According to The Australian Financial Review, Hometown Australia, a subsidiary of US pre-fab operator Hometown America, has about $300 million in prospective acquisitions in negotiation as it looks to establish a local portfolio of manufactured housing estates.
The US giant has begun an ambitious move into Australia, where the market in pre-fab estates - budget housing typically occupied by retirees - is rapidly expanding.
In the States, Hometown America owns and operates more than 50 properties comprising some 23,000 home sites across 10 states popular with retirees.
Hometown Australia's business plan is to grow organically through the acquisition of existing, and the development of new, high-quality residential land lease communities.
"We are not currently pursuing the acquisition of any of the major owners, including the REITs, but we are open to exploring any potential opportunities that are in-line with the business plan."
That business plan includes acquiring and operating existing estates, as well developing new communities from greenfield or brownfield sites.
Hometown Australia will also look to convert caravan and tourist parks into manufactured housing estates, known as MHE.
The housing model is based on the sale of factory-made housing to residents who then pay a ground rent for their site in an estate. In Australia, Hometown will also look to build new homes on site.
The sector has been expanding rapidly in recent years, with a number of listed players gaining scale, including Lifestyle Communities, Ingenia Communities and Gateway Lifestyle.
Demography is a big driver for the sector. The growing number of retirees face a less affordable housing market, creating the need for a low-cost housing option.
A cultural shift in attitudes is also underway. Long a feature of American society, pre-fab housing estates, often converted from caravan parks, are gaining acceptance in large cities and along the coast.
The demand for MHE dwellings is forecast to increase by almost 30,000 additional units by 2026, almost a 40 per cent rise on the 2011 level, according to an industry report by Colliers.
Assuming even slightly greater pick-up of the concept, demand could surge to almost 50,000 extra units over the same period.
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