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House-like Mobile Homes

Say the words ' mobile home ' and right away eyes glaze over.  They bring images of spongy floors, plastic tubs and loud neighbors.

Yet mobile homes (or ' manufactured homes ' as they came to be called after HUD stepped in, in 1976, to regulate their construction) actually offer the easiest, most flexible, least complicated solution to rapid downsizing.  And the options are endless.

Those options include:

  • identifying a target location and finding an available unit there
  • purchasing land and placing a new unit on it
  • working with a developer who sells a combined package of property and unit

The key is to remember that the focus of your life is shifting from 'castle building' to 'freedom finding' -- a total shift in priorities. 

What most manufactured home 'converts' will tell you after making the shift is how free they feel.

Just take the story of Billy and Akaisha Kaderli:  check out their story here.

Industry Definitions for the Uninitiated: Manufactured, Modular or Mobile Home 

Probably the clearest definition -- or differentiation -- is provided by NADA (National Automobile Dealers Association).  Just click on the 'Manufactured Homes' tab at the top of that page:

What is a manufactured home ?

A manufactured home is any home factory-built in the U.S. to the HUD Title 6 construction standards (commonly known as ‘the HUD-code’). The HUD-code took effect June 15, 1976.

A HUD-coded home will display documentation called the Certification Label and the Data Plate. The red Certification Label (sometimes called the HUD Label) can be located on the tail end of each transportable section of the home. The Data Plate will be located inside of the home. Regulation states that the Data Plate be affixed inside the home on or near the main electrical breaker box, or other readily visible/accessible location. These documents are extremely important; as per the HUD Title 6 regulation removal is illegal. Removal could hinder the buying, selling, financing, or insuring of a manufactured home; they are not replaceable.

A manufactured home is built on a permanent chassis to ensure transportability. However, typically a manufactured home is not moved from its initial installed site.

What is a modular home ?

A modular home is any home factory-built to a local state code. In some cases, a state may have adopted one of the uniform construction codes (i.e. UBC, IRC, etc.).

Modular homes will not have the red Certification Label, but will have a label attached to the home stating the code it was built to. The appropriate State Modular Code Agency will be able to assist you in locating the modular label.

A modular home can be built as an “on-frame” or “off-frame” modular. On-frame will be built on a permanent chassis, whereas, the off-frame modular will be built with removal of the chassis frame in mind. An off-frame modular will usually require additional cranes to assist with home placement. Modular homes are, more often than not, attached to private land

What is a mobile home ?

A mobile home is a factory-built home that is 1) built before June 15, 1976, and 2) not built to a uniform construction code.

And what is a trailer?  An expression that has survived as a result of close-mindedness, lack of knowledge ... and lack of creative vision!


Owning the Land: A Major Consideration

The decision to own the land on which a manufactured home sits, or not, is a very personal one.  It is not a requirement. 

The advantage of owning the land? 

You can never be asked to move. (Moving a manufactured home is a difficult proposition, but not impossible.  You've probably seen them being moved down the highway, slowly.  In fact you've probably been caught behind a moving convoy on a winding road somewhere ...).  The amount of autonomy you have in that ownership will depend on whether you are on a totally separate piece of private land, or if you own the lot under your unit as part of a park.  Depends also on how much autonomy you want.

The disadvantage of owning the land? 

  • You will have to pay property taxes
  • you will have more of your money tied up in a fixed asset
  • you take on many of the chores of regular home ownership 
  • you may even have to deal with an association to manage the common areas.

And what does it mean if you don't own the land?  Well, your home will be located in a park, where the property is owned by the park owner/management.  And the freedom is marvelous:  water and sewer may be metered, or not, but the park worries about getting it to and from your home.  Light and phone are direct relationships between you and the utility providers.  Roads and common areas are not your problem.  And particularly in 55+ parks, since most people have similar priorities, it's easy to find a neighbor willing to keep watch over your place when you head off on trips to see the grandkids ... or to snorkel in Belize!

The Price Tag for Manufactured Homes ?

Prices depend upon many factors.  In the case of new homes, size, floor plans and features will cause the price to range from $15,000 to $100,000.

On older units, the cost is also affected by wear-and-tear, build-outs and extensions (everyone needs a Florida room ...), as well as location (an issue, because it is unlikely you will purchase an existing unit in order to move it elsewhere).

Again, NADA is an excellent resource in assessing the value of existing units.  This link leads to an interactive form that can be used assess the value of a particular home.

A House-like Hybrid Solution

Entrance gardenA manufactured home, no matter how old, can provide the framework for a 'hybrid' solution.  Let me give you an example. 

In early 2002, I found a model '1973 Mercury' mobile home beside a small lake in South Florida and bought it for $20,000.  It was within a park, on a leased 50x75-foot lot.  Monthly land rent was $375 (today up to $450). 

BathroomI virtually gutted the unit, tore out non-loadbearing walls and rebuilt it from the floor up ... and from the outer shell in ... exactly like a standard house.  All new electric and copper plumbing.  All dry-walled: walls and ceilings.  High-hat lighting.  New windows.  New sub-flooring and Pergo throughout, except for tiled baths.  All fixtures and appliances purchased from 'big box' home improvement stores, nothing from specialized manufactured home suppliers.

I did most of the work myself, except for licensed tradesmen (plumbers, electricians, etc.) ... and a few brawny friends.  Total cost of renovating?  $30,000 plus my time, aches and pains.

 Living room  Kitchen

Water featureToday, for a total of $50,000 I have a 1,000-sq-ft home as enjoyable as the one I sold for 8 times as much, before downsizing.  In the evening I sit with friends, sipping cocktails on the deck overlooking the little lake or on the side deck under the massive banyan tree, listening to the trickling water in the natural stone waterfall I installed.  And listening to them tell me about how they can't pay their mortgages. 

As for operating costs:  $450 per month for land rent; $115 per month for electric (a Florida kWh is expensive); $25 per month for water; $1,700 per year for homeowners and hurricane insurance [Note: coverage is limited to $25,000 by Florida insurance commission ruling], and NO PROPERTY TAX.  Oh yes, because it's a double unit, I have to pay the Department of Motor Vehicles for two registrations:  a total of $64.50 per year!


Consumers Union (publisher of Consumer Reports) offers excellent information it is Buying Guide.

A website called Manufactured Housing Global Network provides vast information on its portal.

NADA publishes a guide on How to Buy a Manufactured Home.

Some More Reading


Monday, July 30, 2007

Housing to Live on Less - Advice from the Retire Early Lifestyle Couple

by Nancy Fernandez Mills

Billy and Akaisha Kaderli retired early…very early! At the age of 38, they left their lives as stock broker (Billy) and restaurant manager (Akaisha) and moved from California to the tiny West Indies island of Nevis. From there, they began to travel the world. Today, they maintain a home in an active adult community in Arizona. They’re still retired and say they manage to live on $ 24,000 a year.

Billy and Akaisha make their home in an Active Adult Community, where they spend about half of every year.

“We have the best of both worlds,” says Akaisha. “Billy and I often leave the States for months at a time to visit exotic locations. We set up a home base on the other side of the globe and settle into the local community. Then, due to visa restrictions or a desire to see family and friends once again, we return home to America’s stunning Southwest.”

The home they chose is a “manufactured” home. From appearance, it’s similar to a trailer but shaped more like a bungalow or small ranch house. It offers about 1000 square feet of living space and is priced around $ 7000.

“I realize that there are some who feel that manufactured housing aren't real homes, that they are like toys, or somehow, inferior places to live. These types of houses have improved greatly over the years, and the attractiveness of their affordability has been proven by their rise in sales," say Billy. “Our home is paid for so we don't carry a mortgage with the financial weight that this brings to any lifestyle. Let me say that this is a very attractive arrangement and it frees us up to roam the world, renting apartments or hotel rooms without thought of draining our finances in the housing category.”

Billy and Akaisha take advantage of their community’s many amenities, including social clubs, ballrooms for dancing, computer centers, fitness rooms, tennis courts, swimming pools, softball fields, libraries, travel offices, and lecture halls. All are included in a reasonable “lifestyle fee.” They don’t own their land, however. They decided that leasing was a better option, leaving more of their money available for travel.

”It’s our position that many people do not realize how expensive owning property is. The maintenance it requires and the rising property taxes are expenses that cannot be ignored. We’ve lived here since the early 1990's, and our lifestyle fees are less than most homeowner's property tax bill. During these many years, our lease has increased a couple of hundred dollars total, but it is still a measurable value for all of the amenities included,” says Akaisha.

By owning less, Akaisha and Billy have less to insure. The say they feel a greater sense of freedom, to just lock the door and walk away to travel or visit friends and family. They know it’s not for everyone, but they prefer to pay for experiences, to buy very little “stuff” and to have time to pursue hobbies, volunteer and community activities and making friends and memories around the globe.

It's not for everyone, by it's a low stress way to live!



Do you know how much 'property tax' is charged on a mobile home?  [Answer: about the cost of a tankful of gas!]
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