How to evaluate a mobile home (and 55+ community)?
March 27, 2019 9:13 AM   Subscribe

Due to longstanding financial issues, my aunt (late 50s) is losing her home. (Florida here) She is considering moving into a 55+ mobile home community but knows nothing about doing this. Would likely be doing a rent-to-own/financing option. How do you evaluate structural condition of a mobile home? Mold issues? Wiring? Etc.? Thanks.
posted by caveatz to Home & Garden (6 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Mobile homes, like automobiles, are depreciating assets, which is why so few lenders will write mortgages on them (which leads to her rent-to-own financing option). I'd first do a cost/benefit comparison of just renting vs. signing a contract to purchase. Also, most rent-to-own contracts contain clauses that if the buyer is even a day late on a single payment, the owner can evict the would-be buyer and keep all the proceeds. In fact, this is a common scam used by the unscrupulous preying on people desperate to find a path to home ownership.

Another benefit of just renting would be the ability to move if the condition of the home deterioriates, or if structural problems are discovered. They won't be her responsibility and expense. Plus, the cost of renter's insurance in Florida is most likely a good bit cheaper than homeowners insurance in that state.

Also, many mobile home parks have regulations requiring homes older than a designated age, or that have serious, unfixable issues, be removed from the park - and that is at the owner's expense and responsibility to arrange. This further limits the potential resale value of an aging mobile home.

I'd recommend doing a search online for a Florida home inspection company that inspects mobile homes. They'll know what to look for, and will report their findings to your aunt.
posted by Lunaloon at 10:49 AM on March 27, 2019 [7 favorites]

In addition to the rent-to-own cost, most mobile home parks have a monthly fee to rent the ground space which the home is sited on (state property tax might be included in the space rent, or could be an additional charge), so factor that too into the evaluation.
posted by anadem at 11:00 AM on March 27, 2019

Mobile homes don't seem like a great deal to me, with rental costs on the land being kind of high. But, used mobile homes do come on the market for lots of reasons, and if she can find a nice used one, it might be a good deal. They are kind of sold on a retail basis with fairly high profit. Check the state's Consumer Affairs/ Protection site to see if there's information.
posted by theora55 at 11:47 AM on March 27, 2019

The 99% Invisible has a great episode on a mobile home community & land rights --

In short, mobile homes aren't that mobile and tenants may not own or have much control over the land the home lives on. Worth the listen to broaden understanding about the "hidden" insecurity of living in a mobile home community.

Which is also to suggest that while you need to evaluate the mobile home structure itself, the evaluation of the mobile home park/lot/community and lease agreement is also very important.
posted by countrymod at 12:04 PM on March 27, 2019 [3 favorites]

My wife’s late Mother and Father sold their home in Miami Beach and moved into an adults-only modular home neighborhood in order to save money. They also signed a rent-to-own contract. The seller promised that all landscaping, mowing, security, etc. would be handled by the homeowner’s association.

The home owner fees went up drastically and the upkeep went down just as drastically. After her husband died, my Mother-in-law was trapped in a home that was falling apart along with the neighborhood. When she passed away, the kids emptied out the house and just walked away, there was so little equity.

Please be very careful if you decide to go this route.
posted by jabo at 3:57 PM on March 27, 2019 [1 favorite]

In a different state I bought a mobile home for my mom that had problems (like a small hole in the floor of one room that had been covered by furniture when it was inspected). The more serious problem was that the homes tended to be impossible to sell. They were so difficult to sell that the manager/owner of the seniors-only (55+) community would often buy homes for next to nothing when some residents needed to move and couldn't sell them to anyone else.

I only discovered this after my mom died, when I was trying to sell her old place and discovered I wasn't allowed to rent her old home. After I listed my mom's place for sale, an owner's representative quickly made me an offer. A terrible offer. I rashly decided I would rather pull out the home and junk it than basically be ripped off by the owner (nose, face, spite, etc.). Luckily, I was able to to sell it after several months. I did not make a profit, but that was fine. I just did not want a huge loss.

So your aunt needs to make sure that any rent-to-own agreement she signs does not violate whatever agreement the actual owner has with the management company that owns the land. Your aunt should get a copy of that agreement and review it carefully before giving up any money or signing anything, as well as check to see if the management company/community owner has new or updated contracts that your aunt will need to sign eventually. (IAMAL, I am just a pissed off and burned former owner of this kind of place.)

In January, NPR did a story about rising land rental costs for folks in such communities nationwide. The Florida Bar Association has a guide to buying a mobile home that recommends several steps to protect oneself from unscrupulous owners or sketchy dealers.

I understand the appeal of owning something, believe me. But these communities become a trap for many. I don't know which city your aunt wants to live in but it may be possible, if she is willing to rent, for her to find a an affordable conventional rental.

Before signing anything, I would also encourage your aunt to talk to other people in that community who have lived there for several years. She should ask them about rental increases (how often, how much) as well as how they feel about their neighbors, the management, etc. If possible, she should also check out the community center as well as any on-site groups and/or activities to get a feel for the folks who live there. Sometimes potential owners are allowed to attend community activities, and that's a good opportunity to meet many different folks and ask them questions.

You are kind to help your aunt; I wish her and you all the best.
posted by Bella Donna at 8:39 AM on March 28, 2019 [1 favorite]

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