A Cup of Coffee with…Chris Parrish

Cup-manufacturedhomepronews1) Who, What and Where: (Your name and your formal title at Parrish Manor).

Chris Parrish, President, Parrish Manor – located in Raleigh, NC (our address says Garner, but we are in the City of Raleigh).

2) Background: (Educational/Professional snapshot before entering the factory-built housing arena. Specifically mention any work experience prior to Parrish Manor.)

Graduated with BA in Political Science from UNC-Chapel Hill in 1995 and earned MBA from Appalachian State University in 1997. My Dad and I planned and developed Parrish Manor together starting in 1997. No time for prior work experience but we both received Phd’s in On the Job Training through the planning, building and managing of Parrish Manor. Our only other construction background was building custom homes and a few small subdivisions that were community well and septic – much different than the storm drainage, water and sewer lines, and sidewalks that we installed in Parrish Manor!

I was very fortunate to have the ability to understand and communicate to lenders and banks our vision and doubly fortunate to have a father who did not mind that I understand numbers better than he and trusted me enough at 24 with no real experience to create our business plan; negotiate with construction lenders; and manage the books from day one. We complemented each other and became a team. This was essential in order for us to create this small business and survive all that has been thrown at us.

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3) When and How: (The When and How of your genesis at family-operated Parrish Manor.).

The land that became Parrish Manor was purchased in 1956 by my grandfather when my Dad was a teenager. My grandfather died about 3 years later and somehow my grandmother was able to pay for the land through farming and running a small town clothing store. My Dad dreamed up an idea for a manufactured housing community in the early 70s when I was born but could not get permission from a land owner to access water and sewer. In the early 1980s he developed 22 single family manufactured and modular homes on the property and sold them as land/home packages – he was one of the first approved for FHA/VA funding in the state. The project was slow and he stopped after the first phase and the MH zoned land sat empty until the late 1990s when water and sewer finally came by the property.

I had all intentions of going to law school and had applied to a few schools but in the spring of my senior year decided to try developing the community and decided to go business school to get a little fundamental knowledge.

Of course, the project was only supposed to take 3 years to fill up since there were no vacant spaces anywhere in Raleigh in 1997. Ha! 10 years later we filled the last vacant lot after a roller coaster ride in the MH business.

There is not enough space to write about all the twists and turns and bumps in the road but some of the highlights were as follows.

Our first prime contractor dying 3⁄4 of the way thru first phase of 96 lots and during one of the wettest times on record – learned flexibility and what delays in construction really cost We got our retailer license and agreement with manufacturer to sell the homes – all the other 15-20 local retailers were selling 100 homes per year – so why not us?

Well the community sales center and model home idea did not work – people wanted to visit a sales center – so we stopped and called retailers. We had an exclusive arrangement with a retailer who had 5 local stores to place homes and an office within the community and had a lot take down schedule – they fell on tough times and filed for bankruptcy.

We finally opened the community up to all the local retailers – averaged over 10 move-ins per month and over 15 some months!

Last phase of 53 homesites ready in 2001 – Perfect timing (For the crash!).

In 2002 & 2003, we bought 40 homes at auctions when that interesting industry period started and began working on the long-term lease option from Freddie Mac to sell homes at more favorable terms. It took a year preparing for the program by changing NC law; finding a lender and mortgage insurer to buy into program only to have securitized lender balk because they thought we should be selling homes at high rates with little down and with month-to-month leases – that’s what their “experts” had told them!

Remember those 40 homes – well started renting them! – wish I had some previous work experience in the apartment industry.

We started full-time in the rental business in 2004 and now have 240 rentals out of the 280 sites in the community. So it’s been an interesting ride!

4) What are your personal interests or hobbies? How do you like to spend non-work time?

To be honest, I do not have a lot of hobby time – my non-work time centers around work I do with our non-profit, Nessie Foundation, and then spending time with my wife of almost 9 years and our busy family – girl who is 7; boy who is 5; boy who is 16 months and one more on the way in December – and our 12 and 8 year old black labs!

Cupofcoffee chrisparrishwithfamily mhpronews com

5) You have held a number of leadership positions in manufactured housing. Please share the insights on the positive recognition and positions of leadership you and and your operation has earned over the years.

I am very honored to be given the opportunity to serve on the NCMHA and MHI boards and in leadership positions over the last 10+ years. I have learned a great deal by networking and serving with terrific people who I still call on for advice today. I served as NCMHA board President at the same time as serving as the NCC Chair so that was a busy but rewarding time – Our first child was born just before I became chair so I had my hands full!

Lucky for me the association staffs for both NCMHA and MHI are extremely talented and it made my job very smooth and easy.

6) The then President of American Land Lease, David Lentz (prior to the SUN acquisition), called you “My hero!” Please describe some of the things you and your team do for residents of your community.

Well I don’t wear a cape but David is very kind. We do strive to give back to the community in various ways and constantly work to improve what we offer. I am always willing to steal ideas and try new things – one of my goals is to not reinvent the wheel!

Typical streetscape

Typical street scape in Parrish Manor.

We do many things that a lot of communities do; however, what probably set us apart is the size of turnout for events due to the large numbers of families and kids that call Parrish Manor home. We have over 1,000 total residents, and of that number, over 450 are 18 and younger. Almost every one of the 280 homes within the community has a child at home.

We have a Halloween carnival and costume contest for the young kids that attracts around 150 kids plus their immediate families. I purchase shopping carts full of large bags of candy and we pass it out during the carnival. It’s our one time during the year to break our healthy eating pledge.

Parrishmanorcommunityevents credit parrishmanor postedcupofcoffeechrisparrish mhpronews com

Our Christmas party is the most fun and largest event we do. We even have a video of the 2013 event on our website. We rent a heated tent that covers our parking lot and fill it with 350 chairs. We partner with a local non-profit that brings in 50 volunteers to put on a puppet show, sing Christmas carols, talk about the Christmas story, and have a cake and drinks for everyone. We bring in Santa for around 100 family photos and then parents visit the non-profit’s enclosed trailer where they can choose 1 or 2 gifts for each of their children ages 12 and under.

The non-profit travels to numerous underserved communities at Christmas and we are its largest event. Parrish Manor is able to contribute to the non-profit’s gift buying and they distribute gifts to over 250 of our kids. The Red Cross comes out with one of their disaster trucks and gives out hot cider and hot cocoa. This allows them to practice preparing and delivering to large numbers of people as over 400 people will attend the event. Of course our local politicians, police officers and other non-profit partners come by the event and sometimes even bring their kids!

We do small things too that I do not need to overlook – we give fire extinguishers to every resident – renters and homeowners; we send birthday cards to each resident; and we really try to think about ways to improve our community so that it betters the lives of our residents. We think of ourselves as the mayor of a small town and we wear many hats – from social worker to parks and recreation director we do it all – Our philosophy has always been to follow the golden rule and not only treat our residents like we want to be treated, but also to create a community that we would want to live in and show off to our kids and family.

7) Many in our industry are bottom-line oriented. Described what your family and team’s efforts have produced in terms of measurable results, for occupancy, etc..

Trust me; I am about as bottom-line oriented as they come! I know we do a lot for our residents, but make no mistake we are running a business – we expect our rent to be paid by the 5th and we evict all who do not by the 17th. And we are very proactive about protecting the community as we strive to deliver a safe, quiet and clean neighborhood.

What this means is that we will terminate a person’s lease if they, their kids, or their guests cannot live within the community guidelines. For an example, over the last 60 days we have terminated 4 households that were excellent rent payers but their kids were involved in

continuously taking bikes from others within the community and in at least one case we think they were spray painting bikes to sell. We had spoken to the kids and families, but the message did not resonate so we had to terminate them for the good of the other families within the community.

We will and have terminated leases when times were good and when our vacancy rate was double digits. We believe our bottom line will be negatively impacted by leaving bad apples in the community – even when they are paying their rent.

Our results can be found in our occupancy and turnover. We are 80% rental and most of the rentals are on a month-to-month lease. This sounds scary, however, I believe that if you treat people right and have a nice community, people will stay, and if not, they will leave no matter if they have a one year lease or month-to-month.

Our turnover is less than 30% per year for our rentals – our homeowner turnover is less than 1% per year. This is not bad when compared to the 53% turnover for garden style, market rate apartments in Raleigh.

Our vacancy rate is around 5% and most of the time we do have a waiting list for certain home sizes.

Our outreach efforts are one of the strongest drivers of our positive results. We are able to attract and retain good residents who want a nice place to live for their family. Since we started advertising our unique outreach efforts, we have seen improvements in our word-of-mouth and referral traffic.

Section of community taken by fireman on ladder truck

Ariel view of part of Parrish Manor.

When I describe our community to others, even within the industry, a lot of times people have the wrong impression of the community. Think about it – First, we are a manufactured housing community – to some people that has a stereotypical negative image; Second, we are located in an under served area with hundreds of at-risk youth, and Lastly we are basically an all rental community. However, the first question people ask when they visit is “Is it always this quiet here?” To be honest, I had not thought about it – but it is quiet – And I tell them if it’s not, then I can make it quiet!

8) Certainly not everyone in the industry is well suited for being a member of an association. But there are those who ought to be, but aren’t members for a variety of reasons, including that associations are ‘a big boys club.’ While large companies do play an understandable role, your involvement proves it isn’t all about big companies. Please give us your take on why a good operation that isn’t in or actively involved in associations should take another good look.

I think everyone should become active in their state and national associations. I will admit that at first I did not know why I should get involved or what it would do for me. I soon realized that the association would give me a network of contacts and friends that would far aweigh the time and money that I contributed.

I met mentors at both the state and national level who became sounding boards when I needed advice or wanted to get a historical viewpoint of the industry. These industry veterans paved the way for my association growth and eventual rise to NCMHA President and NCC Chair.

It most especially vital when I first joined to meet others to show me the ropes! Some of these people include: Rolly Bannister, who took me under his wing at NCMHA, Kris Jensen Jr. who I bonded with when I first joined MHI and he showed me around the NCC, and the folks that made sure I was not alone during the cocktail hour and for dinner – Bill Trotter, Ken Anderson, and Bill Turney.

But for those wanting the bottom line reasons why to join, I have several examples.

I got to know lenders who I have worked with to execute several securitized refinancing of Parrish Manor; I have saved tens of thousands of dollars annually on home insurance through association contacts; and finally I was introduced to Steve Waite who worked for Clayton Bank & Trust by a lender who knew my community.

Steve became a friend and so did Jim Clayton, Kevin Kimzey and the rest of the team.

Just after I was introduced to Steve, my local bank was acquired by a regional bank who did not really understand the MH business or our model which was to purchased used homes, refurbish them and rent them out.

Thankfully, Steve spoke highly of us to Jim and he flew out to check us out. After the community tour, we went out to eat and I had invited my brother and fiancée (now wife) to join us so that Jim could meet the whole family.

It must have worked because he became our sole lending source for homes. In 2007, the bank enabled us to purchase, install and refurbish 53 homes in Parrish Manor. Not many banks would have had the stomach for that many purchases and it was all directly due to my involvement in the association.

Jim will tell you to this day, that he gave me my final marriage approval after meeting Colleen at lunch!

9) Usually one of the hottest topics in manufactured housing revolves around financing and the CFPB landscape. Please give us your high level view of issues like reforming Dodd-Frank (in this new Congress, HR650, S 682).

That has been so much work by the industry to reform legislation that I don’t really have any new insights. I will say that it is amazing to see how many “unintended consequences” are felled upon the industry through government action.

I do think that we need to keep up a constant communication flow with government officials, agencies, and others so that they can better understand our industry. I don’t know if anything will help, but it would be great if others could understand us in a way that would allow the industry to be more proactive and not have to play defense all the time.

10) What do you see as the role of rental homes in the foreseeable future of MHC operations when it comes to filling vacant sites? Do you think rentals are an important option for every community to consider? What are the pluses and minuses to renting, from your perspective?

I am probably the poster child for the use of rental in MHC operations. We backed into the model during the downturn and have no plans in the foreseeable future to change our model. I do think it is a difficult model when compared to a non-rental community, but if managed correctly it can work.

From my perspective it is not much different than an apartment in the way that you staff and manage the rental MH home business. That does take some getting used to if you are not familiar with the multi-family industry. The good news is that the multi-family industry is mature and developed in a way that you can find experienced staff and tons of statistics to help gauge your performance.

I do realize that there are some important caveats to our rental model: we only own one community that we built and have always managed; we were able to purchase and refurbish used homes; and we are located in an urban city where home and apartment rent is high.

The pluses include occupied homes and sites; more control of the home as you can now enter and inspect; another cash income stream; ability to have economies of scale within one community; and the joy that comes with dealing with bedbugs, roaches, water leaks, heat pumps and roofs.

The minuses are obvious: more capital as you buy homes (especially if they are new); maintenance and turn costs; more staff; more turnover and vacancy; and another business model to layer onto the MHC.

11) There is a rather wide divide these days between those who think we need to move beyond or ‘trailer house’ and ‘mobile home’ image, and those on the far end who embrace those terms for reasons beyond just Search Engine Optimization (SEO). We’ve witnessed the $1.3 billion deal with SUN Communities of a respected community operator who took rebranding, positive resident relations and projecting a good

modern image. Tell us your thoughts on the whole “terminology” and image issues, if you would, please.

I personally just call it a home. I have people that call or come in and ask to see a “trailer,” a “modular;” a “mobile home,” and sometimes even a “manufactured home” – but we call it a home. I do think we need to project a positive image, but just by calling yourself a manufactured housing community or manufactured home will not work.

I believe that we should use words such as home and community when describing ourselves but more importantly, create a real home and community atmosphere that people will aspire to move to and be proud to call their home. If we worry about the little things and provide a good product and experience, then the image issues will be far less prevalent.

11) While some still see doom and gloom, Parrish Manor continues to grow. Your industry colleague, UMH CEO Sam Landy, said in an interview with MHProNews that given the large and growing need for affordable housing in the U.S., he sees how manufactured housing could return to new home shipping totals of 300,000 to 400,000. Others inside our industry think we ought to be happy to return to shipments in the 70,000 to 150,000 annual shipment levels. What say you? Why?

I do think we have the ability to grown and return to higher shipment levels. Don’t know if we will reach 300,000, but do see that we have the opportunity to become a larger player in the housing equation.

I sit on the NC Housing Finance Agency board and we operate the Low Income Housing Tax Credits that fund multi-family affordable apartments statewide. Just this past year, we had funds to award around 50 projects statewide, but had almost double the number of applications.

North Carolina, like the rest of the country, cannot keep up with the demand for affordable housing and I am not talking about just very low income households. It is difficult to find housing for those making 50-80% of median income. This is where I think manufactured housing can benefit.

Most households at Parrish Manor are in the 50-60% of area median income. My residents are the school bus drivers; nursing home CNAs, landscapers, and construction workers that are the backbone of the workforce. Their alternatives are scarce as they cannot afford the new homes being constructed; cannot afford the repairs on the homes in their price range; and cannot find affordable safe apartments as old apartments are being replaced by luxury apartments.

Add to the mix, the baby boomers that are retiring who do not have enough savings to afford the typical 55+ home or rental community and you have a real deficit of attractive, well-built affordable housing.

12)Industry veteran and Green Courte Partners Chairman, Randy Rowe, called for a 5 point plan for industry recovery. It included the following: A) Better Warranties and Customer Service, B) Dealing effectively with Chattel Financing Issues, C) Economic Security for Our Customers, D) A Multiple Listing Service(s) (remarketing system for individuals, lenders) and E) A National Marketing (Image) Effort. What would you say about these bullet
points? Do you see value in efforts such as in improving the image of the industry through video interviews on ManufacturedHomeLivingNews.com with home owners and industry experts? Do you think that other possible ideas, like more “best practices” and professional sales training – which MHI’s current Vice-Chairman, Tim Williams at 21st said is always a good idea, are also needed? What say you on the keys for moving ahead?

I think moving forward we need a broad approach for industry recovery. I think best practices and industry professionalism are vital – just look at the multi-family industry for a conversation starter.

I think we should make sure we are providing the best home that will stand up over time and be easy to maintain. Most of my homes are used and were built 15 years ago. I see first-hand some of the corners we cut in the past that we should make sure we correct now and in the future.

We need to figure out a way to improve chattel lending and provide for a stable secondary market for those who want to sell their home. I don’t have the answers but know that we need to continue working on a solution so that we can move forward.

Videos and education are an important aspect to moving ahead, but I think ensuring that we are all utilizing best practices and professionalism within the industry that will deliver a long-term positive experience for our customer is priority number one.

I think moving forward we need a broad approach for industry recovery. I think best practices and industry professionalism are vital – just look at the multi-family industry for a conversation starter. I think we should make sure we are providing the best home that will stand up over time and be easy to maintain. Most of my homes are used and were built 15 years ago. I see first- hand some of the corners we cut in the past that we should make sure we correct now and in the future.

We need to figure out a way to improve chattel lending and provide for a stable secondary market for those who want to sell their home. I don’t have the answers but know that we need to continue working on a solution so that we can move forward.

Videos and education are an important aspect to moving ahead, but I think ensuring that we are all utilizing best practices and professionalism within the industry that will deliver a long-term positive experience for our customer is priority number one.

13) What do you consider the largest challenges facing the industry in general today? Where do you see our largest opportunities?

Financing remains one of the largest challenges. That is both new and pre-owned financing. If people continue to experience and hear about horror stories of the inability to sell their home, then we are in big trouble. I do believe shorter terms that build equity is a part of the solution – This is thinking about the customer long-term.

I think local resistance to manufactured housing communities is a challenge. As a large percentage of communities age and first generation mom and pop operations are sold, I do think the challenge will not only be how to maintain and improve the aging community infrastructure but also the residents’ aging homes.

But in that challenge lays the largest opportunity as we can breathe fresh air into these communities and create new and vibrant neighborhoods for the next generation.

14) Tell us about your non-profit/foundation efforts, please.

In 2006, we formed a 501(c)3 public charity called Nessie Foundation. My biggest regret was calling it Foundation since it sounds like we are the ones granting the money – the reality is we are the ones begging for the money!

I had this idea after working with the Boys and Girls Clubs providing free memberships to the kids within the community. After trying to get kids to carpool the first year, it was obvious that transportation was our biggest obstacle. Finding no one reasonably priced to transport the kids, I decided to start Nessie and purchase a used school but to take the kids to the Boys & Girls Clubs.

What started as a crazy idea has become the thing (outside of my family) that brings me the most joy. It’s what motivates me and allows me to be creative and entrepreneurial while making a difference in the lives of young people.

We started with 9 kids on the bus in the summer of 2006 to now we have over 75 kids signing up and we take around 40 kids daily to four area Boys & Girls Clubs. We pay for their yearly membership and the $5.00 per day summer camp fee.

We have expanded into offering a twice weekly after-school outdoor activity club that runs for nine weeks each spring and seven in the fall. Approximately 25 kids come each class and play outdoor games, learn about nutrition and are given fresh fruit and water.

During the school year, we hold weekly cooking classes for kids teaching them proper cooking techniques and healthy eating habits. We also have a weekly bike repair class for teenagers that empowers them to learn a hands-on skill and gives them the opportunity to repair bikes to give back to the community.

Cupofcoffeechrisparrish artistrenteringparrishmanorcommunitycentertornadoshelter postedmhpronews com

Parrish Manor’s dual purpose Community Center and Storm Shelter.

The most exciting opportunity that we are involved in is our construction of North Carolina’s first dual purpose community safe room. This is a 5,000 SF above ground concrete building that will serve as the community’s tornado shelter and community center. The non-profit will own the building and will be able to expand our current offerings. We are moving from about 500 SF of indoor space to 5,000 SF.

We are also currently working with the Boys & Girls Clubs to partner with them so that they will be able to provide daily programming in the building for our residents and those from surrounding communities. We hope to have over 80 kids per day involved in the programs.

We do this with a very small budget and utilize part-time hourly staff for bus driving and the outdoor activity club. We partner with local agencies such as 4-H and Cooperative Extension to provide the cooking and bike classes.

We have been fortunate to receive some grant funding for our programs from the city of Raleigh and we receive donations from numerous people in the area and I am proud to report – several MH industry friends.

15) Closing thoughts or comments, sir?

Parrish Manor and the manufactured housing industry represent all the professional life I have ever known. I am extremely grateful to all those that have helped me succeed and continue to provide guidance to me both professionally and personally.

I do think we have stumbled across something in outreach programs that we provide that I hope to share with the industry. I don’t know if I will ever be more than a one community owner, but I hope that I can be the industry’s outreach test kitchen and that others larger than me (and that is most everyone reading this!) can seriously consider implementing or expanding their outreach programs.

The industry does a great job with their senior communities and when you look at the multi- family industry they too do a great job with their senior and student communities.

But what about family communities? I believe this is the most overlooked segment of both industries. I am not saying that we do not provide anything for these communities but so much potential is overlooked. This is especially true in the affordable and/or under served populations that live in family communities.

I am talking about thinking outside the box to create an environment that no other apartment or single-family housing community is providing. MHCs have captive audiences and we can bring agencies and non-profit providers to our location to bring services to residents. Many times these providers cannot locate large numbers of their target populations, however, in many cases MHCs have the large populations they desire.

The programs we first introduced and most that we continue to offer are provided (at a no or little cost) by others that bring their own programs and staff to our community. They are happy to do it and really fall over themselves to get to the community and put out the word of how different and unique we are as compared to other MHCs or apartments.

And the it’s a win-win that is easy to measure.

Your bottom line is impacted by less turnover; less vandalism; a greater desire to live in the community and refer others to live there.

Your staff has a positive experience by seeing first-hand how the outreach benefits the residents – you will have fewer turnovers as employees become a part of something bigger than themselves.

Your residents will feel pride in their community because they know it’s unique. Even if they do not participate in any or all of the offerings, they still will know what is happening and want to share what their community does that is so different than others. For the residents that participate – they will smile and have a sense of true belonging.

Your soul – now that is the best part – it’s one of those things you have to experience for yourself. To me it is much different than volunteering or writing a check to a charity – it is truly life changing. You can see how small things can have a true positive impact. And it warms your soul as you bring positive experiences to others.

I hope this will inspire some people to think outside the box. It really is not that hard or time consuming. We operate on a shoe-string but are able to deliver a very efficient and effective service to the community. It just takes the will to start and try.

I do not believe that we are the only ones providing outreach or are the best at it – I just see what we have been able to do and hope to be able to convince others larger than me to go beyond what we are able to do. How much different would our conversations be if outreach became the norm for MHCs. ##

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