to be a very efficient way to supply housing to me. It looks to me that the RV industry is getting a big piece of our pie and the site builders are getting an ever increasing bite as well.

We have to become more efficient at what we do from the factory to the finished product.

I think the factories do a fabulous job building 16×76's, its the most efficient 3 bed 2 bath housing I have ever seen. But by the time we: 

  • market that 16×76 to our customer at retail,
  • deal with all the regulatory requirements to install and complete the home,
  • deal with private finance against government subsidized financing on site built's,
  • escrow over priced insurance and taxes and
  • then deal with the cost of servicing a home in the middle of nowhere,

our monthly payments are as much or more than most people can buy a new starter home including land in a tract home subdivision.

We must do everything in our power to control these costs, including, but not limited to:

  • getting our finance on a level playing field,
  • getting higher deductible lower cost insurance in our market,
  • factories working with the retailers/installers to do everything possible to lower the cost of installs and
  • last but not least keeping the regulators at bay.

I think our industry has a remarkable product that we can build and a great story to tell but all you hear and see is "I don't want a trailer in my back yard."   Most of those yards now include a brick home with an RV in the driveway.

I've said it a 1000 times that if we did not have FHA, FNMA and Freddie Mac that our industry would be producing the most affordable quality housing option on the market. What gives?

Lance Inderman

l;ance-inderman-mhpronews(Editor's note: Lance Inderman is arguably one of the most successful independent retailers of manufactured homes in the country. Champion Homebuilders recently purchased Athens Park Homes, a HUD Code, modular and park model builder that Lance and his associates operated. He was the Chairman for the Texas Manufactured Housing Association in 2010-2011 and remains an active player there. Lance plans to attend the TMHA annual event.)