LARGO – No matter who ends up owning the Stella Del Mar mobile home park, its current owner, Julius Szabo, will be the big winner.
Szabo has people competing with each other to pay him $26 million for the 50-acre park he bought for $16.2 million just two years ago and which is appraised at $10.7 million for tax purposes.
The 402-unit park, north of (Old) Walsingham Road, between Seminole Boulevard and 113th Street, was known as Island in the Sun from its inception, 27 years ago, until Szabo bought it.
Szabo recently received three unsolicited offers of $26 million each, two from mobile home operators and one from a California real estate investment trust, for the property.
State law requires the sellers of mobile home parks that have been advertised for sale to give the park’s residents 45 days to match the highest offer and make the park resident-owned, as are a third of Pinellas County’s 290 mobile home parks. There was some doubt about whether the law would apply in this case, since the offers were unsolicited. But it didn’t matter, because Szabo voluntarily offered the residents that option.
“We’re buying our park,” said Betty Jamail, vice president of the park’s homeowners’ association. “Our park owner gave us the right of first refusal and we’ve got a signed agreement.”
But coming up with the $7.8 million for the down payment, closing costs and operational reserve was no easy matter. Thirty percent of the homeowners are seasonal residents who were away for the summer. The park’s closed circuit TV channel, bulletin boards and word of mouth spread the word that the residents would meet on July 19 to plan their strategy.
In the meantime, Jamail sought the help of Marty Pozgay, president of Florida Community Services Group, a statewide company that assists mobile home residents who want to buy their park.
“He just guides us step by step through the process,” Jamail said. “I’m just thrilled with the residents’ response. They’ve come through like troopers.”
By the end of last week, more than 160 residents had pledged to pay the $49,000 cost of buying a share in the resident ownership group. Jamail expects that number to eventually reach 175 to 200.
If the deal falls through, the California investment trust has raised its offer to $27 million.
“I strongly anticipate that we will be going forward and purchasing the park,” Pozgay said Monday. “We’ve got enough (prospective buyers signed up to meet the minimum requirement) but we’re looking for more.”
Residents who elect not to purchase a share can stay on as renters, paying their lot rent to the residents’ ownership group. But the rent is expected to increase from the current $422 a month.
Residents who buy a share will pay a $250 monthly maintenance fee. But repaying a $49,000 mortgage loan could add almost $500 a month to that.
Residents who decide to move could sell their homes, move them or abandon them. A state fund will pay displaced mobile home residents $3,000 to move a single-wide or $6,000 to move a double-wide. If the home is too old or dilapidated to move, the state will pay $1,375 for single-wides or $2,750 for double-wides.
There are several reasons why residents may opt not to buy, according to Pozgay. Some don’t have the money. Others have the money but prefer to invest it elsewhere and pay rent. Still others say they’re too old to get a long-term mortgage, but Pozgay says that shouldn’t bother them.
“The banks cannot discriminate because of age,” he said. “I’ve had 95-year-old people take out a 20-year loan.”