Mobile homes are an affordable alternative to on-site
built homes. Also called manufactured homes, they are often found in
rural areas and high-density development areas.
A mobile home is built in a factory and then delivered
by tractor-trailer. Though they are called "mobile," most of these
homes are designed to be placed in one location for the life of the
structure. Mobile homes are often confused with the self-propelled
vehicles called motor homes or RVs. A mobile home is not intended to
be moved from site to site. When placed on a permanent
foundation, the home is only slightly different than a traditional
There are two main types of mobile homes: single-wides
and double-wides. A single-wide is approximately 16 feet in width,
while a double wide is usually over 24 feet in width. Most
double-wides are split in half for delivery and then joined together
on-site. There are also triple-wides and two-story mobile homes, but
they are rare.
Mobile homes are regulated by the United States
Department of Housing and Urban Development, under the Federal
National Manufactured Housing Construction and Safety Standards Act
of 1974. Because of their federal regulation, they aren't subject to
the local building authorities. This is what allows many mobile home
manufacturers to market to the entire country.
The history of the mobile home
The first mobile homes were derived from the travel
trailer, a small portable living space with permanent wheels. Travel
trailers were often used for camping and pulled behind vehicles for
motorized highway travel. Larger units were developed to be used for
several months in one location. These units were called house
The appeal of the house trailer was its mobility.
Units were initially marketed to consumers with a mobile lifestyle,
such as construction workers. But in the 1950s, manufactured homes
began being marketed as an inexpensive housing option. They were
beginning to be left in one location for a long period of time. Some
homes were permanently installed with masonry foundations.
In 1956, a 10-foot wide manufactured home was sold.
Previously, most trailers were only eight feet or less in width. The
larger living space helped distinguish the mobile home from the
travel trailer. Travel trailers could still be pulled by a vehicle,
while mobile homes required a professional trucking service to move.
Throughout the 1960s and 1970s, mobile homes grew both
longer and wider. Over time, they became less mobile and more like a
home. Today, the average mobile home is placed in one location and
never moved again.
Many consumers have turned to mobile homes as a more
economical alternative to an on-site built home. However, many
lenders look to mobile homes as a riskier type of housing. Securing
a loan for a mobile home has meant shorter term lengths and higher
interest rates. However, with the increased popularity in mobile
homes, it is now easier to find financing options for purchase.
Are there legal complications?
Manufactured homes have often been taxed as vehicles
throughout the years. This resulted in very low property taxes for
mobile home owners. Most taxing jurisdictions have reclassified
mobile homes as real estate property for taxing purposes.
Mobile homes have a high rate of depreciation in
value. This has also led to decreased property taxes for many
owners. Many jurisdictions have taken steps to limit the number of
manufactured homes within a certain area, most often placing
limitations on the size and density of developments that are
comprised of mobile homes.
Mobile homes tend to depreciate in value like motor
vehicles, while traditional homes appreciate in value. Many
homeowners don't like to see mobile homes move into their
neighborhoods, because they fear that their property values could be
depressed by the depreciation.
The combination of tax issues and depreciation factors
has led most jurisdictions to place zoning regulations on the areas
in which mobile homes can be placed. There are often restrictions as
to size, limitations on outside colors and foundation mandates. Many
areas will not allow any future manufactured homes, while others
have forbidden any single-wide models. Consumers looking to purchase
land for a mobile home are advised to check jurisdiction
The mobile home park
Though often associated with the
negatively-stereotyped trailer park, modern manufactured home parks
are not like the trailer parks of the past. Most parks have
standards in regards to size and styles of mobile homes allowed.
Many are very similar to traditional subdivision developments.
In many mobile home parks, the homes are owned by the
occupants and only the spaces are rented. There are a few
developments in which the lots are sold, making them almost
indistinguishable from traditional subdivisions. However, there are
some lower-end parks where the units are rental units owned by a
park operator. These developments are often considered to be trailer
parks, and aren't looked upon well by neighboring property owners.
New mobile homes, especially double-wides, are
built to much higher standards than trailers of the past. They are
built to meet a set of universal building codes which are applicable
to most areas. This has led to a decrease in the rate of value
Modern manufactured homes have few differences from
traditional homes. Many are built from materials similar to those
used in site-built homes. They contain sheet-rock and plaster walls
instead of paneling. They have fireplaces, whirlpool tubs and
kitchen islands. One of the only noticeable differences is that
mobile homes tend to have less of a roof slope so that they can be
transported underneath bridges and overpasses.
More double-wides are sold than single-wides, due
partly to the zoning restrictions and the options available in
double-wides. Single-wides are still popular in some areas, where
there are few restrictions. They are frequently used as temporary
housing in areas affected by natural disasters.
The difference between a mobile and a modular
Mobile homes are similar but not identical to modular
homes. Modular homes are transported to their locations on flatbed
trucks, not towed with axels and an auto-frame like a manufactured
Most modular homes are transported in two pieces by
two separate trucks. Each frame will have five or more axles t o
support the house. Once on site, the house is positioned on a
concrete foundation by a large crane.
Both manufactured homes and modular homes are
classified as manufactured housing. Most zoning restrictions,
however, only apply to mobile homes, not modular homes. Most modular
homes are indistinguishable from traditional housing once on a site.
Many are transported separately from their roofs, making the
telltale manufactured roofline unnecessary. The market for modular
homes has increased over the past few years.
As the demand for housing, the price of housing and
the quality of mobile home features increase, more people are
expected to turn to the traditional manufactured home industry.
Today's insurers and lenders often treat high-end double-wides just
as they would a traditional home when it comes to coverage and
Mobile homes vs. Tornados
Mobile homes are often associated with tornado
activity in the Midwest. This is due to the perception that tornados
strike mobile homes more frequently than other structures. This is
simply a myth. Tornados do not strike manufactured homes any more or
less than other types of homes.
But when a tornado does strike a mobile home, the
damage is far worse than it would be to a site-built home. Many
manufacturers offer and suggest the use of optional hurricane
straps, which are used to tie the home to anchors embedded in the
ground. This gives extra protection for the home during heavy winds.