When prospective home buyers enter the real estate market for the first time, they are inundated with information and options. Real estate professionals often poll them about location, school systems, and budget. Cost tends to be a primary driver when defining a potential buyer’s options.
For working families hoping to become homeowners rather than squander resources on rent, manufactured homes appear widely more affordable than site-built ones. But before anyone makes what may be their most substantial single investment of a lifetime, it’s essential to conduct thorough due diligence. What many first-time homebuyers want to know is: What are the key differences between manufactured homes and site-built ones?
Table of Contents:
1. Construction Differences Between Site-Built & Manufactured Homes
The primary difference between the two types of single-family homes is where they are built. Manufactured homes are generally constructed in a controlled environment by a specialized crew and then delivered to the buyer’s property. Site-built structures usually involve a series of sub-contractors that complete portions of the job on the property itself while a contractor or architect oversees their work. In many ways, the different processes are almost mirrored images of each other.
These are incremental construction steps and how they differ:
- a) Base Construction
Site-built structures are often set on a poured foundation or raised on a stilt platform in hurricane-prone regions. Floor supports are set in place on either of these bases. The manufactured home process also entails beginning with a base. Many manufactured homes utilize steel framing and poured concrete.
b) Flooring, Framing & Materials
Both types of homes proceed from the base by laying down floor supports and 2X framing. Both models then utilize common or select building materials such as hardwood flooring laminates or wood or vinyl siding, among other materials.
Manufactured home buyers often design their future residence in a showroom and select precise layouts and materials. That process allows them to customize the interior and exterior design. This differs considerably from purchasing an existing site-built structure. In essence, both types of structures can be built with substantially the same materials.
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- c) Amenities & Luxury Items
Today’s manufactured and site-built homes enjoy relatively equal access to high-end amenities and luxury items. Leaders in the financial industry tend to agree that manufactured homes deliver top-tier quality.
“If you haven’t seen the newest crop of manufactured homes, you’re in for a surprise. They feature high-end designs and luxury finishes that make them much more like site-built homes than the ones sold 30 years ago,” a Freddie Mac post called “Welcome to Your New Luxury (Manufactured) Home” states. “Not only do the homes themselves feature dramatic improvements in quality but the communities in which they sit have also undergone makeovers. Some manufactured housing communities even offer amenities such as a pool, clubhouse, and picnic area.”
That information segues directly into one of the differences between site-built models and manufactured homes — location.
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2. How Do Site-Built & Manufactured Homes Locations Differ?
Traditionally constructed homes involve a permanent foundation, and crews show up to erect the structure in place. That means that the house remains fixed. Manufactured homes are delivered. But what exactly does that mean for the first-time homebuyer in terms of location flexibility?
In the vast majority of site-built purchases, buyers are trying to find a home that checks most of their wish-list boxes in a specific area. New construction is an option, but current costs can be prohibitive to young, working families. That being said, manufactured homes now enjoy several location options. These include the following.
- a) Leased Land: Manufactured homeowners can secure government-backed mortgages with an extended land lease.
- b) Private Land: A common strategy is for people to purchase and have the manufactured home delivered and installed. This mirrors the site-built location process.
- c) Homeowner Associations: In recent years, developers have been buying up large tracts of land for manufactured home communities. Homeowners may have the option of purchasing, leasing, or leasing to own a parcel in these gated communities. They often provide amenities such as pools, recreation centers, and community spaces. They are similar to condominium associations, except that residents have a private yard as well.
Perhaps the most significant difference, in terms of location, is that manufactured homeowners have more location flexibility. Manufactured homes can also be moved, should the owner desire.
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3. How Do Building Standards Differ?
Early “mobile homes” garnered a reputation for being basic and somewhat cheaply built. But in 1976, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) set down guidelines that began requiring these products to be on par with site-built construction. Over the years, HUD has revisited the guidelines, and new models must meet rigorous industry standards.
“A manufactured home (formerly known as a mobile home) is built to the Manufactured Home Construction and Safety Standards (HUD Code) and displays a red certification label on the exterior of each transportable section,” according to HUD.
Site-built homes are subject to local and state building codes and are generally approved by electrical, plumbing, and building inspectors before receiving an occupancy permit. In many regions, these same local inspections may be performed on manufactured homes as well. In terms of structural integrity, both types of homes must meet minimum housing standards.
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4. How Do Site-Built & Manufactured Home Floor Plans Differ?
Understanding the differences between the two types of single-family homes can be a touch complicated. Manufactured home floor plans are custom-selected by homebuyers.
If you are purchasing a new model manufactured home, a customer service professional generally walks buyers through options such as open floor plans, eat-in kitchens, and expansive bathrooms, among others.
Buyers also select how many rooms, bathrooms, porches, and every possible floor plan option they would like. Floor plans are partially driven by the amount of square-footage buyers choose. This, in turn, leads to another significant difference. Manufactured homes come in sections. These include single-wide, double-wide, or triple-wide designs.
Site-built purchases are either driven by the existing floor plan, securing a renovation home loan to change it, or going the route of new construction.
Another floor plan difference is that manufactured homes tend to be one-level structures, unlike site-built construction. That basically means manufactured home floor plans are usually horizontal, while site-built models have vertical options.
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5. What is the Difference in Cost?
Cost has been a critical driver which has supported a surge in manufactured home sales growth since the end of the recession. According to U.S. Census data, a 1,700-square-foot, double-wide manufactured home costs about $89,500. A 1,000-square-foot single-wide ran approximately $46,700.
According to Business Insider, the least expensive state to buy a single-family, site-built home is West Virginia at more than $108,000. Hawaii remains the most expensive place to buy an existing home at about $636,000. And, new construction costs range between $100 and $150 per square foot depending on the region, materials, and labor costs. That means a 1,000-square-foot home ranges between $100,000 and $150,000.
While several differences separate the two, cost-effectiveness and flexible options tend to sway new buyers toward manufactured homes.
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