Buying a mobile home, without being taken for a ride.
June 25, 2007 6:10 PM   Subscribe

What do I need to know about buying a used mobile home? Yes, I really want to do this.

We have 5 acres of land in a rural area 10 minutes out of our small down. We rent a place in town a that we dislike a lot (for one thing, there are 2 stinky pulp mills nearby. We want to move out to our land and then *slowly* (for financial minimal-mortgage purposes) build a house.

So, the intent is now to buy a used trailer. There are two fairly nice ones for sale here.

-prices are in CAD-

The sellers are asking $53,000 for the first (built in 1997). It appears to be in great shape, but has not been moved since it was sold and moved to its current location. I believe it to be overpriced, but maybe able to talk it down.

The second (built 1990) is going for $42,000 and they may be talked down to around $40,000. It's apparently just as nice (friends of ours, also looking, think so but decided on something else). It has some minor damage to one outside wall near the roofline but no signs of any water leakage in the three year since the damage occurred.

To be clear, I'm not asking whether or not we should move into a mobile home. It's probably the best choice for us for a wide variety of reasons, primarily that it's a temporary (2-3 years max) dwelling while we build.

What I want to know is, based on the available information I've given, and what I should know about mobile homes, how do I choose and what do I look for to make that decision? Don't necessarily assume that these two are the only choices in the area.
posted by Kickstart70 to Home & Garden (12 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
What I know....and it doesn't necessarily apply:
Before 1979 there were no regulations on mobile homes, so most build before that are sheetmetal and furring strips.

You do realize that it's going to cost you 5-10k to move this thing, right? Minimum?

There are often cheap (read: free to takers) mobile homes listed in various bulletin boards and etc. If it's your temporary lodging while you build, I'd consider going way cheaper and using that as motivation to build faster.
posted by TomMelee at 6:36 PM on June 25, 2007

Also, since this is your own land, why not think about getting a yurt, or a Dome home. The costs to get started with either of those are at or below the mobile home and you can easily add onto them as your income increases... The dome home actually goes together rather quickly too, if your handy and have a few friends you can do it yourself!
posted by crewshell at 6:44 PM on June 25, 2007 [1 favorite]

You may want to look into a "Katrina Cottage". Google search gives many websites. From what I understand, they come pre wired and plumbed. All you have to do is erect it on your property on a suitable foundation. Yu can live in it while building your regular home, then use it as a guest cottage.

To be clear, I'm not asking whether or not we should move into a mobile home. It's probably the best choice for us for a wide variety of reasons, primarily that it's a temporary (2-3 years max) dwelling while we build.

The Katrina cottage was designed as a super fast construction home at a minimal price to help the recovery of the Gulf Coast in the US. This was cheaper than putting people in trailers. Just a thought.
posted by JujuB at 7:02 PM on June 25, 2007

Just remember they depreciate. They are NOT an investment. And they are not great to be in during storms.

(I lived in trailers till I was thirteen. I know whereof I speak.)
posted by konolia at 7:20 PM on June 25, 2007

Unfortunately, as for the Katrina cottage, I'm at 53N latitude, so insulation as well as actually getting those is a factor.

No intention for this to be an investment...just a place to live while we build, and then sell it for whatever we can afterwards.

The price for moving isn't a huge thing...we could afford to actually buy a house, so this is not an attempt to save gobs of money. It's just to get us on the land quickly while we build, garden, etc.

No hints so far on what to look for (ie. self-inspection) on the mobile? Things to look out for? Things to demand?
posted by Kickstart70 at 7:28 PM on June 25, 2007

My dad built a kit-cabin (in Maine, so cold-proof) for about 20,000 USD including foundation. He built it with my brother over the span of two weeks. It was rather easy, and far more aesthetically pleasing than a mobile home. It would also give you experience home-building, and you could strike up a relationship with roofers and slab-pourers for when you build your house later.
posted by nursegracer at 7:48 PM on June 25, 2007

You are not buying a trailer. You are buying a manufactured home. This is not just semantics. Also, don't refer to your potential homes as "trailers." They are not. They are "manufactured homes." This is not just semantics. Trailers are meant to be moved from place to place, and serve as temporary housing. A manufactured home is NOT temporary housing; it is meant to be set up and left where it is, and last a lifetime. (Forget about the old metal ones, we are not talking about those.) It CAN be moved later, but hardly any ever are. Despite the fact that you are using the home temporarily does not mean that is how most of them are used. Do keep in mind that, unlike other homes, mobile homes tend to depreciate. You can sell your mobile home after your home is built. You will probably take a loss, but you will have lived in it for 3 years.

I have owned two, so I will tell you my experiences and hopefully you can glean something. (I have also owned "real" homes, Victorian homes which I have restored, homes with apartments, and lived in apartments, so I am not speaking from limited experience.)

First off: I absolutely have NO hesitation about recommending a mobile home in the right situation. You situation sounds like the right situation.

I would first of all advise against the yurt, dome, etc, just based on how conveniently laid out most mobile homes are. It seems to me that living in an "alternative" kind of structure might require more life style changes than you need while also trying to save and build a home. A mobile home is done. Everything is there, ready to go.

However, you left out the sizes. Are they double-wide? Single? What dimensions?

The first mobile home I lived in was a 14x70, 2 bedroom, 2 bath, built in the 80s. It was a great floorplan with great windows, but the typical wood paneling over 1x3s. Not great for room-to-room privacy, but we had no kids, so it was no big deal. I really loved living there. It never seemed cramped, partly because we had a nice big, covered deck off the front door. The only weird part was having to have special tools for the screws (square heads?), and having some other non-standard elements, as well as cheap, plastic faucets and plumbing. It also had a tin roof, which I had to mend every year by sealing the seams. Your 1990 potential home may be better made than that. For the price you are saying it better be!

The second one was a double wide, about 1500 sf, 3 bedrooms, 2 baths. It was awesome. It was frankly the best home I ever lived in. It was in a very well-kept court, which I called "a gated community." This home had standard construction, good plumbing, good fixtures, drywall, 2x6 outer walls, vaulted ceilings, asphalt shingle roof. You would never know it was a "mobile home." It was about 50k US. The only negative was that the outer trim of windows was cheaply made, and it started to leak. But it was easy enough to replace it and use silicone sealer to make sure that didn't happen again.

The above answer is correct about moving costs. A double wide here in the US can be $4000 - $7000 US to move and set up. Keep one thing in mind: It may seem obvious, but I will say it anyway: use ONLY an expert in mobile homes for any kind of moving, leveling, or setup. Many contractors may think they know how to handle these things, but unless they have done it numerous times with different models, they can mess things up real quick. The double-wide had settled when I bought it, resulting in the peak of the vaulted ceiling being uneven, and the drywall tape coming apart. There was a gap of almost an inch! The roof stayed intact, thank goodness. I hired a sorta-friend who was a very skilled contractor and carpenter to re-level the home. It was a disaster. I had the pros come out, and they did a great job very quickly. They also installed "tie-downs" which, if it is not a part of your code, GET THEM DONE anyway. This anchors the home into the ground, which is a great advantage in storms. I wouldn't hang around in a tornado, but the tie-down won't hurt.

If you can find a good impartial person who knows mobile homes to inspect them, that would be great.

If the more expensive one is that much better, and you can afford it, go for it. You will be able to sell it for more later as well.

Have fun and good luck!
posted by The Deej at 7:49 PM on June 25, 2007 [1 favorite]

*Oops, pardon my first-paragraph stutter. In editing, I left in a line. But the repetition makes the point, no? :)
posted by The Deej at 7:51 PM on June 25, 2007

I'd think about hiring an inspector for the one you like better, and using the checklist to inspect the other one yourself to the best of your ability. But really, you are mostly looking just for things that you couldn't put up with for three years or that would drive down the resale value: water, gas, plumbing, roof leaks; mold; bad appliances; rusted pipes; lack of insulation; non-working electrical outlets?

Ask to see originals of the electrical, gas and water bills for the last year to get a handle on how much you are going to have to pay (the $40,000 might be more expensive than the $57,000, especially since you are reselling), and also to track down any ongoing leaks or inadequate insulation. Check water pressure and hot water, look at fans and vents. Think about what maintenance you typically have to do in a home and make sure filters, vents, etc. are accessible. Look underneath the unit for rust, broken members, bad flooring, etc...
posted by BrotherCaine at 8:07 PM on June 25, 2007

As far as specifics for self-inspections:

Mostly it's the same as any home, except you won't be inspecting a foundation or basement. Look for evidence of leaks, get up on the roof and inspect the shingles, look at the insulation under the floor and make sure it is intact and sealed. Crawl under the home with a powerful light. There should be big sheets of woven plastic tarp-like material covering the bottom insulation so dampness does not seep in from the ground.

If the outside windows and siding seams are without caulk or the caulk is damaged, you will want to take the time to caulk (or re-caulk) them all. Make sure the trim pieces at the corners and the joint between the 2 halves is intact and that no moisture has leaked underneath. Double-check after the move as well, since things shake loose.

Check the electrical box to make sure there is enough amperage for your needs. 125 would be the bare minimum, but I think most homes have 200. (My apartment has 125, and I run all manner of electronics, but no power tools or anything.)

Make sure the floors are not springy or squeaky. Even though a mobile home may be "built down" to be less expensive, you shouldn't be too forgiving and write off annoyances because "it's just a mobile home." A manufactured home can be built as well or better than site-built homes.

Make sure the windows and doors open and close properly, before and after the move. Poorly aligned windows and doors are a sign the home is not properly leveled, and that will put strain on the structure over time, causing other problems.

Make sure the heat and AC work properly, the toilets all flush properly, the sinks and tubs drain efficiently, and faucets don't leak, etc. There will be things needing repair. Make a note as you find them, and you can use this list in your negotiations to have the price lowered to cover the repair costs.

Good luck.
posted by The Deej at 8:08 PM on June 25, 2007 [1 favorite]

Also, I don't know construction/architecture, but you probably want to consult with your architect and contractors / sub-contractors before placing your mobile home. You don't want to have to move it again 6" over because you figured out you need more room when you are siting the foundation/plumbing/etc... for the new home.
posted by BrotherCaine at 8:13 PM on June 25, 2007

I would check the insulation situation. I can tell you from experience that in Nor Cal (not the snowy bit) you will either run up huge oil bills or freeze your ass off in an average mobile home in the wintertime. For $50K you might be able to buy a new modular home.
posted by fshgrl at 9:51 PM on June 25, 2007

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