Over my 16 years investing in mobile homes, I’ve heard a similar nasty 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.
Disclaimer: This story gets a little gross. You may want to finish eating before continuing.
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.
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The time was around November 2002. I was investing in my fifth mobile home deal. This particular home was a 3-bedroom single-wide from the 1980s located in a pre-existing mobile home park in a small town outside of Tampa, Florida. 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.
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 was 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 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.
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.
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My eyes narrowed and then opened wide. I shined my flashlight towards 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 below on the ground.
My Immediate Thoughts
My immediate thoughts went to insulting and talking 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 naïve? Why did I not think to do proper due diligence? What was I thinking? 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!
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. The money was well worth it.
Pros & Cons of This Deal
Looking back, I can laugh at this crappy situation. I can also admire the pros and cons of the deal.
- 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
- 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, and 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)
Lifelong Lessons Learned
- 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, 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.)
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 bashful—tell us about it below.