When is a house not a house?
June 17, 2011 7:39 AM   Subscribe

Is buying a modular (not mobile) house a good idea. If not why not?

My Mr wwax and I are looking to buy a home. Feeling slightly goulish we came across a foreclosure in the area that really interests us. The house was left in good condition and not trashed (though some appliances were missing) and the house sits on half an acre of partly wooded land in a fantastic location.

The only problem is the house is a modular home. This is not a mobile home or trailer, but one built from prefabricated panels. It sits over proper foundations the finishes inside the seem to be good quality and it does not initially look like a prefab/modular home. It has 3 bedrooms and 2 bathrooms and was built in 2000.

We are aware that financing for these sorts of homes can be harder to get, but we can actually afford to pay for this outright if needed it is such a good price.

Before we are blinded by the idea of owning our own home and not owing anyone any money (or having a teeny tiny mortgage) I would love to hear from MeFi's about what are some of the downsides (or upsides) of owning a modular or prefab home might be.

Information that might be useful. Its in Indiana, in an area with not a great housing market at the moment. It is in a great school district, near shops etc but in an area where deer still wander into front yards. We are not considering this our "forever" home but simply a first home buyers home to live in for 4-5 years.
posted by wwax to Home & Garden (12 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Are you working with a real estate agent, or just browsing? A knowledgeable and honest agent could tell you about the longevity and resale values they've seen. You could also call around for inspectors, inquiring as if you are interested in buying the house (which you are), and would like a complete review of the residence (which you may want in the future), asking what the key issues the inspectors know about modulars.
posted by filthy light thief at 7:49 AM on June 17, 2011

My aunt and uncle got a a modular home for their retirement home (on an island, so it made construction easier) about 20 years ago, and they've loved it. It hasn't required any major repairs that I know of. I'm sure the manufacturers vary, so if you could find out who the manufacturer is, that might help. But one bit of anecdata says that they can be great.
posted by ldthomps at 7:53 AM on June 17, 2011

The biggest risk is that you will have trouble selling it because buyers will have the same concerns that you are expressing, or won't be able to get a loan. If the price reflects that risk, you should be ok.
posted by Forktine at 7:57 AM on June 17, 2011

The neighbors across the street from my parents bought and put up a modular home on a concrete foundation, just as you describe. However, the people who put it up were less than careful (and honestly, the homeowner was a bit of a cowboy when it came to safety), and that house burnt down a few years later due to chimney insulation that wasn't properly installed.

My best advice is get yourself the most thorough, careful home inspector you can afford and have him/her go through that house with a fine-tooth comb. If you are seriously considering the house, you want to know what you're buying with both eyes wide open.
posted by LN at 8:06 AM on June 17, 2011

The quality of modular homes has increased dramatically in the last decade or so. I agree with everyone so far, as usual get a good inspector. Also see if you can figure out the manufacturer and find out more about how good their quality has been.
posted by thebestsophist at 8:13 AM on June 17, 2011

All of the warnings about 'getting a good inspector' and 'ensuring your manufacturer is qualified' is the same advice I would give you if you were hiring a general contractor to build a traditional home. There are crazies everywhere in the construction business. This is not something specific to the modular home business.

Best bet - talk to a realtor and check the tax records for the property/home to see how it's appreciated over the years.
posted by shew at 8:17 AM on June 17, 2011

Best answer: I used to work for a company that did built modular homes. There are a lot of advantages to the process - the main one being that you can assemble the framing in a matter of days instead of weeks.

They used the same assembly line that was used to build roof trusses to build walls. It's almost the exact same process. Almost everyone buys prefab roof trusses - very few are built by hand any more in my experience. Walls tend to be more custom, which is why there is less demand for prefabrication.

As to whether your house is sound is going to turn on who did the construction and how its been kept since. I have no reason to believe that a prefab house is any less sound.

Get a good inspector and you should be fine.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 8:18 AM on June 17, 2011 [1 favorite]

As with all construction, it really depends. It's possible to build a very high-quality modular home. It's also possible to do a crappy job. All depends on the contractor.

Get it inspected, but you were going to have to do that anyway.

Also, I live in Indiana, so it's possible I've heard of the builder or development. MeMail me.
posted by valkyryn at 8:19 AM on June 17, 2011

My parents owned a modular home for a few years. They did not build it, it was probably 10 years old when they bought it (so it was built around 1990 or so). You would never know it was modular, it just looked like a ranch house. The previous owners had built an expansion (turned the garage into a great room then built another garage) and a deck. If a proper inspection turns up no issues, then I think it would be more or less like any other house.
posted by cabingirl at 8:29 AM on June 17, 2011

As a data point, a friend of mine is in large scale construction/project management. His home is a modular home.

Get a good inspector. A very good inspector. Make sure that they're willing to work with first time buyers and will talk a lot about what they see. Modular or not, this is the best investment you can make before you buy.
posted by plinth at 6:01 PM on June 17, 2011

Agreeing with thorough inspections. Also, though it sounds like you're buying an existing home already on a property, check into the local regulations re: manufactured homes. Where I live, you can't just plunk a manufactured home anywhere, only in very specific neighborhoods (read: trailer parks). If zoning or regulations have changed, current homes may be grandfathered in, but you may be prevented from placing another manufactured home on the site if something has changed. Definitely worth looking into for such a major purchase.

Despite a great increase in build quality, there is still a stigma about manufactured homes; to a lot of people, modular home = manufactured home = run-down trailer. That "oh... you live in a trailer" reaction... That's partly why some communities don't allow such homes to be placed anywhere, the fear of lowering property values for everyone else. It's stupid, but it's there.

My folks have a large-ish manufactured home on a few acres out in the sticks, and it is a very nice home. It has a gorgeous kitchen, vaulted ceilings, and lots of skylights. It's well-constructed and very well-sealed against the elements. About the only complaint that I would have is that the eaves are very small and there are no gutters, so the roof sheds water very close to the house.
posted by xedrik at 11:22 PM on June 18, 2011

Best answer: Sound like your heart is saying, "Do it." So do some math on the deal to see if it could work out.

Here's an interesting perspective on resale value: A friend of mine knows he will only be in Dallas area of Texas for 1 year. His first instinct is to simply look around for rental apartments. $500 * 12= $6000 for 1 years rent. But someone else suggested the alternative of buying a condo for $45,000 (he has the cash) then selling it a year later. The theory is that even at the exact same price, he has the "lost" rental money as the alternative against which to measure. Of course the Realtor's commission on a sale is normally 6% so that takes $2700 as well, but you see the idea.

I say do it. Best case is you end up loving it more than expected and are happy to stay. Worst case is you re-sell it for a modest capital loss which might still work out better than the cash-flow loss of renting. This is not including regular homeowner pitfalls that can happen to anyone, such as pouring way to much cash into upgrades since you love it so much, then being strapped for cash later.
posted by markhu at 1:34 PM on June 28, 2011

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