At one time, the only type of prefabricated home that could be purchased was a house trailer. As the industry grew, so did the size of the homes. They were called mobile homes starting in the 1950's, when buying one was extremely popular, and competition was fierce. Today, the mobile home has evolved quite a bit from its humble beginnings, and the offerings are just as surprising.
The size of mobile homes has grown over the last 80 years, but so too has the market. Annually, nearly a quarter of a million prefabricated homes are sold with a market value that exceeded $9 billion in 2019. In addition, today's homes are built to standards that make them safer than ever before.
Mobile home safety became a concern in the late 1950's and early 1960's. That's because mobile homes were originally built to be temporary housing and recreational vehicles. With more homeowners buying mobile homes to serve as permanent residences, the government stepped in to place quality controls on the structures.
The first true set of builder standards appeared in 1976, and was developed by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. These standards were aimed at improving the overall quality of the homes themselves. As recently as 1994, HUD issued new standards to address wind resistance, fire safety, strength, and energy efficiency concerns.
These changes in building standards mean that buying a mobile home made before 1976 is a much riskier undertaking than purchasing one manufactured after 1976 or even 1994. It's possible to identify a home built to the standards of 1976 by looking for a red label, which is a manufacturer's certification that the home was built to the HUD construction and safety standards.
Now that we have a better understanding of the history of mobile homes, let's talk about some of the top rated designs found on the market today. To do that we're going to focus on three of the largest prefabricated home manufacturers, all with a national presence. This should provide potential buyers with a very good feel for what they can expect to find in their area of the country.
Founded in 1966, and now owned by Berkshire Hathaway, Clayton Homes Inc. builds, sells and finances manufactured homes through 1,100 independent retailers and nearly 1,000 sales centers in 30 states. Clayton also owns and operates nearly 90 communities consisting of 23,000 home sites in 11 states.
Clayton received seven prestigious Awards of Distinction at the Modular Building Institute's (MBI) "World of Modular" annual meeting in 2013. Clayton claims to offer a full array of affordable mobile and manufactured homes, including hundreds of different floor plans.
Located in Auburn Hills, Michigan, Champion Enterprises claims to be the world's largest builder of manufactured homes. Since its beginnings in 1953, Champion has built 1.7 million homes located throughout the United States and Western Canada.
Champion sells through 16 brands, has hundreds of floor plans and has nearly 30 manufacturing plants located throughout the United States. The Silver Crest brand is often viewed as the highest quality built home in the industry.
Homes range in size from 800 to nearly 4,500 square feet. Like all of the larger mobile home manufacturers, Champion offers turnkey services to new home buyers, including financing and site location.
In the past eight years, Champion has received 17 industry design awards including "Best New Home Design" and "Excellence in Home Design" from the Manufactured Housing Institute (MHI) and the National Association of Homebuilders (NAHB).
Fleetwood is recognized as a leader in the recreational vehicle and mobile home industry. Also starting out during the mobile home boom of the 1950s, Fleetwood has split its manufactured home trade along two formal business lines: recreational vehicles and mobile homes.
Fleetwood claims to offer the best warranty in the industry, covering the home's entire infrastructure (electrical, plumbing) for the life of the warranty and without a deductible. In 2014, Fleetwood's parent company, Cavco Industries was awarded the prestigious title of Manufacturer of the Year by the Manufactured Housing Institute (MHI), for the fifth year in a row.
Award winning homes from Fleetwood include:
Anyone thinking about buying a mobile home needs to do some research before making any commitments. We have several resources in this area including mortgage calculators as well as information for the first time home buyer. We also offer specialized help with topic such as closing costs. These articles, and many more, can be found in the section of this publication dedicated to buying a home.
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