Modular, Manufactured, or Mobile Home, What’s the Difference? Plenty!

By Ninah Hunter, Real Estate Editor

[October 2019 | San Juan Silver Stage | by Ninah Hunter, Real Estate Editor]

Ninah Hunter Real Estate broker

The terms “modular home,” “manufactured home,” and “mobile home,” are often used interchangeably to mean the same thing (even among real estate professionals). In fact, these terms describe three different types of homes. All of these homes differ from the traditional wood-frame or stick-built home. It is important to know the differences when shopping for a new home, especially if you need a mortgage to purchase one.

Modular Home. A “modular home,” also sometimes called a “system-built home,” is built in sections at a factory. The sections are moved on large truck beds to the building site, where they are assembled. Construction of a modular home must conform to state and local building codes. They are built on a permanent foundation, the same as a stick-built home and can be two (or up to four) stories. When completed, there is little discernible difference between a modular home and a stick-built home. Proponents of modulars claim they are actually better built than some stick-built homes because the indoor, environmentally-controlled conditions in the factory create sturdier, more resilient sections.

A modular home is treated the same as a stick-built home for purposes of financing.

Kopper Creek modular home. Courtesy photo.

Kopper Creek modular home. Courtesy photo.

System-built structures aren’t just limited to private homes. Kopper Creek, in Montrose, has built McDonald’s, banks, office buildings, schools, and hotels. “We can build any kind of structure, from single-family residences to commercial buildings,” said owner, KC Heister. KC and his wife Cattye invite you to come by and see model homes—there are four on their lot south of town now. Everything (inside and out) is custom-designed for each home, and they can even help with financing.

Manufactured Home. The term “manufactured home” is the more recent term for “mobile home.” A manufactured home technically refers to one built after June 15, 1976, when the Federal Manufactured Home Construction and Safety Standard Act was enacted.

A manufactured home is built entirely in a factory in accordance with federal building codes governed by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). These homes are built on permanent I-beams which are never removed, to which wheels are attached to transport them from factory to home site. Manufactured homes can be single-wide (1 section) or double-wide or even triple-wide, and never more than 1 story. Each section of a manufactured home is labeled with a seal or tag (similar to a license plate), commonly referred to as a HUD tag, to prove it was built to HUD standards.

Manufactured homes are often mistakenly called a “trailer” because they are initially transported on wheels (mobile) and may be only a single-wide, and often reside in mobile home or “trailer” parks. Once they are moved to their ultimate location on a lot or in a mobile home park, the wheels are almost always removed. If not set on a permanent foundation, a skirting is normally installed around the base, as you see in mobile home parks. If they are moved again to a different location, it usually takes a house mover, like Vogy Transporting to move them like you would a stick-built house.] Manufactured homes retain their status and title as personal property, just like a motorized vehicle registered with the state Department of Vehicles, unless they are set on a permanent foundation on a lot owned by the homeowner and the title is purged.

Manufactured homes generally depreciate in value, similar to a car or trailer, although the land on which it sits may appreciate.

Mortgage terms for a manufactured home are generally more restrictive and not as good as for stick-built or modular homes. Mortgage financing is not possible if a manufactured home is not on a permanent foundation and title has not been purged.

Mobile Home. Mobile (or manufactured) homes, built before June 15, 1976, when the Federal Manufactured Home Construction and Safety Standard Act was enacted, are not regulated. That is probably the reason that manufactured homes are still somewhat stigmatized today, even though more recently constructed manufactured homes can have the look and feel of a very nice, stick-built or modular home.

A pre-HUD mobile home cannot be financed with a regular mortgage, and most banks won’t finance them. Cash or seller financing may be the only way to buy a pre-1976 mobile home.