Changing Image of Manufactured Homes

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Brand new 2019 Karsten home in Town & Country (adult 55+ community); San Jose, CA

Today’s manufactured housing is not your father’s mobile home. Manufactured home builders are shifting from trailer parks to infill lots and even entire communities of spacious, well-built homes on permanent foundations. While mobile homes still make up a big part of California’s manufactured-housing industry, builders are working to shake the image of the boxy mobile home and move into the private residential market.

Manufactured homes – also called prefabricated homes or off-site construction – cost less, take a fraction of the construction time, fit well in vacant lots and are one answer for cities trying to offer more affordable housing, builders say.

“It’s the best-kept secret in building,” says Otis Orsburn, president of Modular Lifestyles, a manufactured home designer and developer in Roseville. “The image of our industry is behind the times, but it’s one of the best values out there.”

What’s even more telling is that only 35 percent of the prefabricated homes being built in California go into mobile home parks nationwide, previously the industry’s biggest market. The bulk of the buildings, 65 percent, are going to private property. Manufactured homes are gaining popularity in the state (mostly in Southern California areas such as Orange County) but interest is creeping northward to the central San Joaquin Valley and the Bay Area.

Still, the industry’s old image lingers and some buyers remain hesitant about putting a manufactured home in an urban setting.

John Schleimer, president of Market Perspectives, which does real estate research and consulting, says manufactured homes account for about a quarter of new homes built or sited in the nation.

“The problem they have is gaining acceptance in non-rural areas,” he says. “It’s got a place in the marketplace, but right now, there’s such a negative connotation it’s a tough sell.”

He says manufactured homes have made great advances in the last two decades and in some cases look better than site-built homes.

Market forces, increased housing demand and improved technology are combining to propel manufactured homes into the consciousness of developers, consumers and government officials. Manufactured homes come in sizes ranging from 400 to 4,000 square feet, with single- and two-story designs.

On-site construction of custom homes may take six to 12 months, with weather often hampering progress. With manufactured homes, the site can be prepared while the home is built in the factory, compressing construction time.

Mr. Orsburn says permit fees for a manufactured home are less than those for conventional homes because the houses are inspected at the factory instead of in the field, reducing the number of inspections.

Gonzale, Anne. “Manufactured Homes Push beyond the Trailer Park Market .” Silicon Valley Business Journal, 10 Apr. 2003, http://www.bizjournals.com/sanjose/stories/2003/04/14/focus3.html.

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