Even by some of the U.S. housebuilding industry's more bulldozer-prone members, mobile-home parks are looked down on as defoliated eyesores crammed with aluminum boxes and propane-gas tanks. But to Arthur Carlsberg, a 39-year-old California builder who piled up a $305 million financial empire by sniffing new trends in real estate development, mobile-home parks are the hottest thing going in residential real estate. Carlsberg is cutting back on the ventures that made his fortune housing subdivisions, shopping centers, apartment complexes and office buildingsto become the nation's largest developer of mobile-home sites. Since buying his first in 1971, he now has 83 parks with 26,000 "pads"; he plans to add in the neighborhood of 60 more parks this year.
A Carlsberg mobile-home park is hardly a mere parking lot. Amenities in his projects typically include a clubhouse, recreation center, golf course, swimming pool and careful landscaping. At Oak Ridge, a 950-home park near Syracuse, N.Y., the manager arranges barbecues, dances, clambakes, wine tastings and ice-skating parties. At a park near St. Paul, Minn., mobile homes are stacked, apartment-style, on space-saving three-story pads. The Colony, under construction at Palm Springs, Calif., will have a surrounding wall of imported Mexican stone, a sauna, gymnasium, swimming pool, golf course, individual wine cellars, a Rolls-Royce shuttle to the Palm Springs airport and a security system ("an increasingly important attraction," says Carlsberg) with round-the-clock guards and its own radar network. The 400 eventual residents at The Colony will pay from $265 to $350 a month rent for about a quarter-acre on which to put their mobile homes. By contrast, mobile-home pads at most other comfortable parks, including Carlsberg's, rent for $45 to $95 monthly. But the young builder senses that, increasingly, elaborate facilities are where the money is parked. "We are appealing to an entirely different person than the old trailer park did," he says. "We want people who can afford more, people who go into a park for its social orientation."
Metal Castles. Last year Americans bought about 590,000 mobile homes, double the number four years ago. More significant, many of the homes are not-so-portable palaces with three bedrooms, cedar shingles, wood-burning fireplaces and central air conditioning. Ironically, says Carlsberg, mobile-home owners actually move less often than apartment dwellers. Many have their sheet-metal castles trucked to a homesite, lowered onto a foundation and never again moved. The average purchase price of the mobile homes in Carlsberg's parks is $14,000; at The Colony most homes will cost around $40,000.