Alfie Best is something of a celebrity in the UK, following high-profile TV performances including BBC's Britain's Spending Secrets, Channel 5's How the Other Half Lives with Eamonn Holmes and Ruth Langsford and most recently, an interview with formidable broadcaster Ann Robinson. Alfie's rags to riches backstory is now legendary and has boosted his profile further as being someone millions of ordinary Brits can relate to and identify with.
Born in Leicester in 1970 and growing up in a poor Romany Gypsy family, Alfie started on his road to riches as a penniless youngster. At the age of just 14 he launched his own business buying and selling cars and vans and a decade later, was the owner of several mobile phone shops across London.
Alfie Best bought his first mobile home park in Romford, Essex, in 2001 - the Lakeview Residential Park. Fourteen years later, Wyldecrest Parks is one of the largest park home operators in the country, with nationwide parks across England, Scotland and Wales.
Wyldecrest Park Homes have become synonymous with five-star luxury, set in beautiful locations with a wealth of on-site services and a welcoming community of homeowners.
Propertyshowrooms was delighted to have the chance to speak to Alfie Best, who generously gave up his time last Sunday to talk to us about his latest venture; taking his luxury brand of park homes to America.
Where in the states have you been looking and what kind of real estate projects have you been looking at?
We're currently negotiating to purchase five what they call manufactured park homes in America. We've agreed the deal and it's now in the hands of solicitors to get the purchases finalized and closed. They've been signed over and we're just in the hands of their attorneys to get everything closed. The parks are located in a place called Ocala, which is mid-Florida.
Is this your first foray into the States?
We started our investigations in America last year and we finally made the transition this year, getting it underway. We also started negotiating with people that had park homes over here that wanted to move to America for 2 or 3 years and still have the opportunity to come back to the UK. This allows us to provide a great lifestyle opportunity for owners in the UK and at the same time, a good source of occupants for the new parks in the US.
Would you say that your demographic is people approaching retirement age?
We don't discriminate against anybody, although the clientele we tend to deal with are mostly retired or semi-retired.
Are park homes the equivalent of trailer parks in the US?
Yes that's exactly what they are. In America the model is really very low cost housing and it's at the bottom rung of the ladder where housing is concerned, whereas here in the UK it really isn't like that. If anything park homes are rivaling the value of a traditional house. They compare well for what they sell for too.
What are the main reasons people want to live in park homes?
In the UK, from the naked eye it's impossible to tell the difference from a park home and a bungalow. They are virtually the same. BUT to buy a like-for-like property, then you're talking about 50% more of the value of a park home.
So when people buy a park home in one of your developments, they also getting the benefit of location and other community services provided on site?
Yes, and they're also freeing up capital by moving into a more affordable park home.
In America, we're going to do the same as we've done here which is to deliver - as far as I'm concerned - five star homes and move away from the perception of being on the bottom rung of the housing ladder. I'm not saying that the standard trailer home doesn't fill the hole in the market in the States, but that's not the model that we're going to be going after.
Do you think that there's been a rise in demand for this kind of housing since the financial crisis and that's been a contributing factor to your success?
Yes and that's because we now have a housing shortage around the world. Our homes are manufactured which means they are fabricated off-site and then put together on location. We've been in talks with local government in Florida on being able to roll out the model in their borough, to help free up space for affordable housing.
Would you agree that in the UK, the demand for affordable housing is at critical levels?
One of the problems we have in the UK is just the way our economy is structured. We have 66 or 67 million people living in the UK and it's one of the most densely populated areas, especially when you're talking about London. I'm led to believe that there are around 16 or 17 million people now living in London and that's not taking into account inside the M25 and the suburbs.
When you talk about those types of figures, there has got to be something done about meeting housing needs, but also it goes wider than that. When we choose where to live today, we want to live where we have a better life. We want to do better things. We want to go on better holidays. We want a better quality of life and we want it NOW.
I don't think there's any reason why people shouldn't be able to do that and because manufactured housing is so cost-effective, it frees up peoples' capital more to enjoy a better quality of life.
So they get more disposable income?
Yes, that's right. Whether you own your own home or renting in the UK it's become more unaffordable for more people, particularly in the south.
Would you agree that in the UK park homes have become accepted as being much more luxurious than the trailer homes we know and recognize in America?
Well, actually the UK started off exactly like in America. Park homes were first called static caravans. Then they became mobile homes. Then they became park homes and today, they're park home bungalows. That's how it's moved on and that's how things have changed from when it started to where we are now in the UK.
Over in the states, the market hasn't developed in the same way, which is why we're there.
Will you be able to overcome the perception of trailer homes in the states?
100%. It won't be an issue at all because that's like saying would you eat at a good restaurant or would you eat at a bad restaurant? The product sells itself. If you walk into a poor restaurant, you'll get poor food and you can expect poor service. If you go to a good restaurant you expect good food, surroundings and service, then you'll be prepared to pay more of a premium for that.
All we have to do in the States is produce the product, put them on site and make the sites into the five star developments we know we have delivered in the UK. Are people going to pay more for that product? They're paying more for everything else that's a better product.
Would you agree that Americans are more prepared to pay for quality service than in the UK?
I think most people including myself believe that the more you pay the better quality you should expect.
Have you looked at any other type of real estate?
Not in a serious way. Of course I've ventured on a number of different sites like parking lots, housing and the development of a shopping centre, but I'm not taking these projects seriously as they're not my core business.
Do you think that's because it's better the devil you know and you prefer to operate within your niche of park homes?
I love what I do. I enjoy creating something that I know will change people lives. We're already doing that. We do it very, very well and I have a passion for it. So my philosophy is 'do what you love and you'll never do a day's work'.
NEXT WEEK: MORE EXCLUSIVE NEWS AND VIEWS FROM ALFIE BEST, WYLDECREST PARKS' CEO AND FOUNDER
Visit www.wyldecrestparks.co.uk to find out more about Wyldecrest Parks.