Uniprop was founded in Birmingham, Michigan in 1974 as a diversified real estate equity investment firm. Initial equity capital was provided by individual “qualified investors”. The firm’s first investments were in office buildings, manufactured home communities, and other income producing properties.
In 1978, Paul Zlotoff, company President, conducted a strategic review of the company’s portfolio and identified manufactured housing as an attractive niche in the investment real estate market. Gradually, Uniprop shifted its focus to manufactured home communities. Over the next several years, the company identified opportunistic acquisition opportunities and grew its portfolio to 40 manufactured home communities in twelve states, making it one of the largest privately held companies in the industry.
In the mid-1980’s, Paul Zlotoff purchased Uniprop and became Chairman and CEO. Uniprop maintained its business plan and over the next decade embarked on a disciplined growth and diversification strategy. The diversification was geographic and by asset class. As of today, the company owns and manages 45 properties in fourteen states. Property types include Class A general office, medical office, commercial land development, residential land development, and retail uses.
The total portfolio value is approximately $500 million with modest leverage. The principals maintain a substantial liquid net worth with minimal recourse obligations. Recurring property management fees fund all day-to-day operations. Thus, the company is not under any pressure to make new investments. This strong capital base has positioned Uniprop to take advantage of market opportunities in the current downturn.
To fund its growth, Uniprop expanded its sources of capital over the years. The company was the first to tap the CMBS (Commercial Mortgage Backed Securities) market for mortgages secured by land-lease manufactured home communities. Goldman Sachs was the lead underwriter. Uniprop currently has a borrowing and depository relationship with Comerica Bank, National City Bank (now PNC), Fifth Third Bank and Bank of America, among others.
In the mid-1980’s, Uniprop pioneered equity capital formation for manufactured home communities through two publicly registered limited partnerships. First, the company raised $30 million in equity capital (Uniprop Manufactured Housing Income Fund I) with E F Hutton as Sales Agent for limited partnership interests sold to the public. Subsequently, Fund II was taken to the public market and raised $66 million in equity capital. Both funds continue in existence today, and all SEC reports are available on the Uniprop web-site at www.uniprop.com. The investors in Fund I have received a return of 100% of their initial capital and distributions for many years. The investors in Fund II have received a quarterly distribution every quarter since the inception of the Fund, and continue to receive a distribution Investors in Fund II have also received a partial return of capital. Neither public fund has been involved in partner litigation or any SEC investigation, a rare achievement for a publicly registered real estate limited partnership.
Uniprop continues to focus on its mission statement: “Best Practices, Best in Class.” The company focuses on its core operations in order to provide the highest level of customer service at the property level. This commitment includes continuous training, updated policy manuals, standard operating procedures, and independent monitoring of performance through customer surveys and objective assessments.
The current portfolio enjoys above-average occupancy and rental rates. While other companies were focused on growth, Uniprop “kept its powder dry” and focused on operations, as it would not overpay for acquisitions. As the market has self-corrected, as it always does, Uniprop is now seeking disciplined growth, which means paying a reasonable price for well-located assets in markets with strong underlying fundamentals.
The company currently employs twenty people at its main office and approximately one hundred and twenty employees across its fourteen-state footprint. The team includes industry executives with years of experience in property management, land development, construction and asset sales.
The Senior Management team is comprised of the following individuals:
Approximately three years ago, Uniprop created a captive Private Equity company under the “Wingspan” moniker. Wingspan currently owns three operating companies with combined revenues of $20 million. Two of the Wingspan companies manufacture components for companies such as Caterpillar, Boeing and other industrial users. Another Wingspan company manufactures food products for major supermarket chains in the eastern United States.
In short, Uniprop has forged a strong operating and real estate platform, along with a capital base that allows it to pursue high value acquisition opportunities.