In my most recent article for The Voice (April 2007), I wrote about “homeowner due diligence” for groups trying to buy the mobilehome park where they live.  But before doing “due diligence,” there must also be some basic organization in the park.

Often, “getting organized” starts with two or three neighbors sitting around a kitchen table and asking each other, “Could our homeowners’ group really buy this park?” In many cases, the answer is yes.  Resident groups in big parks, small parks, “rich” ones and “poor” ones have done it.  For you folks chatting around the table, here is some good news: you don’t have to organize the whole park at the beginning of the project.  You do need a few “resident leaders” who are willing to do some preliminary work and investigation.

Is it “worth it” to buy the park where you live, assuming a fair deal can be worked out between the homeowners and the park owner?  To find out, go visit a park in your area that is owned by its residents. Talk to people in the park.  Ask them about the security of not having their homes on “rented” land. Compare their home values with values in local “space rent” parks.  Look around the park.  Do homeowners tend to improve their homes  when they have ownership interest in the park?  Ask them if they like having control over the community where they live, and having stable monthly rents without relying on rent control.  I’ll bet that you will hear the effort to buy the park was certainly “worth it.”

But how does your group get organized to “buy your park?”  As I’ve suggested, start with a small group of interested people.  Don’t try to organize the whole park at the beginning.  And when you gather your small group, don’t make assumptions that might be wrong.  Some common assumptions are:

“The residents could never afford to buy the park.”

“The park owner wants too much money for the park.”

“We could never find financing to buy the park.”

“Buying the park would take too much work.”

“If we bought the park, we could never run it.”

“We have rent control – why bother buying the park?”

“The park infrastructure is worn out – who’d want this place, anyhow?”

“The housing market is not strong these days.”

Some resident groups give up immediately after making such a list, before they know the answers to these questions.  Every group that ever bought its park took time to investigate and understand the answers to these questions.  The groups that never bothered to investigate or understand may have missed the opportunity to secure their economic futures.  They “quit before they started.”

Resident Leadership is the common theme in all resident park purchases.  Every park that is resident owned today had a small group of leaders back when the park was purchased.  These were homeowners who:

Learned about resident park purchases in general;

Found trustworthy sources of information and guidance;

Determined the best purchase approach for the park (co-op, subdivision, etc.);

Found sources of financing for the purchase;

Approached the park owner with the “resident purchase plan” and offer to buy the park;

Explained the plan to all park residents, and sought their participation;

Followed through with the details of the park purchase process.

Potential leaders in mobilehome parks should understand… unless you get organized (first with a small group, and then with a larger one), the homeowners will never own the park.  Now… would you know a leader if you saw one?  Might you be one yourself?

David Loop is a real estate attorney and past homeowners’ association president at resident-owned Aptos Knoll Park, near Santa Cruz.  You can ask him questions by sending an e-mail to deloop1@sbcglobal.net, or calling 831-688-1293.