Buying a mobile home isn’t the same as buying a traditional house built on site on a foundation. But depending on your budget and where you’re looking to buy, a factory-built home may be the right option for you.
Before you get started, know that mobile homes and manufactured homes are essentially the same thing. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development defines a factory-built house as a mobile home if it was built before June 15, 1976, and as a manufactured home if it was built after. In common use, the words are often used interchangeably, though it’s good to know the difference. Based on how they’re made, manufactured and mobile homes can also be referred to as prefabricated or “prefab” homes.
Here’s what you need to know about the costs associated with buying and living in a mobile home or manufactured home.
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How Much Does a Mobile Home Cost?
The U.S. Census Bureau reports the average sale price of a new manufactured home was $88,200 in August 2020, the most recent average price available.
Compared to a traditional house built on a foundation, a manufactured home is typically more affordable. The Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis reports the median sale price of a new house sold in August 2020 was $325,500, and prices continue to climb — in November 2020 the median sale price nationwide was $335,300.
But the total cost of a mobile or manufactured home can reach beyond the price of the structure itself. Here’s a breakdown of the costs associated with buying and owning a mobile home:
Cost Breakdown for a Mobile Home
— Single-wide or single-section home.
— Double-wide or double-section home.
— Add-ons and customizations.
— Home site.
— Renting in a community.
Single-Wide or Single-Section Home
As the smaller of two options, a single-wide manufactured home will naturally be less expensive than its larger counterpart. Because it also fits within a highway lane, there is less on-site work needed when a new manufactured single-section home is brought to the home site. The Census Bureau reports that the average price for a new single-wide manufactured home was $57,700 in August 2020. Manufactured home builder Clayton Homes reports that single-section homes range between 784 square feet and 1,440 square feet.
Double-Wide or Double-Section Home
A double-wide manufactured home is twice the size of a standard single-wide home, and comes at a higher price. When purchased new from a manufacturer, the home arrives in two parts and is assembled at the home site. The larger size also tends to allow for more customization when it comes to interior layout and the exterior. The U.S. Census Bureau reports that the average new double-section manufactured home cost $109,300 in August 2020. There are some homes that can be made of more than two sections, but they are less common.
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Add-Ons and Customizations
Like with buying a new-construction home that’s traditionally built, many manufactured homes can be customized. That includes the material of finishes like cabinets or plumbing fixtures, and some manufacturers may add a porch to the exterior of a home or even add a room to the property. Naturally, these customization costs can be minimal, but they can also become quite pricey.
“The cost of a home and customizations varies greatly by location. The more customizations you make, the more the cost will vary,” wrote Caitlyn Crosby, media relations manager for Clayton Homes, in an email. “Cosmetic customizations are likely to cost much less than adding square footage, such as an additional room — where floor plans will allow — or a garage.”
Because a manufactured home is built in a factory rather than on site, the land is evaluated differently. If you’re buying a manufactured home to place on land you own or are planning to buy, factor in the total cost of the land, property taxes included, as well as any additional needs for getting it ready to hold your home.
“While the overall needs for a home setup are not impacted by the site, the cost can be. The biggest variable is grade work or preparing the site for the home. The amount and cost of work will depend on the slope of the land, number of trees, condition of the soil and local requirements. Grade work also includes designing proper drainage, which helps ensure the home is protected from rain,” Crosby says.
Renting in a Community
You may choose to rent space in a mobile home park or manufactured home community, which vary greatly in condition, size and cost throughout the U.S. You still purchase the home from the previous owner, but the land it sits on is managed by a landlord. There are many communities that offer amenities like a pool, tennis courts and clubhouse for socializing, while others simply charge rent for use of the lot your house sits on.
Manufactured home magazine Mobile Home Living reported the average lot rent for mobile home parks for each state in late 2019, revealing vast differences: The average monthly lot rent in California was $707, while in Florida it was $400 and in Indiana it was $140.
Matthew Rearden, chief operating officer of Four Star Homes Inc., which works with buyers and sellers in manufactured home transactions and is based in Port Orange, Florida, says it’s important to know what’s included in a lot lease before you purchase an existing home in a community. “All of them allow you to keep your home there. Some include lawn care, other ones may include water, some include trash pickup,” Rearden says.
Considerations Before You Buy a Mobile or Manufactured Home
Before you buy a mobile or manufactured home, take these details into consideration:
— The purchase process differs from buying a house. If this is your first experience with a manufactured home compared to a traditionally built house, know that the purchase process and type of ownership is different. Because the home is not permanently built on land, it is personal property rather than real estate. “A manufactured mobile home actually has titles that are very similar to a car. You don’t have a property deed or anything, but you have a title,” Rearden says.
— You can’t get a traditional mortgage for a manufactured home. Because of the nature of manufactured homeownership, you can’t get a traditional mortgage and it may be harder to get a manufactured home loan. These types of loans do exist, however, and there are programs under Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac for conventional loans, or through the Federal Housing Administration and other government agencies.
— A manufactured home depreciates in value. While real estate typically increases in value over time, a manufactured home typically depreciates in value over time like a car. “But there is a really nice sweet spot where you can find a really nice manufactured home in the $25,000 to $50,000 range,” Rearden says, adding that when the home is maintained well and kept up to date, it’s less likely to lose significant value in this range.
— A simplified inspection will tell you what you need to know. While a home inspection for a house built through traditional construction can include hundreds of details and can take several hours to complete, Rearden says a simple four-point inspection will typically tell you all you need to know for a manufactured home. “It ensures the roof, the electric, the plumbing and the heat and air are in good working order,” Rearden says. Issues with those four systems will likely be the most expensive to deal with. Other issues related to the condition of the home will likely be easier to spot when you take a tour.
— Maintenance doesn’t change much. The good news about living in a manufactured home is that the necessary maintenance is roughly the same as in a traditionally built house, and the smaller footprint can mean that it’s less costly to maintain overall. “Any licensed tradesperson can work on an off-site built home,” Crosby says.
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