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Could upmarket caravan estates be a thing?

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The trend is popular among residents and investors in the US but local experts are torn about whether the idea will catch on here.

Would you ever consider living in a secure, gated, high-end caravan park? Your knee-jerk answer may be “no” but your mind could be changed when you consider the financial benefits this type of living can offer.

And, of course, we are not talking about your run-of-the-mill caravan park. In the US, the term “trailer park” has been swopped for “manufactured housing” – to escape the stigma around it. With about 22 million Americans calling them home, these prefabricated spaces are being snapped up by investors who can see their potential for affordable housing.

Trends analyst and futurist psychic medium Belinda Silbert believes the future of property in South Africa will include upmarket mobile-home parks. Units can either be let by the owner of the land or there could be the option of individual ownership of the trailers and reasonable rents for allotted space in the park.

Those with money should consider investing in land to develop these sorts of high-end mobile-home parks, says Silbert. “I believe that there is a definite niche to be filled in the affordable housing market and I am confident that mobile-park homes, with varying degrees of luxury and necessity, will fit the bill. I believe that they will offer excellent investment potential,” she says.

The camper mobile home market is going to climb steeply, agrees Merle O’Brien, principal futurist and head of foresight and innovation at Cape Town-based Creation iLab – the African Innovation Institute for the Future.

“The opportunity for investors lies in forming housing co-operatives (versus property developments). New varieties of mobile homes will provide rising options for the lower end of the market, retirees, and single adults.”

Such property will, therefore, offer good investment potential. “Africa has a rising middle class for whose car installments are usually around double their housing budgets. The shared value economy is about access versus ownership – you own it only if it rises in value over time and share it if price depreciates.”

She adds: “Mobile homes provide access to travelling habitats versus exclusive access and title ownership to which people are risk-averse .” These homes do not even have to be mobile as it is not about mobility but affordability.

An article in the US Financial Times states while there are still places that look like the trailer parks of old, there are just as many that reflect a new reality. “These homes look pretty much like your typical ranch house but, depending on where you live, they might cost half the price. This makes manufactured housing a hot commodity.”

As such, the world’s wealthiest investors and smaller regional real estate investors in the US have begun buying mobile-home parks which are attractive because of the reliable annual rate of return they provide.

However, FNB property economist John Loos and Dion Chang, a futurist and trend analyst at Flux Trends, are not convinced this concept will take off in South Africa. “I am not sure about its popularity here as there is a bit of a stigma to it,” Loos says.

“Even the use of alternate building materials in property construction has been slow to catch on. It just seems that from affordable to luxury housing, we really seem to love our bricks and mortar.” Chang says the broader South African middle market wants an asset and that living in a caravan park is suited to a very specific type of person or viewed as being mainly for holiday purposes.

“We are seeing more people – although not many – wanting to get away and off the grid but that is mainly the younger demographic.” Mobile home type of living could perhaps appeal to retirees but he says it will require “a very different mindset”. “It also depends on how much people are squeezed financially..”

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