Bubble, bubble: part two

Sometimes, it seems scarcely a week goes by without yet another announcement of an investment group with deep pockets jumping into the RV campground business, adding to a bewildering mix of players that can’t be kept straight without a detailed scorecard.

Last week, for example, Halmos Capital Partners announced the formation of Cedarline Outdoor, “an outdoor hospitality investment platform focused on the RV park industry.” Cedarline says it wants to create a “diversified portfolio of properties unique to the industry in terms of infrastructure, scale and visitor experience.” No telling yet what that means, but use of the word “unique” is always a grabber, especially in this context. We’ll have to stay tuned.

Just a couple of days later, NAI Global–a commercial real estate juggernaut that “maintains its competitive edge through a well-established culture of learning that informs decision making at all levels” and thereby demonstrates why it will never ace the SAT verbal section–declared it has “expanded its offerings” via a “brand-new service,” NAI Outdoor Hospitality Brokers. The Colorado-based “team” will specialize in purchasing and selling RV parks, campgrounds and glamping resorts across the U.S.

And so it goes, week by week.

What’s intriguing about all of this belated attention is that it’s coming just as interest rates have started an upswing, with inflation worries overshadowing the markets. For those with a cautious bent, this might be seen as a good time to pull back from any real estate investing, especially in as overheated a niche market as RV campgrounds, as briefly described in my last post. In times of economic uncertainty, goes the timeworn refrain, cash is king. Keep your powder dry, and wait for valuations to tumble.

Not so for the folks at the circus known as RV Park University, however, which mercilessly flogs a “home study course” aimed at middle class Americans yearning for a lucky investment break. Head ringmaster Frank Rolfe–who most assuredly is not speaking to the likes of Cedarline or NAI Global–contends that the stock market currently “is more overvalued than at any other moment in American history,” making this precisely the right time to invest in a niche “that is built on the fundamentals of income and cash flow and not PR and logo design”–that is to say, in “the simple RV park.”

The key to this great opportunity, Rolfe wrote in a recent broadside titled, “With the stock market collapsing, time to buy an RV park?” is that campgrounds are “a very simple business that anyone can understand quickly. You rent spots to park RVs–it’s simply renting land.” Even an idiot presumably could grasp that once you own an RV park you can just settle back and watch the money roll in–and to help you get there, Rolfe is ready to sell you a bunch of CDs and an outdated paperback for $400 or so.

Of course, nowhere in this come-on does Rolfe intimate that the campground biz is every bit as overvalued as the wider stock market. Or that whatever their other shortcomings, the rapidly swelling ranks of real estate investment pros are not going to leave much more than bleached bones for the small investor to pick over. That wouldn’t help his business one bit.

Author: Andy Zipser

A former newspaper reporter who worked at a variety of newspapers, from small community weeklies to The Wall Street Journal, I finished my "normal" work life as the editor of The Guild Reporter, official publication of the union representing newspaper workers. On retiring, I and my wife bought a campground in the Shenandoah Valley and--with the help of our two daughters and their husbands--operated it for eight years, first as a KOA franchisee and then as an independent family-owned RV park. We sold the campground in May, 2021, and live in Staunton, Virginia, a short walk from our grandsons' home.

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