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Real Estate Magnate Sam Zell's Most Profitable REIT Is In The Manufactured Housing Market

Real estate mogul Sam Zell's Equity LifeStyle Properties, the largest owner of RV and mobile home parks in the country, has reaped the rewards of increased demand from Americans in search of more affordable housing options. 

Sam Zell at NYU's Schack Institute of Real Estate's REIT symposium in 2017.

With its value hitting a high of $95/share on Aug. 16, Equity LifeStyle — which also offers smaller accommodations like tepees, tents and yurts — is Zell's most profitable enterprise, Crain's Chicago Business reports. He is also the founder of real estate investment trusts Equity Commonwealth, which deals in the office sector, and Equity Residential for multifamily.

Over the past few years, Equity LifeStyle has delivered better returns on investments than not only Zell's other REITs, but nearly the entire real estate market, according to Crain's. Though it rents a diverse array of properties, including covered wagons and marina docks, the company's biggest moneymaker is in RVs and mobile homes. Many of the more specialized rentals now are under the umbrella of Petite Retreats, which spun off of Equity LifeStyle last year.

The massive and aging baby boomer generation is driving more demand in manufactured homes and RVs, prizing flexibility and affordability more than ever. Equity LifeStyle does not expect demand to slow down anytime soon, executives said in an earnings call reported by Crain's.

The outlook is not as overwhelmingly positive for Zell in other areas. Equity Commonwealth has exited completely from its home market of Chicago to build up its war chest, and Zell himself came under some fire for inflammatory remarks made at a real estate conference in the wake of the #MeToo movement.