Like the United States Marine Corps, George doesn’t do anything half-way. No, George does it 150%. And he always has, no matter what his focus is at the time, and his focus is always on the opportunity to make a difference, going where the opportunity takes him, and taking leadership by the reigns. From a successful career as a Marine Corps officer through the Vietnam War and retirement as a Lieutenant Colonel to turning failing multifamily properties around to Founding GFA Management with an unofficial motto of “We manage anything that didn’t move” to becoming the leading author in the mobile home park industry to writing The Allen Report and most recently to the creation of COBA7®, George has become a recognized force and authority in the mobile home park, or Land Lease Lifestyle, investors’ community. George gathers no moss!
MQ: Your dream wasn’t to be an MHP investor or “Land Lease Lifestyle” expert but an initially disappointing but serendipitous opportunity led to a long career in the mobile home park industry, and is now your passion. How did it all begin?
GA: I didn’t have a “dream job” growing up; I simply wanted the toughest challenge in the world. Being a pastor, what I went to college for, was a challenge but even more tough was the opportunity to lead the Marines as an officer into battle in Vietnam in 1967. However, with a wife and baby daughter to care for at the time I toned it down a bit and joined as a Combat Engineer. After Vietnam I retired as an LTC and was given an opportunity in the factory-built housing business in Pennsylvania. The owner soon asked me to start a plant in Indiana. It went bust during Arab oil crisis in mid-1970s, so I worked for another home manufacturer, and segued into property management, first with conventional apartments. In 1978 the brothers I worked for presented me with an opportunity to turn around four problem-children “trailer parks.” I wasn’t happy about it! I’d just been promoted to V.P. and had a different idea about what I wanted. The MHP industry had no sophistication at that time. But, I did it and I got them all in the black in two years time. Turns out I had a knack for it. My wife, Carolyn, & I knew we could do this ourselves and we started GFA Management, Inc., in 1980, and we, as she says, “Managed anything that didn't move!”
MQ: Tell me about your first MHP acquisition.
GA: We got a foreclosure carrying 500 rental home sites with only 100 occupied. Paid $400,000 cash, moved in another 100 homes in two years, and sold it. I actually didn't want to sell it but the buyer was passionate and paid what it'd have been worth at 100% occupancy at the going rental rate at the time for $2,500,000.00 cash. It was an offer I couldn’t refuse.
MQ: What’s your portfolio look like now? Any new deals on the table?
GA: I sold everything and focus solely on writing MHP investing textbooks, business books, Allen Letter & Allen Confidential, and have recently rolled out COBA7®. I don’t invest anymore or plan to. But, I do own one “Land-Lease-Lifestyle” community over in central Illinois that’s a “cash cow” and keeps me fresh.
MQ: You refer to MHP’s as “Land-Lease-Lifestyle” or “LLLCommunities.” Is there a difference?
GA: Land-lease-lifestyle, a.k.a. manufactured home, is a term that describes more accurately what this asset class is about: a specific kind of lifestyle for customers of the asset where the investment is in the lease of the land beneath their homes (or park-owned homes) as the core-business.
MQ: You’ve worked hard to spearhead the movement to ensure LLL investors have the support they need by founding the association COBA7® .
GA: 2014 was a very special year in our industry with the launch of COBA7®, which is short for Community Owners (7 Part) Business Alliance®. It is an informal alliance of businessmen and women with common interest in all aspects of manufactured housing and the LLLCommunity real estate asset class. A huge part of the alliance is ongoing and accurate statistical research and data for our industry, professional publications, networking, deal-making, professional education and certification via MHM®, and perhaps most importantly national advocacy as a true ombudsman for LLLC owners. Our website is www.community-investor.com.
MQ: Surely you’ve had your own influences and inspirations. Which people and books have been inspirations to you?
GA: They vary depending on my frame of reference at the time, but USMC General Chesty Puller, Ken Boa in Atlanta, Karl Marlantes and his book Matterhorn, and my all-time favorite book Education of a Wandering Man by Louis L’Amour.
MQ: We may have to continue this interview in another issue because there is so much I know our readers would like to know, but in closing, any parting words of Allen-Wisdom on LLL investing, ownership and management?
GA: One—the first one who mentions the amount of money loses! Two—the best managers, in my opinion, are often retired couples in a stable marriage with another source of income or a young couple, just married, with a child. They will work hard to prove to the world they can “make it happen”, for awhile anyway.
Thank you to George Allen for making this interview possible. We appreciate his time, expertise, and vast knowledge of the mobile home park and land lease lifestyle industry! Stay tuned next quarter for another great investor profile of a leading mobile home park investor in the business.