A Buyer’s Guide: What Is a Manufactured Home, and Should I Buy One?February 17, 2021 | By Dara Giddings
When you picture your dream home, odds are probably good that you aren’t imagining a manufactured home. This home type is much maligned in the United States, conjuring images of sloping floors, drafty doorways, and lower-quality construction materials. But manufactured homes have come a long way since the school trailers of your childhood. Modern manufactured homes now offer great quality and are often indistinguishable from site-built homes.
If you’re in the market for a new home but are on a tight budget, you might consider looking into a manufactured home. These homes are often cheaper to get into, making them great options for first-time buyers.
In this article, you will learn exactly what is a manufactured home as we cover the ins and outs, including what they are, what options exist, and what you should be aware of if buying one.
What is a manufactured home?
According to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), a
manufactured home is built to HUD’s Manufactured Home Construction and Safety Standards. They are at least 320 square feet in area and contain a permanent chassis (usually steel) for transportation ease and safety.
Manufactured homes are built in a controlled environment and then transported in one or more sections to their final destination, where they can be placed on a permanent foundation, on a lot, or in a home “park.” Each section of a manufactured home will have a red HUD certification label with a unique identification number that states that it was built to the proper standards.
Manufactured homes are not the same thing as modular homes. While much of the home is built in a factory and assembled on-site in both cases, manufactured homes tend to come in only one, two, or three pieces, and they are required to have a permanent chassis. Theoretically, you could move a manufactured home more than once.
Modular homes are built in “modules” that can be assembled on-site to create a wider variety of floor plans. Modular homes are more versatile in design, often come in several pieces, and do not require a permanent chassis. Once they are set on their final foundation, they aren’t moving again.
In the U.S., manufactured homes are also colloquially called mobile homes or trailers, but for homes built after 1976 that comply with the HUD Code, the correct term is “manufactured home.”
The phrases “mobile home” and “trailer” often have negative connotations associated with low quality and a run-down appearance. So the term “manufactured home” is perhaps more appropriate then because these newer homes distinguish themselves by their more modern appearance and significantly higher quality.
What kinds of manufactured homes can you buy?
Though manufactured homes aren’t quite as versatile as modular homes, they’ve still come a long way from the “single-wides” of the past.
The overall construction is pretty standard — these homes come in rectangular form only. However, the exact size and square footage can vary.
- A single-wide ranges between 750 and 1,050 square feet
- Double-wides range between 1,060 and 2,300 square feet
- Triple-wides can go up to 4,320 square feet, but often a triple-wide is used to configure a different floor plan instead of simply adding that much square footage
- For all three types of manufactured home, ceiling height typically caps out at nine feet
This means the upper range of a double-wide comes in just under the median new home size, meaning that manufactured homes can offer just as much space as many site-built homes. Plus, many manufactured homes come with add-ons that can make them indistinguishable from site-built homes, including:
- Customizable floor plans
- Upgrades to kitchens and bathrooms
What should buyers think about vis-a-vis manufactured homes?
Regardless of how well modern manufactured homes may blend in with site-built homes, there are some distinct differences that prospective buyers should be aware of. Here we outline all of the things to look for or consider when shopping for a manufactured home.
Buying new or used
When it comes to site-built homes, whether the home is brand new or previously owned rarely matters except when it comes to repairs and inspections. With manufactured homes, however, this is not always the case.
If you plan to purchase a brand-new manufactured home, you will likely have no problem securing financing and bundling the home loan with a lot loan. But if you are looking at used manufactured homes, it’s crucial to determine whether the house has been moved from its original site.
Despite the permanent chassis that makes the moves possible, manufactured homes don’t hold up well through multiple moves. A home that has been moved more than once is more prone to problems and damage. Because of this, it might be difficult or impossible to secure a loan, depending on the home’s condition and the state and local regulations.
If you are considering a used manufactured home, check its identification tags and paperwork with local records to determine if it was ever moved, and if it was, to see if the move was handled professionally, and to obtain a valid engineer’s certification for the foundation.
Insulation, ventilation, and energy efficiency
While older manufactured homes sometimes had insulation and ventilation issues, modern manufactured homes are often designed to be energy-efficient. If you are looking at older homes, make sure you determine the current state of the home’s ventilation and insulation and see what sort of upgrades it might need.
Energy.gov suggests that the following retrofit measures can help an older manufactured home become more energy-efficient:
- Install new energy-efficient windows and doors (Windows may cost an average of $650 apiece while doors average $997)
- Add insulation to the belly (Insulating an entire home costs around $1,489 on average)
- Make general repairs of cracks and ducts with caulking
- Add insulation to the walls
- Install insulated skirting (Insulated vinyl skirting for a single wide costs between $1,440 to $4,000)
- Install a belly wrap (Costs vary, but expect to spend a few hundred dollars)
- Add insulation to the roof or install a roof cap
Cost of home
Manufactured homes are typically more affordable than a stick-built house. Experienced Florida real estate agent Chuck Shaver says, “They tend not to have homeowner’s associations, and they tend to have lower taxes. A budget of $100,000 gets a lot of home with a much better main suite, bigger walk-in closets, and huge bath that are all superior to that of a conventional home.”
The lower price tag makes these home types attractive to first-time buyers and retirees looking to downsize.
Land, and whether it is included or not
Because manufactured homes are built in a warehouse, you might need to purchase your home and your land plot separately. Some people even buy a manufactured home and then rent the lot that the house rests on. More often than not, though, it’s not too difficult to wrap your purchase of home and lot all into one transaction.
Greg Clark from Waco, Texas, who sells homes 55% faster than the average agent in his area, says that if a mobile home is used, the home and land almost always come together, but, “When it comes to new-built manufactured homes, often the manufacturer will source those lots and roll it into the loan.”
Some people find the land they like first and then make plans to place a manufactured home. However, you should be wary of purchasing the land before the home, as it may turn out that regulations prohibit placing a home on the land.
Buyers “need to be aware of the neighborhood restrictions or the area restrictions,” says Clark.
“It’s the buyer’s responsibility to figure that out before they purchase the land. You’ve also got to make sure you can get water, electricity, and sewer.”
Getting a loan for a manufactured home
While getting approved for a loan on a manufactured home can sometimes prove more challenging than getting a loan on a conventional home — especially if the home has been moved — it is still very possible to secure financing.
You can often get government-backed mortgages for newer manufactured homes, including FHA and VA loans. Otherwise, if it’s a conventional home loan you’re after, “You may be better off going to the local banks because sometimes their threshold for risk is a little bit different,” says Clark.
Clients who have a relationship with a local bank may benefit from asking if they have a loan available for manufactured homes. This may be a particularly handy tip if you’re looking to secure a loan on a manufactured home that has been moved, as it can be harder to secure a traditional mortgage on these properties.
Shaver notes that in some places, the home manufacturer could offer financing. “I have sold homes to people that were looking for land. So, I helped them find the land they wanted, and they went to the home manufacturer. They financed the lot and the land together, and it was like a one-stop-shop.”
Shaver also suggests that it is more challenging to get loans on a manufactured home that has been moved, though it isn’t impossible. “I just had a property where the home was moved, and it was financed, though it required a manual underwrite.” A manual underwrite involves more paperwork and can take more time than typical automated underwriting, while the end result (hopefully an approved loan!) may be the same.
Your home’s value over time
Often people who buy a home consider it an investment. Home values tend to increase over time so that when you sell your home, you make a profit. This may not always be the case with manufactured homes, however. According to Clark, “Year over year, they’re going to depreciate quicker than a regular home around here.”
The value of the land your home sits on may help balance out declines in home value. However, according to Shaver, declining value of manufactured homes may not be the rule everywhere.
“Allegedly, values decline over time. That’s what everybody tells me, but I have been selling mobile homes, and the price just keeps going up and up and up. I’ve never really bought into the belief that they do not increase in value over time.”
Find an agent who can help you find a manufactured home
Though manufactured homes may have had a bad reputation in the past, many modern homes are built to high-quality standards and are virtually indistinguishable from other homes.
“Don’t look down your nose at them,” says Shaver. “There are plenty of lenders; someone will finance them. And work with an agent that has dealt with manufactured homes.”
For more about Manufactured homes be sure to check out my article MANUFACTURED HOME SEARCHES ON THE RISE