“If you are willing to abandon your principles for convenience, or social acceptability, they are not your principles, they are you costume.”
– Joe Concha, the Hill.
“In the business world, the rearview mirror is always clearer than the windshield.”
– Warren Buffett per BrainyQuote.
“What we learn from history is that people don’t learn from history.”
– Warren Buffett, according to QuoteFancy.
If Warren Buffett believes in something, and it meets his inverting criteria, then one can be assured that Berkshire Hathaway has the financial capacity to make the acquisition or investment. He’s said so himself.
When Berkshire Chairman Buffett says something, it may be literally or proverbially accurate, but rules have their exceptions.
Be it Buffett, or the President and CEO of Berkshire owned 21st Mortgage Corp, Tim Williams, they may not have thought that their words would later be scrutinized against their own stated standards. The reason? It is found in Buffett’s own quote about history, cited above. They arguably may not expect the history of their words compared to their behavior to be matched up, years later.
It would be more accurate if Buffett said that in general, many don’t learn the lessons of history. But nuance aside, one can now look back at the words of Buffett, 21st’s Tim Williams, or MHI and see how they measure up to what has transpired since that time.
Or to put it as the Hill’s Joe Concha did, are these words sincerely meant, or the words a costume?
On Jan 2, 2016, PBS News said about our manufactured home industry that “Typically older and poorer than traditional homeowners, manufactured homeowners often face serious, unique financial difficulties that make it a bad bargain for some low-income Americans.”
That narrative fits the talking points of MHAction, which has captured serious media attention. At the time that PBS News did the video posted below, Carla Burr was associated with NMHOA, but more recently, she has appeared on the MHAction website. The PBS video doesn’t specifically mention Clayton Homes, 21st Mortgage, or Vanderbilt Mortgage and Finance (VMF). But much of what they describe are in fact pointed directly at those Knoxville, TX metro based brands owned by Omaha, NE based Berkshire Hathaway.
Among those interviewed for the video by PBS posted below was Julia Gordon, National Community Stabilization Trust, who told PBS’ Stephen Fee the following.
“Often you have very few financing options. There are only a handful of lenders who work in this space, and because there’s a lot of vertical integration in the industry. Often when you purchase the home, the manufacturer of the home is going to refer you to a lender.”
As noted, that phrasing is a thinly veiled reference to Berkshire owned brands. One doesn’t know what was edited out for her or other’s commentary. But if Gordon been quoted in this video speaking directly about Clayton Homes, 21st or VMF, is there much doubt that Clayton or perhaps even MHI might have weighed in? After all, when Prosperity Now’s Doug Ryan refereed to the monopoly of the Berkshire brands in manufactured housing, MHI rapidly dispatched Lesli Gooch, EVP to respond in digital print.
So MHI and Clayton respond when they want to, but don’t at other times.
PBS NewsHour’s Problematic “Bad Bargain” Video
To be clear, Stephen Fee’s PBS report on the misnamed “Bad Bargain” is a mixed bag of accurate and problematic information. It very much fits what Brad Lovin previously told MHProNews about mainstream media reports.
So, the question is why didn’t MHI affirm what was accurate, and correct what was not?
- comparisons between apartments, land-lease communities, and conventional housing,
- interest rates,
- or a range of issues that could easily be debunked or corrected, not addressed publicly by MHI at all?
MHLivingNews and MHProNews put those concerns to then MHI Chairman Tim Williams. Here is every word that Williams said in his emailed response.
Tim Williams, photo credit, MHProNews.com
“Many of our friends in the industry, including my friend Tony at MHLivingNews, have questioned why MHI hasn’t made a strong rebuttal response to the PBS story.
There are good arguments that we should respond to every story, refute every statistic, and make our case to the public. Certainly we can make the case that the PBS story was not fair and balanced reporting. Just one example is the interview with Dick Ernst. Dick spent several hours with PBS representing our industry as an official spokesman. The reporter had about one hour of taped interview with Dick and used only 45 seconds of that interview.
We can also make a case to counter the segment addressing manufactured home site rent increase. No one from MHI was asked to comment on the segment and the allegation that consumers become trapped in their homes. The reporter did not make any effort to understand the cost of operating a manufactured home community and why those costs must be passed on to the tenants, even though MHI provided ample evidence and information to assist the reporter in his research.
The reporter did not attempt to compare site rent increases to apartment rent increases. Just last week, the Wall Street Journal ran a Section C front page story about apartment rent increases. The annual rate of rent increases has averaged 3.93% over the last 4 years. This is a greater rate of increase than cited for lot rent in the PBS story where leader/actor Ms. Burr was complaining about her site rent increasing just over 3% per year.
So why not respond with our good facts?
The PBS story ran on a date where everyone was busy with the holidays and very few people saw the story. The last thing we want to do is bring more attention to a negative story about our industry.
The other problem with responding is the selective nature of what the press will print when you know they have an agenda. If we submit the above paragraph where I acknowledge Ms. Burr’s site rent increases on average more than 3% per year, what do you think PBS will print? The risk is that they leave out the comparison to apartment rents that increase nearly 4% per year and print our acknowledgment that manufactured housing community site rents increase over 3% per year as they repeat their assertion that manufactured homes depreciate and residents become trapped in their homes.
I understand the argument that we must work harder to tell our story and emphasize the advantages of manufactured homes. We have a good product and a good story to tell. We don’t need to tell it to people with an agenda who will only tell half the story. MHI has been focused on communicating positive messages about manufactured housing’s benefit. We are targeting media sources that will give us a fair hearing and policymakers in Washington. This effort to drown out
the negative media attention has been steadily increasing and wehttp://www.mhmarketingsalesmanagement.com/blogs/daily-business-news/wp-content/uploads/2019/03/TimWilliamsPhoto21stMortgageCorpLogoPresidentCEOManufacturedHousingInstituteLogoMHProNews-87x150.png 87w" sizes="(max-width: 240px) 100vw, 240px" style="float:right;text-align:right;margin-left:10px;max-width:600px"> are pleased to have so many
members willing to highlight the positive message of manufactured housing in this effort. We believe this is the right approach for the industry. Make no mistake, MHI issued a strong response to the PBS story by going straight to its producers. This targeted approach has yielded the opportunity for MHI to receive fair airtime on that program at a future date, and we are currently exploring this opportunity.
Additionally, MHI President/CEO Dick Jennison is in the process of hiring a seasoned media relations professional. This position was approved by the MHI Board for the position to begin in March 2016, but at the request of Dick Jennison, the MHI executive committee approved bring on this position as soon as the right person can be hired.
It is the intent of MHI to broaden its public relations/communications focus to include positive consumer stories including testimonials on why people choose to live in and how they benefit from manufactured homes and living in our communities.” ##
So wrote Tim Williams, then chairman of the Manufactured Housing Institute (MHI), and still president and CEO of the Berkshire owned 21st Mortgage. That was published on January 15, 2016 at this link here. It is one of several ‘on the record’ gifts from Williams to the industry at large via MHProNews.
Gift? How so?
Because using Buffett’s principle of the rear view mirror bringing clarity, it helps bring matters into clearer focus for thousands of manufactured home industry professionals and investors. It will also raise vexing and timely legal, ethical and other questions, as you will soon see.
Now, since that statement by Williams was made and first published on the Industry Voices blog of MHProNews, MHI did indeed hire a public relations professional. Patti Boerger came on board at MHI, worked for a time, and has since gone. MHI has since William’s letter-to-the-editor revamped their website.
PBS’ purported hit-piece is still easily found online. MHProNews and MHLivingNews responses to it are still visible online. But where is a response to be found online by MHI to a report that millions were exposed to by PBS and their many affiliates?
According to the MHI search tool this morning before dawn, it isn’t to be found on their own website.
Williams was factually accurate about much that he said in his guest column. But here are some of the things that weren’t said in response to the PBS News video was this.
- The Preserving Access to Manufactured Housing Act that was part of the background debate at the time for the PBS report was arguably primarily for the benefit of Berkshire Hathaway lenders.
- The MLO rule compromise was already on the table, per sources at MHI to MHProNews, and confirmed by then NMHOA attorney and executive director, Isbhel Dickens. That part needed no legislation, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) – per sources ‘on both sides’ of the issue would have allowed that change by negotiated agreement between consumer groups and MHI. It was MHI that said no, because they didn’t get the points and fees changes that 21st and VMF wanted.
- There was in hindsight a clearly evidenced conflict of interest in the MHI Chairman promotion of a bill by MHI that benefited mainly his company.
- MHI’s predecessor to Lesli Gooch, Ph.D., in the government relations role – Jason Boehlert, said that Preserving Access wasn’t going to pass years before, yet MHI kept spending the money at the direction of Knoxville and the political capital up on Capitol Hill.
- In a real sense, whether the bill passed or not, Knoxville brands owned by Omaha based Berkshire benefited. How so? Because artificial headwinds are better withstood by large companies than smaller ones. During the time that Preserving Access was working its way to a dead end in Washington, D.C. the Berkshire brands in manufactured housing were growing in market share, while the number of independents in the industry’s retail side continued to shrink.
- The impact was not only on street retailers, but also on independent communities too. People moving into a manufactured home community – a.k.a. the typically misnamed ‘mobile home park’ – did so because they knew it was a good option for manufactured home placement. The PBS video placed that matter in doubt for those who viewed and/or read their report.
- There was no discernable MHI or Knoxville retort on line, save the letter spurred by MHProNews’ question to Williams, which sparked the letter posted above.
“All the world is a stage, and the people are but players in it.” – William Shakespeare, from “As You Like It,” Act II, Scene VII, according to Poets.org.
“You can fool all the people some of the time, and some of the people all the time, but you cannot fool all the people all the time.” – Abraham Lincoln, per BrainyQuotes.
‘Warren [Buffett] is a genius.’ – Kevin Clayton, President and CEO of Clayton Homes, from video posted at this link here.
It is difficult for most people to imagine a world where a company can benefit, even if they seemingly don’t get what they want. But if a system is rigged enough, then that may be possible. How? First, ponder once more the Warren Buffett quoted cited here in the report linked below from 3.10.2019.
Then keep in mind that this is the same Buffett that said, per the investor site, the Motley Fool: “One of the most widely quoted pearls of wisdom of legendary investor Warren Buffett is: “Rule No. 1: Never lose money. Rule No. 2: Don’t forget rule No. 1”. … So, when Buffett talks of never losing money, he’s not referring to temporary “paper” declines in stock values. He must be referring to crystallised cash losses.”
That’s a keen insight that manufactured housing investors, professionals, advocates, and public officials must grasp. Buffett’s Berkshire can lose “…even a lot of money…” on paper. But if their strategic and economic Moat is growing, have they lost anything at all? Haven’t the Berkshire brands in Knoxville rather gained while they might appear to be losing?
Omaha will defend its own reputation, and there are examples of Knoxville and Arlington defending the Berkshire brands too. But defending the reputation of the manufactured home industry may not be a short or even a medium term priority. Any headwinds is just one more shark in the water of Buffett’s moat.
But what PBS entirely failed to address in their misnamed ‘bad bargain’ report is
- the role of the Government Sponsored Enterprises (GSEs) in the lending issue.
- They also failed to get it right on appreciation or depreciation about manufactured housing. Once more, it was primarily MHProNews and MHLivingNews that took up those mantles in the HUD Code manufactured home industry’s trade media. On the association side, it was primarily the Manufactured Housing Association for Regulatory Reform (MHARR) that has pushed the GSEs to do chattel lending on all manufactured homes, not just on the Clayton pushed scheme – per non-MHARR, MHI member sources to MHProNews – for a new class of homes that makes no logical sense on the surface.
- Why create, says non-MHARR MHI member producers, a new class of homes to get GSE lending, when HUD Code producers already made modular homes?
Or as one outraged MHI member producer put it – in standing up for ‘standard’ HUD Code manufactured housing production, “What are we, chopped liver?”
By the sub-heading of ‘stage managed,’ that is not to imply that Tim Williams, MHI or anyone working for Berkshire knew what was going to be produced by PBS. They likely did not know before others did.
But what was discernable – based upon PBS’ track record – is how the report might be framed. And even ignoring that lesson of history, Knoxville and Arlington could easily have mounted a defense via others in media.
Because what Williams also didn’t mention is that Berkshire Hathaway owned dozens of newspapers at that time, and now too.
“Never give up the con,” was not first said by Dinesh D’Souza, nor was it applied by him to the Omaha-Knoxville-Arlington axis. But it was applied by D’Souza, who said: “Make the pitch…If caught, always deny, never give up the con.”
Here are the facts that have not yet been denied by MHI’s attorneys, others working for that Arlington, VA based trade group, or those working for Berkshire brands based in metro Knoxville, TN.
- The Duty to Serve (DTS) lending mandated by the Housing and Economic Recovery Act (HERA) 2008 to support manufactured housing has never been robustly implemented for chattel or other lending for manufactured homes.
- Industry professionals, including consultants, working for the GSEs have essentially slowed their acceptance of manufactured housing for lending on the industry’s most affordable homes.
- The interest rates that PBS’ report railed against would arguably be lower in manufactured housing, if the GSEs, FHA, VA, and USDA lending were all being more robustly used in the industry.
- The GSEs are co-sponsoring MHI events, a clear conflict of interest with their DTS manufactured housing.
- While MHI claims to be working for more lending by the GSEs, the evidence proves the opposite is true. Who does that lack of GSE support financially benefit? Aren’t Berkshire owned lenders with higher rate loans at or near the top of that list?
- The recent letter that MHI signed onto was actually contrary to the claims they are making to their own members. See the recent report, linked here and below.
MHProNews publicly invited MHI, voices in Knoxville representing the Berkshire owned brands, the GSEs, or their attorney(s) to respond to this vexing claims and concerns. Their response? Silence. That’s their 5th amendment right. But if they had a good explanation, wouldn’t they give it?
D’Souza’s point about ‘never give up the con’ is akin to the lessons learned from Sharyl Attkisson, or Marty Lavin, JD.
Tim Williams, Dick Jennison, and Friendship
Tim Williams referred in his letter to Tony Kovach as a “friend.” Richard ‘Dick’ Jennison said on stage and on camera, ‘my good, dear friend, L.A. ‘Tony’ Kovach with MHProNews.com…great publication.” Here are some of the phrases used by the Urban Dictionary to define the term “friend.”
“A friend is honest and makes you want to be honest, too…A friend is someone who tells you if you’re being stupid, but who doesn’t make you feel stupid…A friend is someone for whom you’re willing to change your opinions…A friend is a partner, not a leader or a follower.”
Using Urban Dictionary that definition, MHProNews is the friend of those who want to see the manufactured home industry honorably achieve its great potential. There rest are the details and commentary needed to tell the industry where its greatest threats come from, based on the facts, evidence, and the logic of the money trail.
Who benefits from the status quo and the trends of recent years? If one looks at their growing market share, a few larger firms that are often aligned with MHI or a Berkshire brand. But who is harmed? Arguably, the bulk of the rest of the industry.
MHI and the Clayton affiliated firms have in deed made efforts for years that ostensibly aimed at growth. They have the advertorials and videos to prove it.
But what have your so-called industry friends in the Omaha-Knoxville-Arlington axis and their allies have yet to do is routinely and robustly correct ever fact error that arises.
- What is that MHI PR person supposed to be doing?
- Where is MHI or Knoxville brands routine and robust defense of the industry? Or even on MHI’s own website?
- Instead, even on Clayton’s own website, manufactured homes are in places called ‘mobile homes.’
Every news story, good, bad, or meh is a potential opportunity for the savvy manufactured housing professional. MHI praised Tony Kovach in writing for says my so, but did not do so themselves.
Is posturing MHI’s or Clayton costume? Is it their “Illusion of Motion?”
A traditional job of journalists is to hold the powerful to account for their behavior. Too few in MHVille are doing so, but MHProNews – by doing fact checks and analysis like this – is providing the foundation for the recovery of the industry. It is the act of true friendship.
For more on those and related reasons why manufactured housing could be doing better, but is not, see the related reports, below the bylines, emailed news offer, and notices. That’s this morning’s manufactured home “Industry News, Tips, and Views Pros Can Use,” © where “We Provide, You Decide” © ## (News, analysis, commentary.)