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Glamping, Campsites, and The Insane RV Park Revenue No One is Talking About

The BiggerPockets Podcast
57 min read
Glamping, Campsites, and The Insane RV Park Revenue No One is Talking About

RV park investments are probably not the first thing you think of when somebody says “real estate investing.” You’re probably used to single-family homes, duplexes, apartments, or something that has to do with long-term, residential real estate. What if we told you there was a hidden niche in the real estate investing arena, one with less competition, sky-high revenues, and almost unlimited ways to cash flow.

Heather Blankenship has been in the short-term rental investing niche for more than a decade. It was much different back when she got started. On a coast-to-coast road trip, Heather had the idea to buy an RV park. She had no experience, no money, and knew nothing about hospitality operations. She was, quite surprisingly, able to find and buy a $3.2M RV park, which she’s now upgraded into a $15M property.

Don’t get her story wrong, this is not a “fake it till you make it” type scenario. Heather put in years’ worth of long days, longer nights, and enormous effort to make properties just like this one, finally profit. Now, with three kids and a portfolio worth over $30M, Heather has become one of the leading figures in creative short-term rental investing. If you’ve never thought about glamping, camping, or RV park investing, this episode will seriously pique your interest.

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Listen to the Podcast Here

Read the Transcript Here

David:
This is the BiggerPockets podcast, show 650.

Heather:
When you’re first starting out and you bought a couple houses on, you put them on Airbnb, or you’ve done something on a small residential scale, you don’t totally grasp what commercial real estate means when it comes to zoning and permitting and regulations, and just how serious they are about all that stuff. You’ve got this mindset of like move forward. And instead of asking for permission, ask for forgiveness. And it really doesn’t work that way.
So when you’re looking into these properties, zoning and permitting is so freaking important. And doing your due diligence. You have to have an answer to that because oftentimes the answer is no. Even though it’s a great location and seems like a great property, you got to get that zoning and permitting figured out. Same with utilities. Those are the top two things that are going to make it or break it for your glamping business. And if you can’t figure out utilities and permitting and zoning and due diligence, that is not the property for you.

David:
What’s up, everyone? This is David Greene, your host of the BiggerPockets Real Estate Podcast here today with my co-host, Rob Abasolo, bringing you a fire episode with Heather Blankenship, who returns to talk about RV parks, glamping, short-term rentals, and making millions of dollars running a real estate business, which is actually pretty important. Because we talked about that today; how this isn’t exactly passive income and that’s why the ceiling is much higher. And Rob, that’s very similar to your investment strategy. So tell me, what were some of the things that you really liked about today’s show?

Rob:
I mean, we covered a lot. We really crammed in quite a bit in this episode. And this is definitely one of those, honestly, where I was a little bummed. I was like, “Wow, we’re already an hour into this and I know we got to say bye-bye,” because we talked about everything from the Airbnb redesign to are direct bookings right for you as a short-term rental operator. Then we jumped into glamping and the beauty of glamping and some of the permitting woes of glamping. And then we also talked about how Heather took a $3.2 million RV park that she found on Google of all places and turned it into a $15 million RV park through so many added value components like a restaurant and all this other crazy stuff. So we’re going to get into that in this episode.

David:
Yes, sir. And for today’s quick tip, consider looking at real estate from a business perspective as opposed to only a passive income perspective. What I mean by that is, in today’s show, Heather gets into how she added value to her RV park by treating it like a commercial property by increasing the NOI, evaluating with a cap rate and making it worth a lot more than refinancing it and buying additional real estate.
This might not make sense to you if you only look at real estate by its appraised value, which is the residential way of looking at stuff and appraisers use it. But in the commercial space, they look at real estate based on what it brings in. And if you can increase how much money that property brings, you can multiply the value exponentially. So consider opening your horizon to ways that you can add value to commercial real estate. Have it valued as commercial real estate, make a lot of money, then go maybe buy some of that more passive income that we’re all looking for. All right. Without any further ado, let’s bring in Heather.
Heather Blankenship, welcome back to the BiggerPockets Real Estate Podcast. How are you today?

Heather:
I’m great. How are you today, David?

David:
It’s been a pretty solid day. I would say Rob has been funnier than usual, which is a nice addition, because usually he is a total wet blanket on this podcast and I have-

Rob:
A stoic man.

David:
Yeah. I got to carry it myself. So it’s nice that he’s finally pitching in and earning his check. He usually lets his coif do all the heavy lifting and then his personality gets to take the day off.

Rob:
I actually did wake up like this by the way.

David:
I really think you and I have the same head. You just have that pouf of hair sitting on the top of it.

Rob:
Here. If I lean my head back enough-

David:
Yeah, there you go. That’s funny.

Rob:
[inaudible 00:03:50] picture it.

Heather:
This should be a poll on Instagram. We could put like switch the hair and see how that goes. Oh,

Rob:
Oh, that’s fun. Let’s see that.

David:
We’ve talked about that before. You could just literally Photoshop it off of him and stick it on to me and be like, “Who wore it better?”

Heather:
Yeah, exactly.

David:
If somebody out there is listening and can do that, definitely.

Rob:
And that will be the thumbnail of this.

David:
Yes. So I’m doing good. Thank you for asking me, Heather. I’ve been on a buying spree, so it’s either 12 or 13. I’m not positive. It’s somewhere in that range of properties. I have a contract right now and maybe more to come. So I’ve been kind of attacking where I see soft spots in the market, which frankly I haven’t been able to do for years. This is like finally. Right? Like, all these techniques that I have that I teach people what to use when trying to get something under contract will work, because for so long it was the only technique that anyone could use was highest and best. And that was about all you were shooting with. So I’m loving this. Like, real estate’s fun again. It’s been a long time since this was the case. And I’m curious to hear what’s been up with you since we last spoke.

Heather:
It’s interesting to hear you say that, David. I’ve spoken at four different conferences in the last four weeks and everyone there is kind of freaking out saying that they’re not buying right now. And even listening to the economists that come in and all these data gurus and people who’ve been around for all these different types of markets, and they’re saying keep buying because all the data leads to this, is X is going to happen. And it’s great to hear that you’re seeing that and being successful with it.

David:
I’m happy to share where I’m going and what I’m thinking. And I’m also even more happy to learn about what’s going on in your world. So let’s start with this. Give us a quick rundown of what you invest in, what your portfolio looks like. And then we will ask you to tell us kind of what you’re seeing in the market and what your strategy is.

Heather:
Absolutely. So almost, well, 11 years ago now, I was driving across the country in a camper from Florida to California. And I kept looking around at how much money I thought all of these parking spots were making because it literally looked like just parking spots to me. And by the time I got to California, I had been google searching and I found this RV park for sale that was in bankruptcy. I was 26 years old and I didn’t have any money. I’m like, “I really want to buy this. This looks like a great idea.”
So I call the bank that has it for sale and they want $3.2 million. And they’re like, “How much money do you have?” I’m like, “I don’t have any.” And this was after the market had collapsed that time, and they were doing loans that they wouldn’t do today. And so they gave me a $3.2 million loan that was non-recourse and no money down. But I had to figure out how to run an RV park. Since then, I’ve bought multiple RV parks, mobile home parks. I just bought my first boutique motel, I own glamping properties as well as some Section 8 multi-family.

Rob:
Yeah. For all the podcast listeners at home, I just want you to know that as Heather was telling that story, I was like, “What?” Because non-recourse, no money down on a $3.2 million… I mean that’s… That’s crazy. If I didn’t know you, I’d be like, “There’s no way. Show me. Show me the records, Heather,” because that’s really cool.

Heather:
It was like a gift from Jesus. But then you got to figure out how to run an RV park. The first payment was $18,500. So imagine being this normal person who’s got your $800 rent and you’ve got almost a 20 grand bill now. And not only that, the electric bill was like 10 grand too. So you’ve got all these huge bills. And so the timer’s ticking. You know? You got to quickly figure out, “How the heck do I make some money here?”

David:
Yeah. So can you guys briefly describe what we mean by non-recourse, and then describe what a RV park is and how it’s different than a mobile home park?

Heather:
Yeah. So non-recourse, to give you an example for your single-family home would be if you all of a sudden just stop paying your bills, you could just give the property back to the bank instead of having some form of repercussion like filing for bankruptcy or having that on your record. With that non-recourse, you could literally just give the property back and have no repercussion.

David:
There we go.

Rob:
Go. Yeah. Those seem to be pretty tough to find these days because we’re launching our fund right now and we’ve worked through a lot of lenders. And I mean, they’re all recourse debt. So anything that I end up going forward with, I’m signing my name to it, which I’m happy to do, but the whole non-recourse world is so fascinating to me just because I don’t ever actually see it.

Heather:
Yeah. The only non-recourse that I see now is when you put tons of money down. You know? If you’re willing to put 40%, 50% down, they’ll give you a non-recourse loan. Why wouldn’t they? Their risk is so much lower. But I only see that when you’re putting a ton of money down.

David:
All right. So as far as what you’re seeing in the market today, Heather, what’s it look like in your space? How’s it different than it looked before? What are your fears? What are you optimistic about? Give me the Heather Blankenship rundown.

Heather:
It’s interesting because the things that people talk about from… I just left a conference that was full of flippers and the things that they talk about with buying single-family homes and the way the market’s changing and the difference in interest rates and all these things is so different than the commercial space or the hospitality space. Even though this is all real estate, it’s very, very different.
And so for RV parks, we are at all time highs for what properties are selling for because the institutions are starting to creep in. RV parks are 88% owned by mom and pops as the last data, which is probably about a year old now. But as mobile home parks have become more institutionalized and people have run out of buying options in multi-family that have a good cap rate, they started to creep into the RV park space. And that means that those prices are getting pushed a little bit higher.
And I really started wondering if the gas prices that we have right now would affect my business. So I’ve been psychotically watching my KPIs, trying to figure out, Hey, Hey, is it going to start changing, and are the numbers going to start going down because people stopped traveling. And in reality with the plane ticket prices… I don’t know if y’all flown anywhere right now, but it’s freaking terrible. And not only are the prices bad, the delays, all those things. If somebody were going to buy three or four plane tickets, or if they were going to get in a camper and take their 4 or 5, 6, 7, 8 family members, it’s significantly cheaper still to travel that way and vacation that way. So the market’s on fire and still doing really well. So I’m continuing to buy.

David:
You know what, Rob? Maybe we should throw this to you quickly. What are you seeing with your short-term rentals as far as… Because that’s probably where most of the conversations are happening in the real estate space is in the short-term space. Right? There’s much less volatility with traditional rentals because people still need somewhere to live. So it’s not like that’s going to be changing. But in the short-term space, hotels, RV parks, single-family, short-term rentals, like all of it is in some way being affected. So have you seen a decrease in bookings, Rob?

Rob:
A little bit, but there’s some context that I think is sort of needed. So we kind of hit record high numbers last year because pandemic, everything was like dust was settling, people were traveling again. And we just saw this huge influx of travel in the country. And now, people are able to get out there. They’re able to go re-plan their international trips that they had and a lot more international travel is happening right now. And so I think what we’re seeing right now specifically is we’re just returning back to like regular seasonality, whereas last year there really wasn’t seasonality. It was just on fire at all points of the year. And now we’re starting to see in desert markets like Scottsdale or Joshua Tree, for example, things aren’t booking like hot cakes in the summer. You know why? Because it’s like 100 to 115 degrees out there. And that makes sense. Right?
So I think we’re starting to see a little bit of a recalibration back to the way travel was before. But for the most part, I would say, when it comes to bookings, the real big difference that I’m seeing right now is that the booking lead times are a lot shorter. So before, I was used to being booked out like a month in advance, sometimes two months in advance. And now I’m seeing a lot more bookings come through the week or maybe like one or two weeks before, which is a lot shorter than ever.
So sometimes you’ll look at my calendar and you’ll be like, “Oh my gosh. It’s very empty.” And I’m like, “Well, not really,” because I would say right now, 70& to 80% of my bookings come in the week of. So all of my calendars across all 15 of my listings were empty for 4th of July. And the Sunday before 4th of July, literally everything got booked. So I think booking lead time is really just a very… It’s like you might get a booking same day for like a week. And it’s hard to plan for that kind of thing because it just traditionally you had a little bit more time to kind of adjust to those types of things. What about you, Heather? Does that sound similar to what you’re seeing?

Heather:
Same. So previously for the last couple years during COVID, I took my kids on an Airstream trip, which I was actually on when I was on the BP Rookie Podcast. And we were traveling across the country in this Airstream; went about 7,000 miles. And I had to plan that trip out so far in advance for us to be able to actually get a spot to stay. And used to, pre-COVID, you could get in your camper and just pull up somewhere and get a spot for the night, which definitely can’t be done now. But instead of this months out like it used to be, like Rob’s talking about, we’re looking at more like a week out, two weeks out. And you’ve got those bookings coming in sometimes that are even two nights out. And like you said, with staffing and things like that for your housekeeping and your maintenance team, it’s a little bit tougher to plan and you’ve got to really revamp your operations to be able to accommodate that.

David:
At the same time, I would imagine when people book last minute, it’s usually cheaper also. Right?

Heather:
Not necessarily.

Rob:
I mean, it depends. It depends on how… Traditionally it was cheaper because you just want to get that last second booking. But right now, because I know most of my bookings come in last second, I’m not-

David:
Ah, you don’t lower the price.

Rob:
Not as much. But it goes against my theory of like I should do that so I can get the booking.

David:
Yes.

Rob:
So it just depends, man. I think pricing is always like a little… It’s a game of, or it’s a dance. It’s a tango dance if you will.

Heather:
It’s an art instead of a science.

David:
So that’s a great segue here, Heather. What can you share with us about what you’ve learned about how to dance better?

Heather:
So are we still talking about the same thing? Now I’m confused.

David:
It’s basically like pricing. Yeah. Like, when you’re playing the Airbnb game, how do you dance like a ballerina?

Heather:
It’s interesting listening to what Rob was just saying. I feel like… so I’m 11 years in in short-term rentals too because I’ve got tiny homes at that property and some glamping stuff. And so those, it’s not just RV sites. And I feel like I’ve learned my lesson with lowering my rate. And those people that you get, this sounds terrible, but the types of guests that you get when you get that rate too low, they destroy everything. They’re overly demanding. They still write a bad review. And you’re really wishing that you wouldn’t have taken the extra 150 bucks or whatever it is just to get that night booked because you’ve just shot yourself in the foot.

Rob:
Mm-hmm. That’s right. Yeah. It’s… Oh, that’s something I talk about all the time. Well, first of all, I’m like very anti-discount on Airbnb. A lot of the times, like when someone asks me for a discount, I’ll… Yeah. I’ll usually respond with like, “No thanks.” But some people will come in and if it’s like $800 a night, they’ll say like, “Yeah, well, you think you could take like a hundred bucks a night?” And I’m just like, “I’ll let my auto inquiry answer that,” and I’m not even going to get to it because there’s sort of this fine line on pricing where you do want to secure the booking, but at a certain point it just doesn’t really make sense.
Like for example, David, our Scottsdale property in the peak season, we’re going to be booking for $1,700 to $2,200 a night, maybe up to $3,000 a night, like for really, really great holiday weekends and everything. But right now it’s the slow season. So we’re taking anywhere from like $700 to $1,000 a night. But we would never want to price that at like $400 a night because that just brings in the wrong kind of crowd. Right? If it can sleep 16 people they’re like, “oh, sweet. A cheap place for 400 bucks a night-”

Heather:
$10 each. Let’s go.

Rob:
Yeah, exactly. Exactly. Yeah. Yeah. And it’s never really going to pan out for us. So there is a little bit of a, “What is the best price?” What’s the best lowest price point for my property that will bring in my target market. And as soon as you start shifting target markets that are actually starting to book your place, that’s where you can start getting in trouble, I think.

Heather:
Yeah. It’s interesting also to see how Airbnb changed their platform a couple months ago, which was the first time ever, which is significantly pushing these unique experiences that both you and I have, Rob. And it’s been interesting to see how that’s affected bookings and how much more attention you need to pay to your design and your location and all of those things when we’re talking about what your occupancy looks.

Rob:
Like. Oh yeah. Yeah, for sure. I just did a whole video on the Airbnb redesign. And a lot of mixed feelings here because a lot of hosts feel that Airbnb, the way they redesign their website is leaving them unbooked. And I wouldn’t necessarily all put it on Airbnb, but they’ve certainly made it a point to make it very clear they’re looking for aesthetically pleasing, very visceral, kind of like, “Ooh, I want this type of experiences.” And so they’re starting to really push a lot of these more beautiful Airbnbs through the different categories at the top of their website. And these categories can range anywhere from tiny houses, lakefront properties, ski properties, cabins, design-focused, architectural. They have, I think, like 20 or 30 different sections. And it’s really kind of pushing a new kind of experience, I think, for a lot of the people that are going to the Airbnb website.
But what it means on the flip side is that the people that had the more straightforward or boring types of homes aren’t really ever going to make it on the front page of any of those categories. I mean, that’s the bread and butter of Airbnb and for everybody. Like, that’s the bread and butter; is the regular homes, but they’re not being pushed. And so, yeah, people are getting less bookings.
And I think it’s really clear we have to be very design focused. And there’s a few other things that you want to do as well. I think photography is going to be more important than ever. Title no longer matters as much, but the things that you’re going to see are a square cropped photo of your Airbnb, and then you’re going to see the rating. And those are like the two main components that are going to be on that front page. So design is obviously going to be important cause that’s going to be in your photo, but a lot of people don’t pay for professional photography and it’s not going to crop well. And so there’s no reason why people would ever click that and book it.

Heather:
So it’s interesting that you’re talking about some of those different things in a positive and a negative way. What are you changing about the way you’re doing this? Are you thinking, “Hey, maybe I need…” Most of my business comes from direct bookings instead of the Airbnb platform. And so I’m not as affected by that, as well as some of the newer regulations where guests can just cancel and get all their money back as soon as they walk in the door. I had my first, one of those through Airbnb last week and you’re like, “Dude, why am I even doing this?” Like, it’s so many through direct bookings, if I put a little more money into pay-for-clicks, do I even need to use Airbnb? So what are you thinking about that?

Rob:
Oh man. This is really tough for me because I have always been very anti-direct bookings if I’m being honest. Really for the small guy, right? Just for like the mom and pop host that want to go out and they’re like, “Should I make a website?” I’m like, “I mean, you can, but I don’t think you have the…” I don’t want to… This sounds mean. I was going to say, “I don’t think you have the marketing savviness to pull that off.” That’s not what I mean. It’s just more like it’s so much work to create a direct booking website and then to get traffic there, whether it’s paid or organic, and then it gets into the conversation of, “Should I have an Instagram handle for my property?” I’m like, “Yeah, if you want.” And so for most people that have like one or two listings, I don’t recommend it.
And so I’ve always been very anti, especially because Airbnb also has insurance and they also have a trust and safety team. They have teams out there to protect you if things go wrong. So that was always my POV, David, your favorite acronym of mine, point of view on direct bookings. But I had a meeting with a guy named Mark Simpson over at Boostly about a week or two ago. And I’ve been just digesting this new Airbnb redesign. And he specializes in direct bookings and he was just like, “Look, let me just… Just give me an hour and I’m going to tell you why they make sense.”
And after I’ve really digested it, I’m actually going to create a direct booking website for all of my properties. That’ll include our Scottsdale property, David. I just closed on a 20-unit motel/hotel glamping resort thing that we can talk about some other time in New York. And I’m going to create a whole website for that. And I’m wanting to basically funnel half of my leads through that just so that I’m not putting all my eggs in one basket, because as you can see, a really dramatic redesign can affect the everyday host. And I think it’s important to diversify now more than ever. But with that said, I still love the platforms. It’s just, I think now, I think I’ve got the experience to really try direct bookings and teach people how to do it.

Heather:
Yeah. So it’s interesting because you’re talking about the difference in how many you own and how relevant it is. One of my girlfriends, I think she owns five now, and she’s had a couple experiences that… She had these people stay and smoke a ton of weed in hers, and the next people couldn’t come in because it just smelled so strong. And Airbnb wouldn’t honor any of the… What is it called when… Your claim. When you file and say, “These people have done this or whatever.” They didn’t honor any of her claim. And she’s like, “Dude, I’ve got to do something different.”
So I don’t think you have to go through the effort of building all that out yourself. There’s so many options now with the integrated sites that will create those direct booking portals for you. You probably know more than I do about this, Rob. And so I’ve noticed some of the owners who owned… They still own a couple, but they don’t own a hundred. There’s some great options for them now that doesn’t cost 20, 30, 40 grand to go build out your own platform.

Rob:
Oh yeah, yeah. I’m doing it for less than five. And I think it’s going to be worth it. Like I said, I think there’s a bit of a learning curve. And I think you’re right. There are so many more products now in the direct booking space that they’ll actually go and integrate with a lot of the property management systems.
But for me, my big issue and my big concern was the insurance. And now there’s all these specialized insurance companies that’ll actually protect you per stay. And it’s relatively affordable. It’s a little pricey still, but you can sort of create your own OTA, which stands for online travel agency, relatively affordably these days. I mean, less than five grand, you can have a direct booking website. And it’s a big investment upfront. I mean, you could probably do it for $1,000 or $2,000. And it’s a big investment now, but if you consider all the service fees that the different OTAs will charge to the guest and to the host, you’ll end up making it back quicker than you think if you’ve got multiple listings.

Heather:
For sure.

Rob:
Yeah. So I’m kind of curious because you said that now you have RV park, you have some glamping, and then you just bought like a boutique hotel. So how does that all integrate into your ecosystem? Because, I mean, how many units are you up to now from a short-term rental side?

Heather:
Short-term rental? Probably 200. I have about 300 total. So 200-ish are short-term rental.

Rob:
NBD. NBD. Okay, cool. So how does that integrate with you? Because I mean, obviously I think for me it’s easy to kind of, I don’t want to say scale, like reoptimize my different listing, because I just spent like 13 grand on a new pergola and hot tub for my tiny house in Joshua Tree. I’m spending money on new photography. And at a small scale, it’s very easy to do that. So I’m kind of curious, are you going in and optimizing all of your listings or are you just sort of kind of rolling with it now until there’s a little bit more data to back it up?

Heather:
You know? They rolled it out right in the beginning of my peak season. So they’ve rolled it out as all my stuff’s already booked up. Like I said, most of my… I would say 70% of my bookings are direct bookings. So I have a pretty small percentage, not small, but smaller percentage coming from sites like Airbnb. So with it being June, July, literally my busiest months of the year, I’ve got some time to think it through and figure out what we’re going to do for the rest of the year, because I’m in East Tennessee and South Florida. So those are pretty heavily traveled areas.
So it’s not affecting me as heavy as it is for people who are maybe on the outskirts of a tourist area, or they’re that person that’s got a really cute place with some used furniture that was working for them during the pandemic, but they hadn’t quite put as much effort into it that they’re going to need to do now. So I’ve got a little bit of time to think it through and figure out how that all plays out.

Rob:
Well, I mean, are your units… At what point do your units sort of… Because I know you said you have direct booking websites, but at what point do the 200, 300 units get rolled up into like the blankenship.com website that basically hosts all of them? Because you’re at… I mean, most people… We talk about scaling all the time. You’re there. You’ve scaled, you’ve done it, 200 to 300 units. That’s like insane. Congratulations. But now, do you have to have that conversation with yourself where you got to have to wean off of all of the different platforms and just create the one, like your respective avant stays, if you will?

Heather:
Yes. And so we’ve been trying to come up with what the name of that’s going to be. When I bought the motel in South Florida, that’s literally my first thought. I’m like, “Okay, it’s time to come up with like a overarching name. And then you’ve got like each location has its own name that’s at that location.” So trying to… That’s a whole new marketing engine, right? Building that out, branding it all. So we started doing that, my team did, when I bought this most recent motel. So to be determined on how that’s all going to play out, but that’s literally what we’re working on.

Rob:
Yeah. Well, hey, if it makes you feel any better, I’m also there. I’m also like… I’m at this inflection point where I just doubled my portfolio last week because I bought a 20-unit motel. Right? So-

Heather:
Congratulations. That’s a huge deal.

Rob:
Yes. Thank you very much. And I’m going to be doing that many times over this year. We’re in talks with a bunch of different properties right now, whether they’re campsite or anything. And I’m at that point where I’m like, “Man, I think it’s time to create like the raw built branded portfolio, if you will.” But it’s tough because creating a name is like… This is actually what I’m good at. I am a creative copywriter by trade, but it’s a little nerve wracking because it’s like whatever name I go with, that’s it. That’s the final one.

Heather:
I’m sorry to think I need to hire that out because as we’ve been rolling over names and our ideas, like you said, I’m not a creative copy writer. And so going through it, I’m like, “None of this sounds as good as some of the great properties that have done that.” I think I need to hire that out.

Rob:
Let’s do it. Well, we can mastermind on that after the show. You come up with my name, I’ll come up with yours. How about that? It’s always easier to name someone else’s thing.

Heather:
That’s true.

Rob:
So let’s get it to your glamping operation because I think that was something that really… It was a huge hit for for me during the pandemic. I talked a lot about my glamping things. And I’ve sort of shifted so much about that business model because we just started off super scrappy, throwing tents up on land. And now, we’re actually going through the process of getting conditional use permits across the country in like three or four different cities. We’re looking to have about like 90 to 100 tent/unit/dome/treehouses in the next like year, year and a half. I know you’ve kind of gone through some things with permitting your glamping operations. I want to kind of talk about like, where is that right now?

Heather:
Yeah. So I think when you’re first starting out and you bought a couple houses on, you put them on Airbnb or you’ve done something on a small residential scale, you don’t totally grasp what residential real estate or what commercial real estate means when it comes to zoning and permitting and regulations, and just how serious they are about all that stuff. You’ve got this mindset of like, move forward and instead of asking for permission, ask for forgiveness. And it really doesn’t work that way.

Rob:
No.

Heather:
And if you try to make it work that way, you are going to lose a ton of money. So when you’re looking into these properties, zoning and permitting is so freaking important. And doing your due diligence. You have to have an answer to that because oftentimes the answer is no. Even though it’s a great location and seems like a great property, you got to get that zoning and permitting figured out. Same with utilities. Those are the top two things that are going to make it or break it for your glamping business. And if you can’t figure out utilities and permitting zoning and due diligence, that is not the property for you.

Rob:
Yeah. I think I remember told me a story where you built some decks and then you had to hire someone to crane the decks out of the spot that they were in or something like that.

Heather:
Yes, yes. So most glamping tents go on some sort of platform. A lot of times they come without a bottom. So you’re building that kind of platform that you’re putting them on top of. And we spaced them the same way that you space a campsite. And so it has a certain requirement. Well, the city, because this was… I put my glamping tents in about five years ago. So this was before it was this big craze that everybody was crazy about. And there weren’t a lot of things to go off of. Nobody had any regulations, nobody had any idea what to do with them. And so they were trying to regulate me like you would a house. And so they’re like, “Heather, these are too close together.” You’re like, “Dude, it’s not a house. It’s a tent.”
And so they literally made me move them over just a couple feet, which would’ve cost me tens of thousands of dollars to rebuild those decks and things like that. So I finally found a contractor that was willing to bring a crane in, pick up the decks, move them as one, and reset them all in a day. It was a crazy operation to move that. So do not ask for forgiveness. You need to get that permission first.

Rob:
Yeah. It works sometimes. But I think if you’re trying to go… Like, if you’re trying to go at scale, it’s not really going to work. And that’s sort of why we stopped doing a lot of glamping things. Right? We’ve paused to do it the right way. Because like I said, when we did it the first time, it really wasn’t like a big deal. We were just doing it on land. We were in tops at the county. We were trying to retroactively permit. And they were working with us and they gave us the whole step-by-step to do it. And what happened was, everybody started copying that blueprint and they’re like, “Oh, we’re going to do it.” And so then the county took notice and then they put more stringent regulations on there. And so we were just like, “Okay, let’s just start fresh. We’re going to go buy a piece of land.” We bought like 32 acres and we had to work with the civil engineering firm, we had to work with civil engineers, soil scientists, structural engineers, geotechnical-

Heather:
Tens of thousands of dollars, right?

Rob:
Tens of thousands, but-

Heather:
That you have it budgeted for or know that you’re going to spend.

Rob:
Right.

Heather:
Yeah.

Rob:
About $50,000 is probably what it’ll cost to do this for us. But the thing is, once you start going from… What a lot of people don’t realize with glamping, because it’s a really great niche, is you can make a lot of money. However, if it’s not permitted, you can’t sell that as a business. So no one will really buy that from you. But if you get it permitted, you have a conditional use permit or special-use permit and you have 40, 50, 60 on a site, you can assign a cap rate to that and actually sell that off. And then it becomes a very profitable business.
So we decommissioned a lot of our stuff, and now we’re working on getting like the 90 to 100 that I was talking about. And then now it’s getting fun. Now it’s getting to the point where I’m like, “Okay, I’ve broken my knowledge gap.” And I feel like every day I become a lot more enlightened into how to actually run a successful glamping business.

Heather:
And it also puts you in this interesting place where you have this perfect mix between cash flow and appreciation once you get it that way, because like you said, you’re valued on a cap rate like a commercial property instead of having that Airbnb as a single-family home where you get this great cash flow but there’s still the appraisal still comes back just like a single-family home would instead of being appraised like a business. So you kind of miss that cash flow and appreciation. You’re having to have one or the other. And so the kind of RV parks and glamping gives you this perfect mix between the two.

Rob:
Yeah. And we haven’t defined glamping. I always assume most people know what it is. But just so that anyone at home that may not know, glamping is basically glamorous camping. You know? It’s an elevated camping experience. So instead of sleeping outside… Well, you’re still sleeping outside, but instead of sleeping in like 10 degree weather in a sleeping bag in a vinyl tent, a lot of the times it’s a very luxurious canvas tent or like a yurt or an Airstream. And a lot of the times it’s like on a memory foam mattress and that kind of thing. And people are willing to pay a much higher premium for this. Typically, camping, you might rent a spot out anywhere from 10 to 50 bucks a night just for land. And with glamping, you can charge anywhere from like $100 to… I’ve seen it up to $500 a night if you do it correctly. And so I’m kind of curious, with your current operation now, how do your amenities differ on a glamp site versus any of your typical short-term rental properties?

Heather:
Yeah. So the glamp sites, one of the big differences is how much attention you’re paying to your outdoor space. Because you have such a small space inside those glamping tents or whatever the tiny homes or the treehouses, all the different things that you mentioned; it’s such a small space. So that outdoor space is truly an extension of that. So you need to have this really great photography for that outdoor space. And it really needs to be Instagrammable and something that’s usable. Because a lot of times you see these great spaces on Airbnb that look like, “Oh, that’s going to be so cool,” but when you get there, it’s not that usable. It’s so important that it’s something that’s actually comfortable and usable and functional because they’ve got such a small space on the inside.

Rob:
Yeah, that makes… I mean that, for me, my tiny house in Joshua Tree, it’s 300 square feet. It feels bigger. But if four people are in there, there’s still four people in a 300 square foot home. And so I just spent about $12,000 or $13,000 on a pergola and a hot tub because I wanted people to be able to hang out outside. And then for all of our glamping things, we have a 32-foot Airstream. We built a 32-foot deck with a pergola over it and it gives people a chance to not hang out inside of a stuffy Airstream when it’s 100 degrees outside. You know? It can get pretty hot in these things. And a lot of the times, they don’t have AC. Do any of yours have AC?

Heather:
They all have AC.

Rob:
Oh?

Heather:
That was one of the biggest things I learned when I went and stayed at one of Under Canvas’ properties. And that’s when I was like, “I’m definitely not a camper and I’m starting to question whether or not I’m glamper if they’re not giving me heat and air.” That one was, even in the middle of the night, you had to wake up and put another log on the fire, otherwise you were going to like freeze the death. So all of mine have mini splits for air conditioning for heat and air because I want them to be able to be used for as many months of the year as possible. And so I’ve noticed that adding heat and air is one of the major keys to that.

Rob:
Yeah, we do heat. We do like wood burning stoves a lot of the time. We haven’t done the mini split thing, but in our new… Once we get the conditional use permit, it’ll make a lot more sense for us to invest more heavily into the utility side of things. So what are your thoughts on sort of investing or kind of buying into like a glamping or maybe even an RV park or a glamping park, if you will, versus buying your traditional cabin? Is one easier than the other?

Heather:
I think operations is very similar. It’s still hospitality. It’s still short-term rentals. It’s one of the reasons it was so easy for me to shift from going from the RV parks to the glamping to the motel is it’s all hospitality. Operations are very similar. You’re learning the same kind of skillset. And with that, you’re just buying a cabin or a large cabin or something like that in a tourist town. It’s still very similar in operations. It’s just scaled up a little bit.
I also think it gives you this economies of scale and it allows you to hire your own cleaners, your own maintenance people instead of having to contract those out or using somebody who kind of runs their own business. And it makes it a lot easier to operate when you have your own employees instead of contracting those people out. And you also get them at a significantly less price than you do if they’re running their own business.

Rob:
Yeah. Sure. So do you… I mean, because I think the tough thing with glamping a lot of the times is that it’s sort of out there. Right? It’s like many times maybe it could be up to an hour, hour and a half outside of a city. So on that front, is it harder to hire that, what I call, the Airbnb Avengers, your dream team of cleaners and handymen and pest control and all that stuff?

Heather:
I think it can be. Even though glamping isn’t RV parks, I’m still using, for that type of thing, if it’s something that’s out and not in an area that’s easy to hire people, I’m still using that kind of work camper method. Do you do use work campers or know what work campers are?

Rob:
Mm-mm. What’s that?

Heather:
So work campers are this huge group of people. Their Facebook groups have like 30, 40, 50,000 people in them. There’s a couple different Facebook groups where you can hire them through. And they’re people who they call themselves full-timers and they live in their RVs and they travel around the country and they work at different RV parks. Some of them do it in exchange for their living arrangements. So they live for free, which isn’t totally legal. So make sure you’ve done that the legal way. And then it’s usually a husband and wife. The wife’s usually good at like cleaning or the office and the husband’s usually got some form of maintenance skill. Maybe he’s good at pools or whatever it is. So in some of those smaller properties, especially when they’re out somewhere, it’s really easy to bring in a work camping couple who have their own camper that they’re living in. And then that is who’s taking care of your guests because that’s kind of the lifestyle they’ve been living.

Rob:
Wow. What? That is a really cool tip. That’s awesome. I don’t think I’ve… I mean, we’ve hired a work campers, but it wasn’t really… Like, we were familiar with the concept of like we need a nomad who kind of has like a tiny home or like a fifth wheel, something like that, but I didn’t realize that there are specialized communities of these nomads.

Heather:
Yeah. There’s a ton of them out there. And the easiest place to find them is their Facebook groups. There’s also something called Workamper, with a K, news. It’s a website that has some of their resumes and stuff like that on there. It’s a really great way to staff those types of properties. And it’s also people who have experience in that kind of outdoor hospitality space, which makes it better for your guests because they’re not total newbies to it.

Rob:
Man. That’s such a… Man. Yeah. I’m going to use that because when we’re sourcing our dream team, we’re doing a lot of different things. We are posting to Facebook, we’re going putting Craigslist ad, which is always… You know? You never know what you’re going to get there. But really, I’ll also do things like go to hotels or motels near the location, the glamping location that we’re in, go to the front desk and say, “Hey, do you know anybody that cleans or do you know anyone that needs a handy or anyone that needs work or this or that?” I’m just trying to get a sense of the local population that might be able to actually help me because I think staffing up for glamping operations can be pretty tough. Is that the same type of… Did you say you hire the work campers for your RV parks as well?

Heather:
Yeah. I’m trying to figure out how I could incorporate them into the motel stuff because it’s been such a great way to staff people. And they come with these unique skills because most of them, this is their second or third career. So you get people who’ve been like a builder before in their lifetime or maybe they were previously an accountant. They’ve had these previous lives that they’ve now decided to walk away from. Maybe they’ve retired or they just kind of got sick of the hustle. And so you get these unique skills when you’re going through it. And it ends up being really good for your business. The turnover rate is higher because if you do something they don’t like, they’ve got their home outside and they’ve kind of got this gypsy mentality. They’re just going to drive away. But it’s been a really great way to staff.

Rob:
Yeah. We ran into that one time. We had a guy, we found him on Craigslist. He was great. He was super handy. But he was living in like 10 degree weather in Arizona. And so he was always a little feisty with us. And we’re like, “Let’s plan to… How do we transition you out if you don’t want to do this?” He’s like, “No, I want it. I just want you to know that it’s cold out here and this and that.” And we did everything we could to accommodate him. But we were always like… It felt like we were walking on eggshells because we don’t want to make him mad or didn’t want him to feel like we didn’t care about him and then him leave and then leave the job kind of unfinished and everything like that. But in the end, it ended up working out and we were able to… We just ended up putting him in a hotel. So he actually ended up being a work hoteler I guess.

Heather:
Yeah. And so people even hire their managers that way in the RV park space. And sometimes the managers will have a living quarters onsite. Sometimes they have their own camper that they’re coming with. Because if you think about it, RV parks are oftentimes in those remote spaces as well. And so a lot of times you get to know the other owners of the properties. And so you’ll see these work campers’ resume and you’re like, “Oh, I see they worked at your property,” and you kind of get references and you meet other owners that way too. It’s a neat community.

Rob:
Yeah. So let’s jump into the RV park side of things. So I think we have a pretty good handle on glamping. And obviously it’s very fascinating. I teach people how to do the glamping thing all the time. But RV parks are a really interesting hybrid of both glamping and, I guess, mobile home parks, because if I understand it correctly, RV park is effectively you have all these parking spots and you have utilities, you have septic connections and electric connections, all that stuff. And someone can roll in and actually just rent that spot and connect their RV or their Airstream. And then sometimes you may even provide that for them and they just show up and hang out in there. Is that right?

Heather:
Yeah. And so David asked me a question earlier that we got sidetracked and I didn’t answer. And he was asking the difference in that RV park and the mobile home park. And most people when they’re talking to me, sometimes they’ll even say mobile parks and they’re like mixing the words together, and they really don’t know the difference. Most of the time, mobile home parks are affordable housing and RV parks like we’re talking about are outdoor hospitality. These are like resorts. They’ve got like 10 different streams of revenue. So it’s very different than being on vacation versus affordable housing.
That doesn’t mean that there aren’t RV parks that people live in and in are affordable housing, but that is a very different type of property. There’s about five different types of RV parks that are all function very differently. And what you and I are talking about are those short-term parks. But you’re right. You’re renting that spot. And the cool thing about it is that original property that I bought for $3.2 million is now worth $15 million, which is where I can pull the equity from that and buy other deals is how I’ve grown my portfolio to almost $30 million. It’s probably more than $30 million by now.
And it’s because there’s so many streams of revenue. Not only do you have the income from the sites like we’re talking about, you’ve got your own laundry room there, and you’ve got all this laundry money coming in, you’re renting golf carts, there’s some sort of food services there. You’re renting campers like you talking about. Oftentimes you have tiny homes and glamping tents mixed into the same property. The store at that original property brings in $250,000 a year. So there’s all these different streams of revenue that, like you talked about, you then sell on a cap rate because you now have this functioning commercial business. And they’re really great options for cash flow and appreciation.

Rob:
Whoa. So I mean that $250,000 alone from the store has already increased like the actual value of your park significantly, I’d imagine.

Heather:
Yeah. And it’s also interesting. Every time I want to put something new in, at the property, because these properties, they have pools, some of them have full-fledged water parks. You know? They have bathhouses and all these different amenities that cost money. So every time I’m wanting to put a new amenity in, I’m like, “Okay, how can I also take in more money at the same time?” Because oftentimes when you’re replacing a roof on a house or you’re maybe upgrading the kitchen, it doesn’t always mean that you can take in more money. It’s the capital expense that doesn’t necessarily bring in more money. But the way these businesses operate, every time I’m putting in that kind of capital expense, I’m putting in something at the same time that allows me to bring in more income.

Rob:
Wow. Okay. So just to walk us how this works because I know that they rent the space, but give us an example of like a pretty average RV park and then like what a spot will rent out for, and then maybe like the occupancy.

Heather:
So the occupancy is going to vary dramatically depending on where you are in the country because you got to remember it’s literally just you’re renting the concrete. And so if you’re in Northern Wisconsin, you could have this really great summertime business, but you’re going to be closed in the winter. Right? So it’s very different than if you’re in Florida and you’re functioning all year. And so occupancy is thought of a little bit differently, especially since it’s sold on a cap rate. Occupancy, somebody will tell you, they’re like, “Oh, we run at 80% occupancy,” but they’re only open five months of a year. So we think of it differently than we would think of it as an Airbnb host who’s thinking of your entire 12 months.
So occupancy is also based on the season that you’re running it. And so it’s a very different business model. And when I first bought the RV park, I didn’t even realize I had bought real estate. I just thought of myself as a business owner because it’s literally a business.

Rob:
So what would like a normal spot… Let’s just take one. I don’t know. You said like, I imagine something, I think you own a couple by beaches. Right?

Heather:
Yeah. So something on a beach is going to be significantly more expensive. You know? You’re talking $150, $250 a night for a site that’s like beachfront. But if we’re talking about a normal RV site, it could be, I think average is probably around 45 bucks, if I had to guess, a night. But if you want those more luxurious amenities, which as the RV industry is continuing to increase people are wanting, they’re expecting those more resort style amenities, great pools, really clean bathhouses, really great service, which is going to cost more money. So you’re noticing those sites inching up closer and closer to that $100 a night.

Rob:
Wow. That’s pretty nuts because if you think about it, a lot of beachfront Airbnbs, not necessarily beachfront, but things that are like 1, 2, 3 blocks away, depending on the size of them, they can cost anywhere from like $300 a night all the way up to like $1,500 a night just depending on how luxury. But that’s one house. And so if you’ve got an RV park that has 10, 20, 30 spots on it and you’re charging $150, that adds up pretty quickly, I’d imagine. Right?

Heather:
It does. And so that original RV park that I bought has 133 sites. So that was why the learning curve, what we were talking about earlier, was so extreme because I essentially got 133 Airbnbs all in one day. And I had to figure out how to run that. That property has like 500 people at it at any given time. So it is a full-fledged operation. It is not passive income.

Rob:
Right. That’s amazing. Wow. So that was your first deal. Most people start off with like maybe a rehab or a BRRRR or like just one short-term rental. You walked into 133. So what about the maintenance on something like this? Are RV parks… Because, I mean, I’m sure it’s not all rainbows and butterflies. Like from a maintenance standpoint, are there really giant costs here like maybe repoing concrete or fixing septic or anything like that?

Heather:
So it depends on how you buy it. So I personally buy distressed properties and then remodel all of that. But if you’ve got an existing property, it’s kind of like the glamping stuff we talked about. You really want to pay attention to those utilities and buy it when you’re buying it. Ideally you’re getting city water and city sewer. I mean, that’s like the grand idea of what you want to buy, but you would buy something with a well and septic, if everything, all the inspections went really well. But you can get into some really crazy stuff like lift stations and wastewater treatment plants and lagoons and all these crazy things; that if you bought something with that and it broke, you’re looking at like half a million bucks to fix that. So you could really mess yourself up if you buy something with some of those intricate utilities that are more complicated.

Rob:
Yeah. But one of the things that I’ve found with the RV parks where we’re starting to experiment a little bit more is the RV parks typically have the entitlements that would allow you to do like glamping type of things or adding Airstreams. Because for you, you’re renting a spot, right? So people will pay you 150, 200 bucks for that spot. Is it feasible for you to go in and maybe add like 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, super luxury Airstreams and then rent those out for say $400 a night?

Heather:
100%. And I do that. I was talking about going on the trip with my kids earlier. I was ready to leave my son in the desert halfway through that trip. And so that Airstream is now on a site at my property in Pigeon Forge. And like you’re saying, it rents for a couple hundred bucks a night on that site to the point where it’s so booked I just bought a new bus. The kids and I are going on another trip. And I heard the way you were going at it earlier. You were talking a little bit about it like maybe the RVing side of it is an affordable thing. So for some people, it is an affordable thing. They’ve bought their 10, 15, $20,000 camper and they’re looking for this affordable vacation. But there’s also people with multimillion dollar buses and they literally just enjoy this lifestyle. Now, I didn’t buy a multimillion dollar bus. I bought like a $400,000 bus, but it’s still not a affordable vacation. It’s a lifestyle.

Rob:
Wow. Yeah. We’re getting into this model a lot because if you just go and buy a raw piece of land, which I’ve done, and then I’m sure you’re probably in the same boat, and you’re trying to get the entitlements. Right? So you’re trying to get your permits, your special-use permits, rezoning, all that kind of stuff, it can take six to 24 months to get that done.

Heather:
Yes. Years. Most people you hear it takes years. And the interesting thing with when we’re talking about tiny homes specifically is there’s something called RVIA. And if the tiny home is RVIA certified, you don’t need any extra permits, you don’t need inter any extra zoning. Those are already properly zoned and certified to be at the RV park. And there’s a lot of companies that specialize in those RVIA certified tiny homes. And they’re great. And you literally just buy them and wheel them in and hook them up. So much easier than going through that entitlement process.

Rob:
Yeah. Exactly. And that’s why people send us camping resorts. And that, like RV parks, sometimes mobile home parks, those are a little bit tougher to retroactively turn into the glamping stuff.

Heather:
And they’re worth so much with that zoning because that’s a whole nother conversation on why you wouldn’t want to change a mobile home park zoning, but-

Rob:
Oh right. Yeah. So when we get sent those, a lot of people look at a camping side and they’re like, “Oh, it’s camping. It’s like $50 a night, blah, blah, blah.” And we’re like, “No, no, it’s very valuable,” because if you can go in re-landscape, get the utilities up, and basically replace all the camping sites with glamping sites, you’ve now got a multimillion dollar operation. But those deals are hard to find, but it does save you a lot of time and it makes raising money for those types of projects a little easier too.

Heather:
I’ve noticed that you can buy the smaller kind of outdated mom and pop properties and do that with them much easier than you can buy some of the large ones because the institutions that go in and buy those larger ones are significantly more competitive when they’re selling them. And those smaller ones are too small for the institutions to be interested in. So it’s easy to purchase those 20, 30 site RV parks and convert them to glamping than it is when you look at some of the bigger ones.

Rob:
Yeah, for sure. Well, I mean, oh man, I could talk about… I mean, glamping is one of my favorite niches in all of real estate. So if you guys have any cool camping spots or RV parks, please send me a message on the BiggerPockets website. Just kidding. So do you have a deal in mind for the deal deep dive?

Heather:
Absolutely.

David:
Then let’s do it.

Rob:
Hey David, how’s it going? Welcome back, man. I’m sorry. I totally hijacked this one.

David:
No, it was nice watching you fly, man. You’re a peacock.

Rob:
I know, man. It’s just you talk about glamping or Airbnb redesigns and I get all fired up.

David:
That was absolutely perfect actually. If I would’ve jumped in it, would’ve been like trying to add a note to Beethoven’s 5th Symphony or another [inaudible 00:52:26]-

Heather:
That’s a great explanation.

Rob:
All right. Well, let’s do it.

David:
All right. In this segment of the show, we are going to fire questions at you about a particular deal that you’ve done. Question number one. What kind of deal is this?

Heather:
It’s an RV park.

Rob:
Awesome. And question number two. How did you find the RV park?

Heather:
From a google search.

David:
Wow. How much did you pay for it?

Heather:
$3.2 million.

Rob:
And how did you negotiate it?

Heather:
I didn’t. I didn’t know to negotiate it.

Rob:
You just went full price?

Heather:
Full price. And again, they were giving me this non-recourse loan with no money down. So I was thinking, “What do I got to lose?”

David:
Oh, so you bought it directly from the sellers then with seller financing?

Heather:
From the bank. From the bank.

David:
Oh, the bank funded it? Okay. Well, that was the next question. How did you fund it with a non-recourse loan with no money down? I’m sure everybody is going to be wondering what is your bank, how do I get in touch with them. Instead of answering that question, can you just give us a very quick answer of advice you can give to someone who wants to find a loan like this with their bank?

Heather:
So I don’t think that loans like that are an option right now. But what you can do is in spaces that are a little more unique like this, things like seller financing or owner financing are more common. And if you learn how to ask for seller financing in a really crafty way that explains what the benefit is to them, you will feel like you got the same type of deal as I did. And the important part of that is making sure that you don’t say, “Will you finance this for me, or will you give me owner financing, or do you have seller financing?” They literally are going to hang up on you the second you say that. You need to get really creative with the way that you write your offer and spell out what the benefits are to them. How much money are they going to make? Why is this a good deal for them in doing their tax purposes? And all these different things and the way you present that really increases your odds.

David:
Great point.

Rob:
That’s really solid advice. Yeah. Because when I was getting started, I was always like, “Will you seller finance?” But you got to develop the rapport before you ask them to marry you, right?

Heather:
A hundred percent.

Rob:
What did you do with the deal?

Heather:
So when I got there, there were a hundred people living there with refrigerators and mailboxes outside. And they were paying $300 a month. And that included all of their utilities. So there was no version of that making money. And so all of the haters on Instagram and TikTok are always giving me a hard time because they’re like, “You made a hundred people homeless.” And these people aren’t homeless. They live in a camper, they get in it, they drive down the road and go live somewhere else. Right? They’re trying to live in the middle of a tourist town for less than what the utilities cost.
And if I hadn’t kicked them out, the bank would have or the government would have because you can’t live there. It doesn’t work that way. And so I had to figure out within my first week of being a real estate investor, how the heck do I evict a hundred people? So after the hundred people moved on… This was back, like I said, 11 years ago. So people weren’t marketing the same way that they are now. It was when things like pay-for-clicks were really getting started and there weren’t all these specialists. So I was kind of going through trying to figure it out myself. And I grew my Facebook account because that’s what everybody used back then. And really got to figure out how to bring some business into that property.

David:
It’s always annoying to me when the argument is made [inaudible 00:55:42], because somebody isn’t paying for something or they’re paying this like ridiculously low rent, that you’re making them homeless. Like, we wouldn’t say that about anything else. If you were at a restaurant eating for free and weren’t paying and someone came and said, “Hey, you can’t eat for free anymore,” we wouldn’t say, “You’re making them starve.” Right? It’s just like you mentioned. They weren’t paying what they were supposed to be paying. And you were taking over the thing. So throwing around these really dramatic phrases like making it homeless is what makes real estate investors look bad. But like you said, they just moved on and found a different place to live in. So what was the outcome?

Heather:
So if we fast forward 11 years later, I’ve added tiny homes, glamping tents, a store, a restaurant, all of these different amenities. And I didn’t use my own money for that. I refinanced and pulled the money out of the property in order to do that. And that property is now worth $15 million. It brings in about two and a half million dollars a year. And RV parks have about a 50% expense ratio.

Rob:
Wow. That is… I’ll never get over that. That is just really amazing. Congratulations. What lessons did you learn from this deal?

Heather:
What lesson did I not learn? I mean, I even got divorced through this deal. Like, what lesson did I not learn? I had three kids. It has been life changing for me in so many different ways. A lot of the lessons we’ve shared throughout this episode, talking about, you know, you can’t… Even stuff as simple as a playground. Like, you think of like, you go see these nice commercial grade blue playgrounds. And you’re like, “Oh, that’s a couple thousand bucks.” No, you need this extreme permit that takes you forever to get from the city, and that playground’s like 50 grand. Like, learning the process of how commercial real estate works versus residential has been a major learning curve.

Rob:
I have learned all, all of those permitting woes as we… That’s how you and I met actually. We all hung out and I was basically crying for an hour about how can I get my fricking septic permit.

Heather:
Yeah. And I also don’t know that you can take a course and learn it because it’s different for every deal. You literally have to know to go there and just keep asking questions and asking questions and asking questions.

Rob:
Yep.

David:
That’s exactly right. All right. On this deal, Heather, who was the hero on your team?

Heather:
Who was the hero? You know what I think? My lender was my hero for a couple reasons. And he is been my hero a couple different times. First of all, getting the deal. Right? That was a huge deal and not something that most people can do. If anybody’s read Sam Zell’s book; he’s one of the largest owners of warehouse space and RV parks and mobile home parks; and he has this book, and in it he says, “I was successful because I didn’t know I shouldn’t have been. I should’ve never asked for that deal. They should’ve never given me the loan. I should have never been able to figure it out. I was successful because I didn’t know any better.”
And the hero… We kind of loop all that back. When I was going through divorce, I thought that I was going to have to sell the deal because my ex-husband owned 20% of it. And I obviously didn’t want to be partners with him anymore. And my lender was like, “Heather, you have so much equity in this. You could just refinance it, pull some of that equity out, pay him off and buy a few more deals.” That was literally like my light bulb moment of when I went from just being an operator of an RV park to being a real estate investor and truly growing my portfolio and learning how to be financially free and have all that passive income.

Rob:
That might be the best answer to question number nine here we’ve ever had on the show.

David:
Question, question number nine. Yes. Thank you very much for that. And remember that you too can do more deals with the help of BiggerPockets tools and resources where you just might find your next hero. Go to BiggerPockets.com and look for the nav bar and just look for tools. You’ll find them right there.
All right, Heather, we’re going to move on to the last segment of this amazing show with you, which has definitely not disappointed. It is going to be the famous four. And in this segment of the show, we are going to fire questions at you that we ask the same guests every single episode. And I’m curious to hear what your answers will be.

Speaker 4:
Famous Four.

David:
Question number one: what is your favorite real estate book?

Heather:
I was thinking about this and I feel like all the books that people say are kind of cliche. It’s the same thing every time. But one of my favorite books that I recommend to my students is The Gap and The Gain. I think having the skillset of living in that positive mind frame is literally one of the things that makes people successful. You know? Most successful people aren’t, yes, exactly, that one, David, people aren’t like wallowing in their sorrows. They’ve learned to turn that pain into their passion and all the things that you hear related to that, to the point to where in The Gap and The Gain, they have you do this exercise where you write down these positive things from the day and some positive things you’re going to do the next day.
My kids are 10, 7, 5. And they each have a notebook on their nightstand, and each night they’re writing down three great things about their day because I want them to be those positive people who don’t have a victim mindset when they grow up.

Rob:
That’s awesome. Well, you know what? If it makes you feel any better, I don’t think anyone’s ever said that while I’ve been the co-host of the show. So question number two: favorite business book.

Heather:
I’ve been reading this book that I’m like, got one chapter away from finishing right now. And it’s called The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry. And it is so fricking good, y’all. It’s making me rethink my entire life. Y’all need to read it. Put it on your list.

Rob:
Okay. So what’s it called again?

Heather:
The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry.

David:
This sounds like something Brandon Turner would have loved. Like, I can just tell from the title of that, he’s either read that book or will read it as soon as you mention it.

Heather:
I’m going to have to message him and be like, “Brandon-”

David:
Yeah. He’s going to give you an exclamation point back and he’s like, “I know. I love it,” or something like that because [inaudible 01:01:26].

Heather:
For sure. Yeah. Like, “I wrote that book.”

David:
Yeah.

Rob:
Well, after I get through all of David’s books, I’m going to read that book. Question number three, when you’re not out there quintupling the value of your RV parks, what are some of your hobbies?

Heather:
I don’t have any hobbies. I love real estate, y’all. There’s two things I’m really passionate about: real estate and then empowering women. And so most of my time that’s not with my family is spent either teaching women to be fierce, fabulous, and financially free or doing real estate because you can hear me talk about the RV parks and the glamping resorts. They truly make me exciting. I was on a date one time and we were wandering around this town that I was thinking about buying something in. And I’m literally not even focused on the guy because I’m thinking about all the different things in the town related to the real estate. Like, it makes me excited. That’s my hobby.

David:
That’s totally fair. In your opinion, what sets apart successful investors from those who give up, fail, or never get started?

Heather:
Honestly think that it is the ability to make decisions quickly. One of the books I was reading was talking about highly successful millionaires, billionaire people. And one of the things about them is they all have this ability to make decisions and really quickly. And if they need to pivot and turn back, they do that instead of taking so long to make the decision.
When I was thinking about how I would answer this question, it’s really easy to just say, “Oh, you got to make decisions faster.” But from the people in my family that I know who take forever to make decisions, you can’t just tell them to make a decision faster. They’re not going to. It’s against everything they stand for. So I really think that if someone wants to be more successful in real estate… Because think about with the way the market has been lately, you don’t have much time to think about that deal. You’ve got to make a decision and move forward.
I think people need to… They need to break it down with some small habits. Like, if you take a long time to pick what Netflix show you’re going to watch, give yourself two minutes and just decide. If you take forever to decide what the restaurant’s going to be, give yourself a certain amount of time and commit. If it’s buying a car, say you got two days to decide. Make the decision and move forward. I think picking some of those smaller little wins in your life and gradually forcing yourself to make decisions faster will help you overcome that when it comes in larger things like real estate.

David:
Heather, what’s your thoughts on the two different approaches where what you’re saying is like, “Just give yourself two minutes and pick and don’t think about it,” versus “Dive in and figure out why it’s so hard for you to make a decision”? Do you kind of play both sides of it? Do you think one side works for some people or the other works for others?

Heather:
I think it’s a personality trait that goes with that too. Because if you make the decision quickly, then you probably don’t care about what the reason was why. So you can’t really understand that mindset part of it. So it’s probably important to do both. You know? You can figure out why you’re having a hard time with it. But I’ve noticed that most of the people who have a hard time with that have that trait in all areas of their life.

David:
That’s what I was getting at is, like for someone like you who is very successful, and a big piece of that is because you’re decisive. I mean, you’re obviously intelligent and you see angles other people don’t see. There’s a lot going on there. But you’re not afraid to make a mistake. Right? You can make a decision. And if it’s not perfect, you’re like, “Oh, now that information goes in the old algorithm. I’m a little bit stronger. I’ll go do it again.” The people that are in that as they’re listening to this, they’re like, “I wish I could be Heather. That’s my superhero.”
I have found they often are comparing their choice to the perfect choice. Like, “What am I going to order at the restaurant? What if there’s a better thing than what I pick?” And they create this… It’s so important that they choose the perfect thing at that restaurant, and then they get stuck and they can’t make the choice because, “What if the rack of lamb is better than the pork chop, but I get the pork chop” versus if you could take like a half a step back and be like, “Does it really matter tomorrow what you ordered to eat tonight?” Right? Does it have to be the perfect choice?

Heather:
For sure. I never dreamed of owning RV parks. I was not in love with the idea of, “Oh my God, I’ve got to have an RV park or I own a bunch of mobile home parks.” Like, that is not a sexy asset class to own. But you know what? I can get really excited about those because I chose to commit and get really good at them. And that’s literally what it is. You’ve got to commit and get good at it and appreciate it and not look back.

David:
And compare making the choice to not making the choice versus making the choice to the perfect choice that could possibly be made.

Rob:
Well, I feel personally attacked because I do have buyer’s remorse every time someone’s food comes out at the restaurant. There’s never been a time where I thought my wife ordered worse food than… I always want what my wife ordered. And I don’t want to share whenever she asks me at the restaurant. I’m like, “No, I don’t want to share.” But when her food comes out, I’m like, “Let’s share. Well, why not? Let’s do it. Let’s do 50/50. This will be great.”

David:
Rob, are you the one dude that takes French fries off the girls’ plate?

Rob:
No, no. I wait for my… Well, this is also I feel attacked because my kids leave a lot of food. I let them get their things first and then I’m a vulture and I come in and I’ll eat the fries.

Heather:
Okay. But the lesson you should have learned is just start ordering whatever your wife ordered. Let her order first, and then you just be like, “I’ll have that.”

David:
That’s what I was thinking. Yeah. Just give over authority of ordering to her.

Rob:
That’s true. But then she and also my best friend have this weird thing where if you order what they were going to get, they won’t get it anymore.

Heather:
What? Why?

Rob:
Yeah. I know. And I’m always like, “Come on, it’s fine.” We’re going to both have the Chipotle burrito. It’s not a big deal.

David:
This is a wonderful, wonderful exercise in what it’s like with indecisive people. Thank you. As everyone’s listening, like, “Why is this conversation still going on,” that highlights Heather’s point of like, “Don’t be that person. Make your decision and move on.” So final question. Rob, why don’t you take us out of here?

Rob:
Well, a lot of good knowledge bombs today. Heather, can you tell us where people can find out more about you on the internet?

Heather:
You can find me on Instagram or TikTok @heatherblankenshipx3.

Rob:
Awesome. Yeah. Can confirm you have really awesome content. You talk about this stuff all the time. It’s always very motivational, inspirational. So go give her a follow. David, what about you? Where can people find you?

David:
@davidgreene24. I don’t have Heather’s really cool accent, but I still try to make up for that with valuable yet boring content. So go follow me there. Or you can find me on YouTube at David Greene Real Estate with a name just as boring as the content I make.

Rob:
And you can find me over at Robuilt on YouTube. I’ve got a small glamping series on there if you want to go check it out. And you can also find me on Instagram @Robuilt as well.

David:
Thank you. My last question for each of you: Heather, if someone was to play you in a movie, who do you think it would be?

Heather:
I have no idea. Rob’s way better at this than I am. Let him pick.

David:
Why don’t I do that? Rob, why don’t you pick Heather’s, and then Heather, you’re going to pick Rob’s.

Rob:
Oh, okay. Oh man. Yeah. Let’s see. I guess for Heather…

David:
I feel like it’s pretty obvious.

Rob:
Oh, is it? Who do you got?

David:
Sandra Bullock [inaudible 01:08:06].

Rob:
Oh that’s… Yeah. I get it. Yeah, because little, little twang there.

David:
All right. Heather, now you’re on the spot. Who’s going to play Rob?

Heather:
I’m picking Matthew McConaughey for Rob.

David:
Okay.

Rob:
All right. All right.

Heather:
He’s got this personality that’s a little witty and goes along with Rob’s personality.

Rob:
That’s nice. Okay, cool. I’ll take it. Listen, we all know that Interstellar is my favorite movie. And one of these days, I’m going to get David to watch it. So I’ll be lobbying on that on the BiggerPockets Podcast for until the end of time.

Heather:
You can have a viewing night at BP Con.

Rob:
Ooh, that’s a great idea. We’ll have that as like a panel and we’ll kind of decide, like we’ll have a topic on how the Interstellar relates to the real estate market of 2022.

Heather:
Exactly.

David:
And if you would like to know more about Matthew McConaughey, you can check out him on the BiggerPockets Podcast episode 413.

Rob:
Nuh-uh. For real?

Heather:
Yes.

David:
Absolutely.

Heather:
Did you miss that episode?

Rob:
Yeah. That was 200 episodes ago, Heather. Okay. Let’s have him back on. Oh my gosh. I wouldn’t even… I’d be… That’d be crazy.

David:
Look at Rob just melting right now at the thought of that. That’s the same thing Brandon did. Brandon just melted over Matthew McConaughey.

Rob:
Listen, if we get Matthew McConaughey or John Mayer on the podcast, we’ll consider my bucket list completely crossed off.

David:
Wow. All right. Heather, any last words before we let you get out of here?

Heather:
I think that solves it. I mean, we need John Mayer and Matthew McConaughey. We got to figure this out.

David:
For sure. So check out that episode and let us know what you think in the YouTube comments on this one. This is David Greene for Rob fanboy Abasolo signing off.

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In This Episode We Cover:

  • The massive cash flow you can earn from RV parks, campsites, and glamping
  • How the short-term rental space is softening and what hosts can do to stand out
  • Ditching the traditional travel sites and why building a direct booking site may be the best move for investors
  • The dozens of ways you can make money owning an RV park or campsite 
  • Commercial financing, permitting, and everything else you must know before buying a large short-term rental property
  • And So Much More!

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Note By BiggerPockets: These are opinions written by the author and do not necessarily represent the opinions of BiggerPockets.