BRITAIN’S park home king and multi-millionaire Romany Alfie Best is set to invade the American market, alongside even greater expansion here.
And his rivals will include veteran US business magnate Warren Buffett whose $125 billion personal fortune makes him the world’s fifth richest person.
Where Buffett goes, others follow, and there are reports that the US park home and trailer park site sector is already ‘hot’, catering as it does for demand from low-income families.
But Best, aged 52 and tipped to become the world’s first Romany billionaire as head of his Wyldecrest Parks empire, is unworried by the reputation or scale of the opposition. He already has a foothold with a 50% share in 15 US sites, worth £285 million and declares he’s now ready to step up the pace:
“We are going to America early next year and I’m sure there is room for ourselves, Mr Buffett, and many others because we never see anyone as competition. We simply watch what they have done and either learn from them or work out our way to do things.
“All our UK parks are run the same way, but the US model is different; the tendency there is to cater for lower income families and there have been recent reports of some residents being hit by rising rents and costs levied by new owners.
“But it doesn’t always have to be about greed. Sites must be kept up so that the resident or tenant is happy with the environment as well as its affordability – that’s what most people want, and it also makes them try that bit harder themselves to look after it.
“I also think the US market is driven more by short term investment, whereas we prefer to look longer term. It works for us in the UK where we always have high occupancy rates and a waiting list of people wanting to move to our sites.
“If you are on a good park and paying a reasonable cost to be there, why take the risk of moving?”
But though Best has 97 parks in the UK – 91 residential and six holiday/second home sites – and 16,000 residents, he says the sector could offer so much more and help solve the UK housing crisis, if only central and local government would listen.
“There is no difference between a park home and a bricks and mortar bungalow,” he said. “But the latter is so much more expensive without delivering any more to the occupants. In addition, park homes can be precision made in offsite factories, delivered and sim ply assembled onsite with minimal disruption to the neighbourhood – it’s something we do well in this country.
“Many older people are actually trapped in homes they can’t afford to keep up – the classic asset rich/cash poor scenario. Instead, they could sell their home, free up capital for a more comfortable retirement and nice holidays and move into a park home likely to be more modern, warmer, better equipped, cheaper to run and maybe more spacious than the one they are leaving.
“It’s no wonder that 75% of our residents are retired, with the balance semi-retired or still working.
“The double whammy for society is that the older generation moving to park homes creates movement in the housing market, for younger people and families currently excluded due to the housing shortage.”
But it isn’t hard to see why the authorities are reluctant to look at park homes to solve the housing crisis, he says: “Park home buyers pay no stamp duty, no land registry fees, council tax is band A – the cheapest – and the Government loses the inheritance tax on their old homes because they moved rather than passed away in them.”
Best added that opposition figures including Nigel Farage and former Scottish Nationalist leader Alex Salmond had shown interest in his ideas, but his previous ‘white paper’ submissions to two different Government Housing Ministers weren’t even acknowledged.
And he admits that despite the success of prefabricated homes in many modern countries – notably Scandinavia, the USA, and Japan – British people still associate the word ‘prefab’ with the often-short-lived housing built for returning servicemen and their families after World War II.
But he added:
“Slowly but surely though, I think modern park home sites are changing the ‘poor living’ image and actually becoming a sign of people ‘living the dream’, particularly when they want to release cash for a comfortable retirement.”
There is certainly no sign that Best’s Wyldecrest Parks is being held back by official disinterest or lingering prejudices: he recently spent £6.2 million adding two parks in Cornwall and aims to expand from the firm’s current 97 sites to 108 by December and hit 120 by the end of next year.
And he added: “I see no reason why we shouldn’t expect similar rates of growth in the US where, if anything, people are more receptive to the concept and, unlike any expansion plan for Europe, I’m not faced with multiple language barriers – though I would never rule out expanding on the Continent.
“The only issue in the US – one not often recognised here – is that every state may have varying rules and regulations that you must work with, but we are confident we can grow fast there with our business model.”
Alfie is proud of his Romanichal Gypsy heritage – he was born at the roadside in Leicestershire while his family was on a construction job:
“My Dad is still working at 76, in maintenance and general building, and I’m not sure if he will stop – he just loves it – and I’m proud that the work ethic runs strongly in my daughter Elizabeth, who is on the Wyldecrest marketing team, and son Alfie Jr, who has several business interests but notably the high-end watch company The Best Kettles in Hatton Garden.
Father and son have appeared together in a TV programme ‘My Big Fat Gypsy Fortune’, but Alfie Sr also starred in the first episode of the ‘Undercover Big Boss’ documentary where, heavily disguised as a plumber – complete with a temporary neck tattoo and goatee that fooled even his own family – he went behind the scenes at a Wyldecrest site and later rewarded several of his hardest-working staff.
Interviewing him, it is soon clear that the trappings of wealth – including two Bugatti Veyron cars worth millions, a £6 million Surrey mansion, a new helicopter arriving soon and a holiday home in Barbados – mean less than you might think. He’s a major donor to charity and even shared his wealth-generating secrets through a book ‘Can Anyone Build a Property Empire – Yes’.
“I started out with nothing, built up a business selling cars and vans, then mobile phone business and sold that,” he said. “I nearly went bust once and had to sleep in my car.
“I lived in a park home for a while too – loved it – and only moved out because people were treating me as the warden and knocking on my door at all hours asking me to fix every little thing.
“So, it’s been quite a journey and my life is now less about money and more about making a difference to other people’s lives.”
This shows in one of his offshoot companies, Wyldecrest Events, a partnership selling tickets and VIP hospitality packages for major venues and events, with some diverted as incentives and prizes for his park home residents.
This initiative includes a £300,000 VIP box accommodating 24 people at the O2, with discounted tickets or competition prizes for major shows and concerts.
Other diversifications under the Wyldecrest umbrella include the Vaaroom Campervan hire company he acquired in 2020, East Thurrock United FC – also added in 2020 -, Barbados VIP Villas – with many rich and famous neighbours –, a golf course, and Coventry-based Nomad Campervans – a specialist in VW motorhome conversions.