Differences Between Trailer Parks and Manufactured Homes | HomeFirst

Comparing Traditional Trailer Park Homes vs. Luxurious Manufactured Homes

Comparing Traditional Trailer Park Homes vs. Luxurious Manufactured Homes

“I’m from the State of South Carolina where twenty percent of our homes are mobile,” said a Miss America contestant. “Because that’s how we roll.”

The southern beauty created quite the controversy when she introduced herself to the pageant. Her perceived negative slight on “trailer trash” or people residing in mobile homes caused the media to do a little fact checking when they called the budding queen on her remarks. To their surprise, the U.S. Census confirmed her figure was quite accurate. In fact, an estimated twenty million Americans live in homes that are factory-manufactured and shipped to their site. Miss South Carolina was right in her numbers but wrong with her terminology in describing this increasingly popular type of housing.

South Carolina actually is the leading state for people living in “manufactured homes,” not mobile ones. Many have long discounted the term “mobile” home. It’s been replaced by the far more suitable “manufactured” home, which better describes the luxury designs and features of today’s homes, factory-built under controlled conditions using top-quality products and finishings.

Although South Carolina may have the largest amount of happily occupied manufactured homes, this is no reflection on the State’s booming economy, prosperity and perceived propensity to buying something cheap and inferior. “Mobile homes” and “trailer parks” were once a stigma of lower class, poor people who banded together in substandard dwellings that they could pick up and tow away at a moment’s notice.

This negative connotation has all but disappeared in most of America as the manufactured home industry evolved and became a leader in many urban and rural housing markets. Modern manufactured home communities, for instance, have replaced traditional trailer parks in Michigan. These factory-assembled homes offer the height of luxurious amenities that are equal to or better than anything a conventional, “stick” or site-built home can provide.

Manufactured homes in Michigan now account for a sizeable market share, and for good reason. The average cost of a manufactured home is 15 to 20 percent less than equivalent sized, site-built homes. Manufactured homes found in Michigan are built with tighter quality control, better energy efficiency and every luxurious option that their more expensive competitors can offer.

Today’s superior quality manufactured homes have shed the “mobile” tag and the perception that went with their ancient predecessors. In 1976, the factory-built manufactured home industry went through an enormous change in tightening up the quality and safety issues once associated with “mobile” homes. Forty years later, custom manufactured homes have totally replaced mobile homes for sale not only in Michigan, but also across the nation.

Why this has happened and why today’s manufactured homes are so luxurious compared to the old mobile homes is no accident. The industry responded to consumer demands and needs where homes could be built in a climate and process-controlled factory setting where they are produced faster, with higher standards, less waste and able to parley bulk buying of quality products into cost savings passed on to the purchaser. That includes providing luxurious products as well.

How this happened requires a look back at the history of how mobile homes began and how they evolved into today’s luxurious manufactured homes.

History of Mobile and Manufactured Homes

Once the automobile took hold and America’s highway system developed, adventuresome people took to the road, exploring their backyards and across the nation. Mobile recreational homes were high in demand and needed to be compact and light to tow, trailing the family vehicle from campsite to campsite. To be cost-effective, manufacturers built these “trailers” or “mobile homes” in factories using assembly line techniques and mass-produced with a focus on economy rather than quality.

When the depression hit, hard-times forced many folks to use their mobile vacation home as a permanent dwelling. Living in “trailers” was prohibited inside most city limits, so impoverished people parked their trailers on vacant properties outside the metropolis. This flourished into “trailer parks,” with common service amenities like water, some sewer and communal washing facilities.

Responding to a critical housing need after the World War II, mobile home production increased and evolved to increasingly larger units that could still be towed from location to location as the owners migrated. These mobile homes grew from eight feet wide — which was the maximum width a trailer was allowed on most highways — to ten, twelve and fourteen feet. These units required heavier trucks with special permits. However, the trend was changing from multiple moves to a more common situation, where people towed the home from the factory to a site where it would be set more or less permanently on a pad or foundation.

The need for economic, easily moved housing was changing to a need for readily available and easy to situate housing, both in rural and urban locations. Low price was still a main virtue for these less mobile homes. However, the increasingly sophisticated purchasers demanded homes more suited to their tastes. By the 1960’s, mobile homes were common in many trailer parks across America, but the stigma of poor quality and lower economic class remained in place.

There was a good reason for this perception, because it was closer to reality than myth. At the time, mobile home quality was far behind site-built homes, permanently constructed on a concrete foundation using dimensional lumber or “sticks” for the frameworks. Without question, the stick-built homes were superior to the factory-built mobile home of the mid-twentieth century. This wasn’t just in structural integrity. It included energy efficiency in insulation, heating and ventilation, as well as in safety features.

Mobile homes in the 60’s were notorious for being cold, drafty, catching fire and even being destroyed in hurricanes and tornadoes. This amplified the public perception that went along with mobile homes. The cliché of “like a twister to a trailer park” stuck to the walls of the old homes that were factory-built and moved to a site in one piece.

Financial institutes also recognized the risks and retention of value that went along with lending to “trailers.” Mobile homes were “personal property” in that they belonged to an individual and could be easily transported, just like a vehicle. They weren’t considered “real property” like a house on a foundation that included land as part of the package. Personal property was deemed a higher risk and was financed at a higher, more controlled rate than real property, where the land was permanent and could fall within conventional mortgage rules.

The dilemma of producing economical, transportable housing that was safe, energy efficient and quality-controlled was a major problem for the factories. It was also a problem for regulatory bodies that experienced more and more of mobile homes installed in their areas that didn’t comply with neither building codes nor the zonings. Insurance companies were reluctant to protect many mobiles and the banks were either shy about financing or adjusted their rates disproportionality to conventional homes.

There clearly was a continuing demand for factory-built homes. In fact, the market was growing and now demanding better quality with safer, more energy efficiency and providing the luxury that had been confined to a site-built market.

The Manufactured Home Industry Changes

The manufactured home industry properly responded, as did the federal government. In July 1976, the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) regulated homes manufactured in a factory to bring them in line with the safety, structural, mechanical and energy efficiency codes that applied to stick-built homes.

The HUD Code took a unique approach in enforcing building standards. While most state and local building codes used a “prescriptive” base to rules and regulations, the HUD Code used a “performance” standard. This meant that the manufactured home industry could be flexible in selecting their methods of construction and building materials to meet a minimum performance standard, leaving the industry unshackled to develop and build as they saw fit, as long as the house performed to expectations.

This was different and novel from the conventional residential site-building industry, forced by regulation to use exactly a specific product or technique to satisfy standards. That might be for air leakage, ventilation and even seismic or wind-shear resistance that proved very restrictive as well as expensive to conform.

The prescriptive approach allowed the manufactured home industry innovate and be free to experiment with better, faster and lower-priced materials and methods, thereby passing on the savings to the consumer. This left the homebuyer free to capitalize on the savings. That often resulted in the extra money spent on luxurious items and systems. The manufactured home industry flourished from the HUD regulations and took a giant leap in evolution, going from a stigma of serving the poor to providing the more affluent with a better-built product and a host of customization options in design and luxury items.

The HUD Code also came with an official name change for the factory-built home industry. In a smart move to reduce institutional discrimination, the Department of Housing and Urban Development abandoned and discouraged the term “mobile home.” Instead, they officially adopted “manufactured housing,” which was a far more acceptable, current and meaningful identity for an industry that government and private business were committed to improving.

Central to the name change was a technical foundation to the manufactured home industry that defined and restricted its movement and placement. Gone were the attached wheels and trailer hitch tongues of the old mobile homes. The new generation of factory-manufactured homes were stabilized on a metal chassis that remained with the house from its start on the assembly line, through construction, during shipping and even when the home was established in its final site. That might be on a pad in a manufactured home community or on a permanent foundation on a designated piece of land.

Additionally, the HUD Code mandated that every manufactured home built in the United States be inspected by a third party, accredited source and fixed with a prominent red and silver label certifying the unit was approved to proper and current standards. By 2000, the Manufactured Home Improvement Act further boosted the reputation of quality in manufactured homes and the term “mobile home” or “trailer” was properly set in the background.

Private industry also took a responsible, leading role in manufactured home standards. The Manufactured Housing Institute is an industry administered, not-for-profit agency that not only self-regulates manufactured housing, it promotes consumer education as well as builder training and research into better building products and techniques.

Today’s Modern Manufactured Homes

Without a doubt, today’s manufactured homes don’t remotely resemble yesterday’s trailers or mobile homes. There are tremendous choices of sizes, layouts, facades and amenities, including every luxurious upgrade you can find as an option on conventional, site-built, stick homes. Full customization is available from most manufactured home builders. This is an attractive feature for budget-minded purchasers who can exchange extra money on luxury as opposed to having it absorbed in production inefficiency.

The savings gained in purchasing a manufactured home starts with the factory environment. It’s not just quality controlled. It’s the weather controlled setting and construction time not wasted or delayed by rain, snow, ice, sun or wind. Site-built problems like shortage of material, damage, theft and waste by unskilled labor are eliminated in a factory setting. Economies of scale also happen in factory building. Bulk purchases of materials result in significant savings and skilled, properly supervised workers with the right tools and knowledge combine to pass on the manufactured home value to the end user.

Technological advances evolved in the manufactured home industry, now letting factory builders present every type of façade, architectural details and exterior finish that site builders use. Truly, today’s manufactured homes are indistinguishable from their more expensive rivals, and not just from the outside. It’s on the inside as well.

Luxury in Manufactured Homes

Hardwood floors, granite countertops and Jacuzzi soaker tubs used to be for the rich and affluent custom home market. Not anymore. Today’s manufactured homes are available with practically every custom design and appointment you can think of.

Outside, manufactured homes appear with high-pitched roofs and architectural shingles. They have wrap-around porches, brick or stone accents, shutters, gables and attached garages. Walk inside and you’ll see gleaming floors that might be engineered wood or they might be a high-quality laminate that’s indistinguishable from oak or maple. You’ll see bright, stainless steel appliances, stone counters, cabinetry that’s right out of a show-home and window dressings direct from a magazine cover.

You’ll find a draft-free and quiet ambiance that uses Energy Star appliances, furnaces, air conditioners and hot water tanks. There could be solar panels and there’s probably wiring for a home entertainment center if not the whole package.

All these luxuries come with a price, but it’s nowhere near what you’d have to pay for in a conventional, site-built home.

Customization and consumer choice keep improving in today’s manufactured homes. Moreover, the value, plus the stigma, has changed dramatically from the old trailer park days to the new and luxurious custom manufactured home communities like those HomeFirst™ Communities has developed in southeast Michigan.

To learn more about luxury in manufactured homes visit a HomeFirst™ in one of 15 communities of manufactured homes for sale in southeast Michigan located in:

  • Belleville manufactured homes
  • Holly manufactured homes
  • Jackson manufactured homes
  • Lansing manufactured homes
  • Milford manufactured homes
  • Clemens manufactured homes
  • New Haven manufactured homes
  • South Lyon manufactured homes
  • Whitmore Lake manufactured homes

If you’re interested in luxury manufactured homes for sale in Michigan, schedule a tour or call 1 (844) TRY-HFCC for more information about your desired community.