Friday, October 24, 2014

Alana Semuels — The Case for Trailer Parks

Houses made in a factory are a cheap and energy-efficient way for poorer Americans to become homeowners—plus, these days, the mass-produced units can be pretty spiffy.
They are called "modular homes" and "manufactured homes" now, and some can be "pretty spiffy" indeed. Companies generally offer basic units that are quite affordable, and these can be customized and upgraded to make them spiffier.

A big advantage is that they are relatively simple for just about anyone to do. The fist step is to secure a property, such as a vacant lot in a town, but many people prefer some acreage in the country. The next step is to decide on a manufacturer and negotiate a unit. Then the necessary foundation has to be contracted, as well as a driveway and garage, which are usually owner add-ons. The contracting is minimal. The only wait is usually on the foundation and garage if local labor is busy at the time That's often not an issue now, but it was at the height of the housing boom when the waiting lists were jammed.

There are several advantages to going this route. First, it's a way to get affordable housing with a new home of one's choice instead of being limited to inventory on the market. Most contractors don't usually build affordable homes on spec nowadays and they are reluctant to build smaller units to order, too, since profit is directly proportional to the cost. Contractors prefer big. So most affordable housing is older and smaller housing. Since the demand is high for these houses, the prices tend to be dear in terms of value.

Secondly, it gives everyone the opportunity to contract their own home even without construction expertise. This way it is relative simple for most anyone to get into the business, or to "build" one's own place.

The problem is that this type of housing can be difficult to finance since it is "unconventional." This varies by area, however, and it is becoming more acceptable with improvements in the industry. It is even possible to import modular housing at attractive pricing even with the shipping and 6% duty.

This fledgling industry took a big hit along with the rest of housing, but I predict a big comeback. It's an idea whose time has come. And as the article also points out, a lot of this construction is "green."

BTW, the old "trailers," that is, "single-wides," are still produced but they have largely been replaced with double and triple-wides and by RV's and tiny houses. In 2007, the average new single wide was $37, 100, about half of what the average new double wide cost. That's about what a new truck costs. Tiny homes are comparable in cost, but usually quite a bit smaller than single-wides, which can run over 1000 sq. ft. And the tiny house movement is reportedly growing.

Atlantic Business
The Case for Trailer Parks
Alana Semuels

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