31 Aug 2021
Words Ben Hall
Downsize your life, upsize your lifestyle with MHEs
They’re part of a growing trend of retirees downsizing to holiday parks and Manufactured Housing Estates (MHEs) and Lifestyle Villages has emerged as one of the leaders in an industry which is growing rapidly. With nine properties across Australia, its modern over 50s independent living communities are proving to be an attractive and more affordable option to traditional aged care facilities.
The concept is relatively simple. You buy your home which you own, and it sits on the land owned by the operator who charges a small weekly rental fee which also covers rates. Set in landscaped gardens, the homes are self-contained usually with one, two or three bedrooms, some fenced, some with garages or carports, decks, big yards or small self-contained gardens and are pet friendly.
Lifestyle Villages Director Antony Wiesener said the company was borne out of a road trip taken by his business partner which provided a “light bulb” moment.
“My business partner, Damien Daly, was on a caravan holiday with his family travelling around Australia and he kept noticing all of these mobile homes usually located at the rear of the caravan park,” Mr Wiesener said.
“After doing his homework and getting an understanding of the business, he loved the concept of owning a caravan park and he purchased his first one in 2009. It was located at Redhead Beach near Newcastle. Shortly after this, Damien purchased a Manufactured Housing Estate (MHE) at Anna Bay.
“During this time, Damien and his family often spent a week with my family in the Gold Coast and we spoke extensively about his successful parks and this is how I got involved with him. In 2013, we purchased a MHE together at Cooroy and the name of Lifestyle Villages was chosen.”
The company now has nine parks at Anna Bay, Nambucca Heads, Nambucca River and Redhead in NSW, Bundaberg, Dakabin, Cooroy and Hervey Bay in Queensland and Traralgon in Victoria.
Lifestyle Villages has developed a model in which they can run a profitable business which also provides financial benefits to its residents.
“Firstly, residents are protected by legislation. They own their home and in effect they rent the land. This has many advantages as the rent component in most cases is mostly paid for by the government,” Mr Wiesener said.
“As all residents are over 50, they are generally like-minded and they find these types of communities safe and friendly. There are no rates to pay, most parks have community facilities and unlike retirement villages, any profit on the sale of the home is kept by the resident,” he said.
Lifestyle Villages has also focused on an acquisition strategy, rather than acting as a developer who finds and builds parks.
“So far we have only acquired parks, however some major works have occurred at some parks. For example, when we bought Lifestyle Village Dakabin in outer Brisbane, it was very run down and only licensed for 91 sites.
“We then bought an unused mining camp at Miles in the Western Downs region of Queensland. We stripped the 36 cabins from this caravan park and transported all the cabins to Dakabin. Today it has a licence for 169 sites and we continue to purchase cabins which are nearly always full. It is now a very neat and clean park that provides long term affordable accommodation for residents.
“We purchase parks if we see there is potential to make the park better and increase profits. MHEs are extremely hard to purchase these days, as they are very popular with listed companies and private equity groups.”
And the reason for this? According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS), during 2016 there were 3.7 million Australians aged over 65 years, representing 15 percent of the population. This is a significant increase from the 1976 ABS figure of 1.3 million people aged over 65 years, representing just nine percent of the population.
PRDnationwide reports there are 750 mixed caravan parks and MHEs and 170 pure MHEs across Australia. The average listing price of MHEs in the south east Queensland region was $338,178, which is lower than the median house prices in Queensland metro areas such as Brisbane, Gold Coast and Sunshine Coast.
Lifestyle Villages’ acquisition strategy has extended into the Outback with the purchase of the BIG4 Stuart Range Outback Resort at Coober Pedy, South Australia, in a move that will create the company’s first “flagship” property.
“We are really excited about this one. We want to create an iconic park in the middle of Australia and we have some big plans to make the park a must-stop for all the travellers who venture to the Outback,” Mr Wiesener said.
As for what are the essentials of running successful park or MHE, Mr Wiesener says it’s down to simple strategy of creating a “community” within each property.
“For us it all starts with the staff. If you look after everyone they will look after you. We don’t care whether you’re a cleaner, groundsman, manager or office worker, we consciously make an effort to get to know them all and make sure that they are happy in what they do.
“Happy and content staff makes for a great park and in turn creates a good community for residents and tourists.”