This Mobile Home REIT Is Prospering From Some New Tricks | The Motley Fool

2022-06-16 08:40:06 By : Ms. Hui Zou

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There's nothing particularly sexy about Equity Lifestyle Properties' (ELS 2.36% ) core business of owning mobile-homes properties. It's a slow and steady business. But that doesn't mean Equity Lifestyle is a boring real estate investment trust (REIT), considering that its dividend has been increased annually at a huge 15% clip over the past decade. Here's one of the new tricks this REIT is using to pull off this feat.

The first thing you need to know about Equity Lifestyle is that its core portfolio is pretty attractive. On television and in the movies, mobile home parks are often portrayed as dilapidated and dangerous. Such places do exist, but they aren't what this REIT owns. Equity Lifestyle's properties are basically like little resorts. 

The quality of the assets keeps them full and allows Equity Lifestyle to keep increasing rents. In 2021, for example, the REIT's mobile-home segment increased base rents by 4.7%. That may not sound like a huge amount, but being able to increase rents year in and year out starts to add up. Increasing the allure is the fact that it is hard to build new manufactured-home parks, so there's a limited supply of attractive properties.

This business line makes up just over 50% of the company's revenue. Around this business, it charges membership fees, operates a rental business, and charges tenants for utilities, which together account for nearly 19% of income. These ancillary businesses are logical add-ons to what Equity Lifestyle does and offer varying levels of growth. However, it's the last business, built on the core manufactured-home operation, that really stood out in 2021.

Lumped together with the REIT's RV parks is its marina operation. Marinas are similar to everything else Equity Lifestyle does -- it tends to hit the same demographic with a product that is in limited supply. Geography plays a notable role in the supply of marinas since there are only so many suitable locations. 

In 2021, the RV and marina group was able to increase base rental income by a huge 12.9%. This division now makes up about 28.5% of total rents. A material portion of that growth was driven by acquisitions, with the company adding 4,000 boat slips to the portfolio last year. To compare, it added 5,600 RV sites, so this is no small operation.

But here's the thing -- marinas are a scarce resource, and customers that use them are lifestyle-driven, just like RVs owners. Boat owners often have ample capacity to absorb rising rates. In 2021 rent hikes were around 4.3%. Slow and steady growth in this metric over time will be just as rewarding as the slow and steady mobile-home park rent growth. Now Equity Lifestyle has three material businesses that it can expand through acquisitions over time.

Although the stock has pulled back from its recent highs by around 15%, it has nearly doubled over the past five years. It's dividend yield, meanwhile, is 2.1%. That's modest for a REIT, but with a 15% annualized dividend growth rate over the past decade, it's more of an income growth play than a yield play, anyway.

To be fair, the outsized base rental income growth for the RV and marina division was largely a timing factor since the REIT was simply able to seal a number of notable acquisitions in this area that helped boost results last year. Acquisitions are always a bit lumpy, so it may not live up to that figure in 2022, but that's not the most important takeaway. What investors need to understand here is that Equity Lifestyle is building on a solid foundation and adding to it as it builds out its RV and marina business. That gives it more avenues for continued business growth ahead as it keeps raising its dividend.

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