Mobile Homes

My Grossest Real Estate Story Ever (& Why I’m Grateful it Happened, Hazmat Suit and All)

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Over my 16 years of investing in mobile homes, I’ve heard a similar nasty story to the one below from two other active mobile home investors. If we don’t learn from our own mistakes—and more importantly, the mistakes of others—we are doomed to repeat them.

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Disclaimer: This story gets a little gross. Maybe don’t eat while reading this.

This article was completely inspired by a recent thought-provoking story written by Brandon Turner, The Disgusting Experience That Led to My Biggest Real Estate Mind Shift.

The Story

It was November 2002. I was investing in my fifth mobile home deal. This particular home was a three-bedroom single-wide from the 1980s located in a pre-existing mobile home park in a small town outside of Tampa, Fla. I liked the area the park was located in, and the park manager liked me.

The seller was asking less than $4,000, and I thought the home was a bargain. After quickly walking through the home and poking my head inside every room, I convinced myself that I must buy this home. I shook the seller’s hand.

Since I was convinced this was such a great deal, I skipped over thoroughly walking through and around the home. In fact, I don’t believe a “thorough walk-through of the property” even crossed my mind once I became emotionally charged about adding another investment mobile home to my growing portfolio.

The Mistake(s)

Greed and lack of a consistent due diligence plan caused me to skip critical pre-closing steps.

After paying the park’s application fee, park deposit, first month’s lot rent, and the seller, I was out of pocket nearly $5,000. After closing with the seller, I immediately walked through the vacant property to admire my newly acquired investment. I was a proud investor and was already counting the profits I would be making.

While walking through the mobile home after closing, I noticed a curious smell. The electric and water were still working (in the seller’s name), so I decided to quickly test all the faucets, shower, and hot water. As I began testing the kitchen sink, I remember thinking that I should’ve tested all the faucets prior to purchasing this home. After turning on and off the kitchen sink, everything seemed fine. When I reached the hallway bathroom, I flushed the toilet. The toilet worked fine.

It was then that I heard the sound. It was the sound of liquid falling into a puddle. The sound was muffled due to the tank refilling with water. I was confused. I waited a few moments for the tank to refill and flushed the toilet again. Again, I heard the same dripping sound.

The Problem

home-inspection

It was clear to me there may be a leak underneath the home. I’d completely forgotten to look around down there! This is something I had meant to check but skipped over while rushing around prior to closing.

I quickly ran outside and managed to slide a few vinyl siding panels up and out of the way so I could look underneath the mobile home. With a flashlight in hand, I was hit in the face with the awful, nauseating smell of semi-warm human urine and feces.

My eyes narrowed and then opened wide. I shined my flashlight toward the source and found myself staring at a stagnant pond of human urine and a roughly 18″ tall mound of human waste underneath my newest investment. I then pointed my flashlight to a white vertical pipe extending from underneath the mobile home directly above this feces mound. The hallway bathroom toilet led directly to the ground. Everything flushed down this toilet ended up falling directly on the ground below.

My Immediate Thoughts

I immediately insulted and talked down to myself. The fear of loss, doubt, and confusion was real. I reprimanded myself for making such a foolish mistake and believing the seller's word that nothing was seriously wrong with the mobile home. Why was I so naive? Why did I not think to do proper due diligence? Would I make it as a successful investor?

Looking back, I realize these negative thoughts are normal to have. As an active investor, you will most likely make mistakes, overlook things, mistakenly become too confident and/or too trusting, etc. However, these mistakes mean you are taking action and helping local buyers and sellers. Overcome these mistakes and learn from them. Keep up the great work!

Related: 5 Traits to Ditch Right Now to Become a Successful Investor

The Fix!

After reviewing my options, I decided to pay a handyman to level the ground underneath the mobile home with a shovel as best as possible. Once this was done, my handyman added lime (calcium hydroxide) and dirt underneath the home. At this time, the plumbing pipe underneath the hallway bathroom toilet was connected to the existing plumbing and fixed.

This handyman was a current tenant-buyer I was selling a different mobile home to at the time. Due to the grossness of the situation, this handyman charged me for a full body hazmat suit he used once and threw away. Additionally, I had to pay this handyman around three and a half times what I would normally pay for basic work. But the money was well worth it.

Pros & Cons of This Deal

Looking back, I can laugh at this crappy situation (pun intended). I can also admire the pros and cons of the deal.

Pros

  • The extremely nasty situation led to a semi-funny memory.
  • The ability to add another mobile home to my portfolio (after making these repairs, the home was absolutely profitable once sold to a tenant-buyer making monthly payments).
  • The ability to break into this new park, which I was not investing in prior. (I’ve now purchased five others in this park. Since there are only 10 homes in the park, I technically own a majority of the homes in this small community.)
  • The opportunity to overcome challenges. (As a young man and young investor, I needed to prove to myself that I could overcome challenges and develop a thicker skin.)

Cons

  • The extremely foul situation.
  • Inevitably looking at, smelling, stepping in, and touching someone else’s feces.
  • The immediate feeling of helplessness/doubt I had in my own abilities.
  • The added costs to get the home repaired.

Lifelong Lessons Learned

due-diligence

  • Despite non-ideal situations, I'm capable of solving real estate-related issues.
  • Verify, verify, verify. Politely double-check everything a seller tells you.
  • Thoroughly check every appliance, outlet, switch, furnace, AC, etc., in the property.
  • Vet every space—above the property, in the property, around the property, and below the property.
  • Look into ownership, liens, taxes, park rules, application process, etc. (If dealing with traditional real estate or mobile homes attached to private land, this is commonly done by a closing attorney, escrow office, or real estate title office.)

Related: The 6 Most Common Mistakes New Investors Make 

Exactly What I Needed

Before helping this seller and purchasing this mobile home, I was obviously cutting corners and not properly vetting the properties I was purchasing. How crazy is that? Always aim to completely understand exactly what you are buying in every real estate deal you’re a part of. Since making these errors, I carry around the lifelong lessons listed above with me daily.

In conclusion, I have no one to blame for putting myself in this ugly situation except myself. The same goes for you—ultimately you are responsible for your own business. It is my hope that you learn from this story and lessons above in order to not repeat my same mistakes.

Do you have a gross real estate story too?

Don’t be ashamed—share with a comment below!

Investing since 2002, John started in real estate accidentally with a four-bedroom mobile home inside of a pre-existing mobile home park. Over the next 11 months, John added 10 more mobile homes to...
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    Paul Amegatcher Rental Property Investor from Brookville, OH
    Replied almost 2 years ago
    I’m guessing you have not skipped the inspection since. These mishaps always help in creating systems to never repeat the same lessons. Great story.
    John Fedro Investor from Austin, Texas
    Replied almost 2 years ago
    Hi Paul, You can absolutely say that again! However after this lesson I have definitely learned many many more. Each time I usually don’t make the same mistake again. Thanks for commenting and following along. Talk soon, John
    Eric B.
    Replied almost 2 years ago
    Interesting and humerous story highlighting the crossing of T’s and dotting the I’s. It is very easy to get wrapped up in the excitement of things, and admittedly I have done so in other non real-estate investments. I am curious about your investments in the mobile home community. 5000 to buy a home which then cash flows is intriguing. Having never really looking into mobile homes, where did you get started and where would you recommend beginning that self-education process?
    John Fedro Investor from Austin, Texas
    Replied almost 2 years ago
    Hi Eric, Thanks for following along. I do hope that this article was somewhat helpful. I would absolutely encourage you to check out this website for more mobile home investing related articles and forums. Moving forward if you have any follow-up questions or concerns never hesitate to reach out anytime. All the best. Talk soon, John
    Nathan G. Real Estate Broker from Cody, WY
    Replied almost 2 years ago
    I don’t have an awful sewer story but I did buy a cheap trailer once. I paid $4,000 cash and put another $1,000 into it over the two years I owned it. After deducting the cost of lot rent, I probably made around $3,000 in profit and then sold it for $3,000. So I turned $4,000 into $6,000 in two years. Not a bad return, but it’s still small potatoes and required a lot of work.
    John Fedro Investor from Austin, Texas
    Replied almost 2 years ago
    Good work, Nathan! Very glad to hear you don’t have an awful sewer story. Great job pulling the trigger on this investment. Now it’s time to buy a few more. Keep up the great work! Talk soon, John
    Tiffany Roberts from Eastern Michigan
    Replied almost 2 years ago
    Great story and great reminder to not skip the inspection! As someone who gets emotionally attached to houses quickly and is a little impulsive I am going to remember this story next time I find the “best deal ever, need to act now ” house I find!
    Angela Holmes from San Jose, CA
    Replied almost 2 years ago
    Oh no, I will never skip a professional inspection after reading this. I thought the one I had on my personal home was unecessary but I see now it is well worth it.
    Joyce Hug
    Replied 6 months ago
    Enjoyed reading your stories. I've been a property manager for 22 years, many parks