On this episode of The Mobile Home Park Lawyer Podcast, Ferd speaks to Sydney Barker, an asset manager for Open Door Capital. Sydney discusses what it is, Open Door Capital does and what it’s like to manage properties all over the country, from Hawaii to Alaska, as well as offering some great tips and tricks for people in the industry.
0:00 – Intro and background to Sydney Barker
3:12 – Sydney goes through some of her day to day tasks and how she manages properties in many different locations
5:20 – Sydney considers Rent Manager is one of the best things for accounting
7:06 – Sydney explains that they have a standard which means they visit the parks every 6 months
9:10 – Sydney talks about a deal in Alaska and how they’re all so different and how the last year has changed how they operate 11:03 – Road maintenance is huge is Alaska
12:46 – Sydney talks about her weekly meeting in which she likes to start off with their story of the week and shares some of them 14:03 – Sydney does a monthly write up, both financially and what is actually happening in the park
15:12 – Sydney is having a hard time finding homes
16:37 – Ferd asks about the Hawaii team and how it works with different time zones
18:34 – When you’re underwriting a deal, it’s not going to be perfect
23:14 – You can reach out to Sydney on LinkedIn or Facebook or send her and email at firstname.lastname@example.org
Ferd Niemann: Welcome back mobile home park nation. Ferd Niemann here again today with another episode of mobile home park lawyer podcast. My guest today, she’s based out of Atlanta, Georgia. She’s part of Opendoor capital. She’s a head of asset management. Please help me welcome our guest Sydney Barker. Sydney, Thanks for coming on.
Sydney Barker: Thank you Ferd for having me.
Ferd Niemann: Well Sydney for our guests that know you, I see you a fair amount on LinkedIn and on Facebook, and you’ve got a good presence there, but for our guests that maybe don’t know you tell us a little more your background what the company does, what’s your roles with the company and we’ll go from there.
Sydney Barker: Okay. Oh, well, my background is in finance and accounting. I started out doing a compliance SEC reporting for a large insurance company. I was a controller for a couple of different IT companies here in Atlanta. And I just kind of like a lot of people that get started in this industry was trying to pursue the whole passive income lifestyle. And I stumbled upon, you know, mobile home parks at the time that, you know, I started looking at this. They were not as hot as they are now. Everyone knew I was doing multifamily apartments and so I was like, I’m going to do mobile home parks. And that was I guess that was the end of 2019. And it’s just kind of exploded since then, as you know, it’s not like, you know, the sexiest asset class, which is somewhat strange to say. So I got started on my own. I just decided I’m going to go big. My first deal was a 71 pad. I still have it. And I just started doing that and I ended up, you know, through networking connected with Brian Murray who owns Washington street properties. And one day he was like, you know, do you think you can help us? We started these funds. And we’d like for you to help us you know, manage our portfolio of mobile home parks. So it was a huge honor. I love it. I’m so excited to come and work to every day. And so right now I’m doing asset management for the open-door capital mobile home portfolio.
Ferd Niemann: That’s great. Now I know you told me earlier, you’re based out of Atlanta right now, but you’ve got coworkers in Hawaii, Maine elsewhere. You have properties throughout the country. How does that work and how does it look from a day to day [02:24 inaudible] you’re overseeing, you know, presumably budgets, Cap Ex other projects, but you’re, it’s infeasible to be all places at all times. So maybe give us some of your day-to-day and maybe some tips as to how, you know, our listeners can learn how to manage such a diversified geography.
Sydney Barker: Well I mean, I think COVID really kind of taught, you know, a lot of the world how to, how to work, you know at home, you know, and to communicate, you know, via zoom and different other channels. And here we have, we use Asana, which I’m not sure if you’re familiar with that, but it’s like a task management project management type software. And we basically use that as like our Bible, you know, that’s how, that’s our method of communication. It’s our way to you know, be accountable for things that we need to be doing. And so we love using it. So that’s a way to keep us all kind of connected and on the same page with stuff. And then our ERP system to manage our portfolio, we use rent manager, which side note I absolutely love in spite of remote desktop login, but it really is a great software. And so that’s also our Bible for you know, keeping track of everything related to the portfolio. So everything lives in there and nothing lives outside of there. It’s the way we can keep, you know, running a tight ship. We can all communicate well together.
Ferd Niemann: We use rent manager as well, and it’s a love, hate relationship. It’s like, I love it. And that it’s like, it’s this robust program that can do a hundred things, but at the same time, like I’ve spent so much time in the end trails of rent manager, like running balance sheets on a per unit basis and running all these budget compared different reports and just like gosh, why can it not be more and I know they have automation, but it just seems like there’s just a ton of work that goes into rent manager. But yeah, I’m not looking to switch, but by any means it’s…
Sydney Barker: Well, I mean, I can tell you, like, just through my experience, I have used almost every accounting, I would say, like accounting system out there, you know, from QuickBooks to I don’t know this isn’t like necessarily related to managing tenants, but as far as an accounting system is concerned, rent manager is probably one of the best, which is funny. Cause it’s just, you know, you think it’s more for operations, but the accounting capability of rent manager is better to me than QuickBooks,
Ferd Niemann: I tell people, it is QuickBooks on steroids.
Sydney Barker: I mean, QuickBooks is great. I mean really for small business, I mean, QuickBooks is great. Let’s see, two companies go, IT company, we did a three way merger acquisition and an accounting system implementation. And we spent like a million dollars, you know, architecting this new system with different consultants and it was supposed to do all this cool stuff. And I’ll tell you what, that thing was crazy. I absolutely love rent manager, so highly recommend.
Ferd Niemann: Yeah, it’s definitely robust and I don’t even know how to use it all, but it’s like, I don’t want to, and at this point in my life, I don’t care to learn how to use it anymore, but it’s definitely a valuable tool.
Sydney Barker: I kind of nerd out on it, to be honest.
Ferd Niemann: It’s a good program to geek on for sure. Besides the nerding out on rent manager, what else [06:04 inaudible] look like for you and how do you, [06:07 inaudible] Asana, Rent manager, how often do you have to go visit your properties? Because of COVID, how have you guys have adapted to just, you know, desktop reviews and how do you interact with other people in the accounting department and property managers and vendors and etc. And is there any special sauce there you’re going to share with our listeners as to how to, you know, keep your hair from burning on fire in a given day, managing mobile home park, tenants, and investments.
Sydney Barker: Well, so we have a standard that we want to actually be in our parks every six months. So we want someone from the team to, you know, go visit the park, visit with the manager. You know, if there is an onsite one there and just you know, we have like a checklist, like, Hey, when you do a site visit, look for these different things. And we want, you know, our park managers to know we’re on top of this, we’re watching this very, very closely. So every six months we visit our parks. And then as far as just kind of trying to, you know, keep the dumpster fire down. I mean, like I said, Asana, we just, we build this thing out so much where it just tells you, this is what you have to do today. Here’s our top priorities. These are the things that have to get done today. We have recurring tasks. We have like for capital projects, we’ve got different dashboards. So I’ll put like a capital project dashboard. Like here are the ones that we need to do. You know, the lender requires us to do this. Here are the due dates. And it keeps track of all communication. So I really think that’s, I don’t want to say it’s a secret sauce, but like being organized, especially when you have a huge team that’s continuing to grow, you have to have really good communication.
Ferd Niemann: No, that makes, I agree make sense. Now, as far as growth in your team, and you mentioned earlier, it’s a hot market. How is it impacting from the asset manager side? I mean, I know, from the acquisition side, you got to be more aggressive or you got to just miss out on deals from a property management side, generally, it’s going to be similar, but [08:25 inaudible] is similar or are you having to take on projects that have more hair on them and are going to require more infrastructure changes and upgrades, or I guess, how has life changed over the last three years as the market’s gotten hotter and hotter by the day?
Sydney Barker: You know, each deal is so different. I mean, we bought a deal up in Alaska and, you know, trying to even understand the operations of that park. It’s like, you’re talking about a different planet, you know, like I’ve never been that far north. I do not know like what that coldness feels like, but it’s a different world. It’s a different, you know, type of weather patterns. And you know, like for instance, you know, there’s certain times a year where the sun doesn’t fully go down, so the plants go crazy and, you know, you have to make sure that you, you know, you’re going to have a little bit more expense associated with, you know, landscaping costs. So, you know, there’s a lot of stuff, you know, that we’ve learned, you know, depending on the climate, you know, you got to play different games and move your money around it and budget properly for stuff like that. But, you know, each park has its own thing. I mean each lender has its own requirements. So it’s all different. It’s definitely kept us on our toes. We’ve grown exponentially with the parks that we’ve brought on and it’s been you know, it’s been challenging to try to, you know, onboard them and onboard them, you know, perfectly, you know, I would love everything to be perfect, but sometimes that’s not attainable, but I think our team has done an awesome job with the volume that we’ve experienced. I mean, this year alone to onboard these parks.
Ferd Niemann: Yeah, Alaska I’ve never been there, but I would imagine that’s going to be a different animal. I mean, just I’m thinking about heat tape and frozen pipes have to be a major concern there. That’s where I went, Instead of plants, I wouldn’t even thought of that. I would’ve thought, oh my gosh, frozen pipes everywhere.
Sydney Barker: And even this park, like I didn’t realize road maintenance is huge, you know, with the way that the wind whips and constantly blows, like, you know, we almost have like a side business for road repair. Like we’ve got some heavy machinery, like dumps gravel and sand and sprint it out. And, you know, we have a snowplower, like it’s like this little separate, like maintenance company within our park. And what’s kind of cool is we’ve actually been able to, you know, take that expense, which is not, you know, it’s high, it’s high in the snow months, but we’ve actually been able to go serve other residents businesses outside the park and actually try to offset some of that cost. So that definitely was not expected, but we were able to kind of mitigate those costs and get a little creative.
Ferd Niemann: Interesting. Yeah, That’s definitely not your core business. I’ve looked at [11:32 inaudible] loaders or toter trucks that would come with [11:35 inaudible] parks and maybe I can pour concrete for somebody else. Maybe I can move on to somebody else and just like, I’ve never done it. It was like, I had enough of my own stuff to working on there, it made sense, but up there it’s like you already got the equipment, you know, it’s a big fix cost and monetize it some other way, for sure. What other, do you have any horror stories for us or good ideas or tips you can share from the asset management side, or just in general, your operational side. I know you do more than just asset management, but from operations in this business, it’s very intense, very complicated, lots going on relative to a lot of other assets.
Sydney Barker: it really is kind of a crazy business. You know, I’ve done site visits and, you know, there’s times where I’m, you know, I’ll ask myself, like, what am I doing? Like, you know, this is, you know, there’s people like running in the park with, you know, their shirts off and, you know, you’re just like, wow, this is really crazy, but it’s really fun. But so we have a weekly asset property management meeting every week. And I always like to start off the meeting with like, what is your story for the week? Like, tell me like the most interesting thing that’s happened this past week. And the stories are so crazy that I’m convinced we have to write a book. Like we have to journal all these things that have been happening. It’s quite entertaining. Things like you know, domestic violence and then, you know, the park manager will get involved and start yelling in someone’s face. Or you know, there was a kid that we had that was chopping up cats with machetes. I mean, just stuff that doesn’t need to sound real.
Ferd Niemann: No, definitely, definitely some craziness that happens in these mobile home parks for sure.
Sydney Barker: And I do like a monthly write-up that’s like, you know, how’s the park doing, you know, kind of, here’s some key financial performance indicators, but here’s also operationally what is actually happening. And I love doing it cause we share, you know, internally with the team and, you know, since we’ve got our underwriting team, our acquisitions team, they’re able to kind of see, okay, here’s kind of what we thought, you know, an underwriting here’s kind of where forecasting the expenses would be maybe. And in reality, this is really what is happening. Like for instance, you know, legal fees, you know, they’ve been a little higher with COVID and the moratorium stuff. So I think what our team does really well is we have a really good feedback loop, you know, like here’s what we thought, but here’s the reality and we’re able to kind of share so that we can just really dial in our underwriting.
Ferd Niemann: Yeah. I mean, I agree the last couple years has really made underwriting it to turn on its head. What our operations looked like. What a collections look like, what does an [14:39 inaudible] look like. Right now my biggest problem is I can’t find homes.
Sydney Barker: Yeah, same with us. We have a hard time finding homes. It’s really challenging. We’ve put in orders for new and I mean I think our last order, you know, we’re not going to get until Q1 next year.
Ferd Niemann: Yeah, that’s crazy. I have manufacturers regularly say, nah, don’t even waste your time. Like we can’t even give you an offline date. It’s just, we’re not placing orders for you right now. And I’m like, I’ve bought plenty from you before, any loyalty. And they’re like, no, sorry, we just can’t do it. It’s like, okay, well, thanks for the relationship buddy. You know, I just thought we were friends.
Sydney Barker: Yeah. There’s been multiple times that I’m thinking, gosh, I should get into building mobile homes. Like this is so like underserved at this point. And you know that it’s bad when wholesalers are all of a sudden starting to wholesale mobile homes. So it has changed very quickly in a short amount of time.
Ferd Niemann: It really has. Now you told me earlier that some of your companies in Hawaii, how does, are you mad that you got stuck in Atlanta or is Atlanta more cool and a better place than Hawaii. And how does that work with your different time zones? You don’t ever see each other person face-to-face I would presume, but that’s a different component to operations than more teams would normally have.
Sydney Barker: Yeah, I mean the Hawaii team is really, I would say, not on the, the operation side, you know, operating the parks. So, you know, the time difference doesn’t really do much, you know, it doesn’t really bother us at all. And you know, so Brandon and his team are out there and, you know, they’re more, I would say, I like this line of delineation. It’s like you know, here’s investor relations, raising money, finding deals. And then once we close on a deal and it like comes over to Atlanta and, you know, our team is the one that, you know, manages the assets and you know, make sure that they’re performing the way that we want to for our portfolio. So you know, this side of the equation is in Hawaiian and this side is in Atlanta.
Ferd Niemann: That makes some sense. They don’t have to workday to date with each other, just different divisions of the company, so to speak.
Sydney Barker: Exactly. And I’ve actually never been to Hawaii. So definitely on my list.
Ferd Niemann: Yeah. And you got an excuse to go, you could expense it.
Sydney Barker: I don’t know if I’m looking forward to that plane, that flight though.
Ferd Niemann: That’d be brutal. I flew to South Africa once, and it was like 19 hours from Atlanta to Johannesburg and it was crazy.
Sydney Barker: I’m like a crazy, I don’t know if I can sit still that long.
Speaker 3: Well, before we go, anything else you want to share in your tips or ideas, floor is yours and if I forget bug me here too, where can people find you and having to reach out to you as well?
Sydney Barker: Any tips or ideas. I guess the tip that I like to share the most is and this is coming from a place because I used to do this when I first started in this industry is don’t, when you’re underwriting a deal when you’re looking at a deal, it’s not all going to work out perfect. You know, your water sewer recapture rate is probably not going to be 95%, you know your occupancy projections, you know, you’ve got to look at it in the light of shortage of mobile homes, you know, you have to be very conservative with your underwriting. I see a lot of people that just that, you know, they’re looking at a spreadsheet, they don’t really know they’re making assumptions. And I think you just have to be really careful with underwriting because people make some pretty bold assumptions especially with, you know, exit cap rates and just expense ratios. Like, you know, they’ll take top revenue line item and they’ll say, oh yeah, this Park’s running on a 50% expense ratio. I know I could run it at a 35%. You know, it’s like, you better make sure that you really know how to do that. Because there’s a lot of factors at play. It’s not all theory. So maybe any advice for anyone getting into mobile home park investing, make sure you either team up or get counsel or advice from someone that is actually doing the work has done the work and knows the industry. Because people read a lot of books, listen to some podcasts, and think they’re an expert. And I think there’s a lot more value in actually working with someone that is, you know, boots on the ground that they’re actually doing it. They actually know what’s going on in the industry.
Ferd Niemann: That’s a great tip. I see that all the time too. And I’ve said this before on my show is, no winner in anybody’s Microsoft Excel projections does it end in bankruptcy, Like, no one’s
Ever done that. But in real life projects end in bankruptcy. And why is that? Because their assumptions were wrong or their implementation strategy was wrong. So having to have experience of, I see people all the time, oh, you can just, you can pay this brokers are the worst at it. Just do this, do this, do this. [20:16 inaudible] like this, you cut this just boom! You’ve got this yield. I am like, yeah, that’s how the math works, but how does it work in real life? And if it’s that easy, why aren’t you doing it? And you have access to deal. You got first dibs on it. Like, because it is not a real business plan. It’s math in a spreadsheet. It’s not easy to do.
Sydney Barker: Exactly. I know. I see a lot of broker deals that are like, oh yeah, all you got to do is just go in there and just, you know, increase a lot rent $200 a month on day one. You are like yeah, no, that’s not going to happen on for many different reasons, but it’s interesting, like a lot of the pricing that I’m seeing, I mean, in fact that we’re seeing stuff, you know, in the forest cap rates absolutely blows my mind. But oh gosh, where was I going with this? Oh yeah. Just you know, seeing the pricing from brokers, you know, just assuming almost like they want you to prepay for value, add like, oh yeah, you could, you know, go in here and increase the rent a hundred dollars and they want you to prepay for that work. And why would you do that?
Ferd Niemann: People do it every day. [21:33 inaudible] this morning, it said seven year IRR, 15%. So if you carry out a business plan, infill, cut costs and raise rent for seven years and it works a leveraged rate of return. With principal pay down, with cash flow, With appreciation, get you 15% gross before if you got to do any investor, before you had any splits, if it works out, that sounds like a horrible way to make 15%. That seems a lot of work.
Sydney Barker: Everything has to go right for it to work out.
Ferd Niemann: It’s like all of a sudden that index fund starting to sound pretty good. I mean, no work. So I think your advice is great too. Question assumptions, partner up with people that have the experience, be conservative and just in general, get educated and learn any way you can.
Sydney Barker: Yeah. Yeah. I agree. Definitely agree.
Ferd Niemann: Okay. Well, that’s a good tip for sure. Well Sydney before we go, how can people find you, a website or email or LinkedIn, any
Sydney Barker: I’m in multiple places. I mean you can hit me up on LinkedIn. I am on Facebook you can private message me there. I do get a lot of messages there and you know, I’ll put my email out here too. I’ve gotten questions from doing some other podcasts. If you have any questions or feedback or if you’re interested in, you know, potentially you know being an LP on of our deals, you can always email me at Sydney@odcfund.com. And I’ll put you with one of our teammates that can give you more information on our offerings.
Ferd Niemann: All right. Sounds good. Thanks for coming on.