Sean Vidrine is relatively new to the campground industry, but he’d been circling the sector since he made his first mobile-home investment about 15 years ago, according to Business Insider.
“My first investment was a $500 mobile home,” Vidrine told Insider from his home in Lake Charles, Louisiana. “I put $100 down, and the seller financed it for me over four months. Every weekend I’d buy some material, put in some carpet, and paint some walls. Next thing I knew, I had a rental.”
From that rental, Vidrine started building a portfolio of 35 mobile-home units, which eventually grew into two mobile-home parks that he purchased for $1.5 million. Two years later, he sold those for $3 million.
He intended to use the cash to buy more mobile homes or mobile-home parks. But he found that the capitalization rates, or cap rates — a common way to calculate an investment’s expected return, with a higher rate meaning more return and more risk — were much too low for his liking.
“Cap-rate compression of mobile homes has continued, and it’s hard to find great deals for mobile-home parks,” Vidrine said.
It didn’t help that years of easy money had inflated property values. Firms like Blackstone and Apollo were building empires with thousands of mobile homes, and their interest was driving up prices and decreasing yields on fully developed projects. The trend captured the attention of the business world, then The New Yorker, which profiled mobile-home empires in early 2021.
So Vidrine found himself driving to Mississippi to look at a campground that a real estate agent he was working with had billed as an opportunity. It required some imagination.
“There might have been one camper in the park, and I said, ‘Man, this is just not for me,'” Vidrine said. But, intrigued by the park’s beauty, he stayed.
What Vidrine saw in the nearly empty campground was the space required to build something of scale, akin to the collections of mobile homes that had attracted big institutional investors.
Vidrine bought his first campground in 2019 and now owns four. (A campground can cost $1 million or more.) He said that at his most profitable site — Paradise Ranch in Tylertown, Miss., between Jackson and New Orleans — campsites earn $10,000 to $15,000 a year, while cabins bring in more than $25,000. That campground has roughly 200 campsites, representing about $2 million in revenue a year, and eight cabins, for $200,000 in revenue a year.
Reflecting on his humble beginnings and his involvement in $40 million worth of real estate investments over the years, Vidrine said, “If I can do it, anybody can.”
He shared a few tips he said led to his success as a campground investor and his thoughts on the future of the sector.
Income from campgrounds isn’t passive
Vidrine, who renovated his first-ever rental property, said he’s attracted to and challenged by the hands-on nature of owning and operating campgrounds. But he cautioned that it doesn’t fall into the passive-income category sought by many investors.
“It’s hard to even classify it as just real-estate income,” Vidrine said.