Manufactured homes have traveled a long way from their metal box image MOBILE HOMES IN THE FAST LANE

September 25, 1994|By Adriane B. Miller | Adriane B. Miller,Special to The Sun

Brenda Eveland can't wait to move into a new house.

She'll order her choice of carpet and draperies, select cabinets for the kitchen and choose a big whirlpool bath. She won't get to see her home until it lumbers off the interstate and rolls to a stop on her piece of land in Elk Neck in Cecil County. But she'll trade a few surprises for the $68,000 to $80,000 she'll save by buying a mobile home instead of a conventional house.

Ms. Eveland is among a growing number of people across the country opting for mobile homes -- or "manufactured housing" as the industry prefers to call them.

"They are built a lot nicer than they used to be," Ms. Eveland said.

Denise Miles spent months looking at site-built houses with price tags from $90,000 to $120,000 before choosing a manufactured home in Cecil County.

"Builders want to charge you so much for stick-built houses. We paid $30,000 for our mobile home three months ago," Ms. Miles said. For now, her new house is anchored in a mobile home park. She hopes to buy property soon and install it there permanently.

Mobile home sales and shipments have risen sharply in recent years, according to the Manufactured Housing Institute and U.S. Department of Commerce. Mobile home manufacturers shipped 147,720 houses in the first six months of 1994 -- 22 percent more than it shipped the year before, according to the institute. Meanwhile, the Department of Commerce reports note that site-built single-family housing starts were up 13 percent in the same period, and single-family home sales increased 6 percent.

The industry's South Atlantic region, which includes Maryland, took the largest share of mobile homes in the country from January to June 1994, with an almost 32 percent market share. Most houses have gone to North Carolina, 14,101, while Maryland has received comparatively few, 443, though that was up 4.5 percent from the previous year.

Mobile homes, of course, don't suit all tastes. Land costs are high in urban areas, so mobile home buyers typically have to choose land in more rural areas. Most dealerships in metropolitan Baltimore are in Harford or Howard counties, near rural areas where land costs are cheaper.

And while the manufactured housing industry says quality has improved, the thought of a prefabricated home still doesn't sit right with most buyers.

"It's the difference between buying an apple pie from the supermarket and having your mom bake one for you," said Randy Shelley of Shelley Construction Inc. of Monkton. "They are both apple pies. Depends on what you want."

Bruce Savage, director of public affairs for the Manufactured Housing Institute in Arlington, Va., said affordability is why the homes sell.

"Costs are anywhere from 25 to 50 percent less per square foot for manufactured homes than for traditional site-built homes," Mr. Savage said.

The cost of manufactured housing has increased, along with the cost of site-built housing, but at less of a clip. According to Census Bureau figures, the average price for a mobile home increased 92 percent from 1983 to 1993, from $15,900 to $30,500. Meanwhile, the average price for a site-built house went up 122 percent, from $50,000 to $110,775.

Sheldon Walter, sales associate for Schult Homes Corp. in Milton, Pa., said costs are low because manufactured houses can be more efficiently assembled than site-built houses.

"We control all the variables," said Mr. Walter, whose company makes mobile homes for the northeastern United States, and includes Maryland in its territory. "Weather, material cost and productivity are all documented and controlled under one roof in an assembly line. We don't have a lot of cost overruns."

Improved quality is another reason for more sales, Mr. Savage said. "The industry is more consumer-driven now. The types of homes and the aesthetics have improved dramatically."

Customers can choose multisection houses, double-wide and double-decked, that look more like a site-built house than the single-section box trailer of yesteryear. Many manufactured homes have pitched roofs, dormer windows and drywall construction.

Industry representatives concede that some people still think that mobile homes are cheaply built or could blow over in a stiff wind. "A lot of people think of a mobile home as what they knew in the '50s: A metal box and when the wind blows, they're going to collapse or a spark will fly and they'll go up in flames," Mr. Walter said. "Unfortunately, that was a concept that some of the homes fell into."

But the federal government established stiffer mobile home manufacturing guidelines in 1976, he said.

"These homes are transported across the highways of the Northeast, picked up by a crane and put on a foundation," Mr. Walter said. "They have to withstand a significant amount of stress just to get where they are going."

The house is 95 percent complete when it is shipped from the factory. Plumbing and electrical fixtures are installed, carpet and cabinets in place.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.