Cost and Quality: Breaking Down the Stigma of Manufactured Housing

One of the biggest challenges to mainstreaming the use of manufactured housing may be, ironically, its cost. Long recognized as affordable when compared to site-built homes, manufactured housing’s lower costs come at a price. That price is the ongoing stigma that many communities and residents hold against manufactured housing.

Questioning Quality

While house hunters, like most consumers, are price sensitive, price can also signal to potential buyers’ concerns, playing off biases they may have about manufactured housing. It’s likely that Americans’ perceptions of manufactured housing are at least somewhat related to cost and general assumptions about lower-cost (and thereby, lower-income) housing. This is directly related to concerns about quality. To many, cheaper homes may mean lower quality, cheaper materials and building methods. This is largely, but not completely, unfounded.

How non-potential buyers see manufactured homes is also very important. A survey of Virginia residents from 2000, underscores this challenge. Respondents stated that they thought manufactured homes brought down nearby property values, for example, in part, perhaps, because the homes are likely to cost less than existing homes.  When such attitudes prevail, it is hard to convince localities to improve land use rules to accommodate manufactured housing. Indeed, these attitudes encourage the opposite, as some leaders wish to further restrict the siting of manufactured housing.

The Problem of Perception

Manufactured housing is often conflated with mobile homes, which, although have not been build since 1976, are still relatively common across the United States. Public perceptions of manufactured homes are certainly influenced by the public’s views of pre-1976 homes and older mobile home parks.

The 1976 HUD Code, mandated by Congress, improved and standardized manufactured housing. Prior to the code, purchasers could not be certain what they were purchasing. After the code’s implementation, the problems with the homes didn’t go away. Recent research shows that homes built after the code, but before its 1994 update, are more often than mobile homes to have physical problems such leaking exteriors and heating failures. While such problems can be attributed to construction, maintenance or both, these conditions likely inform the public’s opinion about the sector’s overall quality, including that of newer homes. The 1994 HUD Code updates were needed to address the construction shortcomings; they also have helped public perception.

Revamping Manufactured Housing’s Reputation

To better position manufactured housing as a good quality, lower cost housing option, advocates and industry leaders need to do a better job highlighting why the homes are less expensive and at the same time assuring potential buyers of their quality, and that they are one part of the larger housing ecosystem.

To get the public to no longer equate lower costs with lower quality, the sector needs to demonstrate that these are not always related. Much of the savings in manufactured housing comes from the standardization of the homes components and final product and building conditions that reduce waste and eliminate weather delays and encourage production. That said, cheaper materials and processes are still common in the industry. For example, vinyl on gypsum wall panels are prevalent in the industry, especially in lower cost homes. These are almost nonexistent in site-built construction.  Too often consumers see brands of fixtures that are unknown to them and anyone outside the manufactured housing field. Making these less common would raise costs, but scale would help address that in part. It certainly would make the homes reach a wider buying public.

As with the 1976 HUD Code and its 1994 update, the manufactured housing industry won’t do this on its own. Outside forces, such as financing, have started to move the needle. When Congress passed the Housing and Economic Recovery Act of 2008, it included a Duty to Serve provision requiring Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac better serve the manufactured home market. Both government-sponsored enterprises have launched new loan products to encourage lending and purchasing on new classes of homes.

Communities should adopt land use regulations that encourage all types of housing. This is fundamental to meet growing demand. Manufactured housing, even in its newest versions, is less expensive than alternatives has to be part of the solution.

Housing advocates can help, too. By joining our I’M HOME Network, you can add your voice and support to the thousands of Prosperity Now community members who are working to turn manufactured housing’s undeserved bad rap around.

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