Do Manufactured Homes Have A Shelf Life?

Am I supposed to take the roof off and smell manufactured homes to see if they’ve spoiled like milk? Do they have an expiration date stamped on the frame? Can you fit one in a curbside polycart?

If not, then why, as a community owner, do I get asked all the time by banks, buyers, residents even at cocktail parties how long a manufactured home is expected to last? Is the correct answer “forever”, or are manufactured homes truly temporary and disposable?

The construction process

A manufactured home is made predominantly out of wood and metal. A stick-built home is also made out of wood and metal. So why is one permanent and one temporary? Sure, the manufactured home is lighter than the stick-built home. This is mainly due to the absence of any masonry (bricks, fireplaces, etc.) and the fact that, by design, the framing is reduced. But the actual materials are the same in a manufactured home as in a stick-built one. Do these materials ever wear out? I live in a 200 year old house. Other than the stone walls, it is made of wood and metal. And I don’t have any doubts it can go another 200 years. I grew up in a house that was 50 years old, and it’s still standing today. In fact, I never hear of anyone who had to abandon a home because the wood and metal finally wore out. It just doesn’t do that. Properly cared for, the components that make up a manufactured home should last forever.

So what about the design? Well, the design is not temporary in nature. If anything, the manufactured home design would imply a longer life span than a stick-built home. Rather than a foundation which can shift and crack over time, the manufactured home is on a metal chassis that should last forever. Additionally, the simple roof design, if kept up, keeps the possibility of moisture intrusion lower in the manufactured home. No, there is nothing about the design that would imply a lack of longevity.

Use and ability to wear out

You live in a manufactured home. You live in a stick-built home. What’s the difference? The regular course of business in a home is to get up, go to work, come home, cook dinner, watch some T.V., go to bed. How is this going to wear out a manufactured home any quicker than it does a stick-built? Many people point to the rowdy lifestyle found in some one-star manufactured home communities. But with the exception of this subset, which would tear up a stick-built home with the same speed, where is the damage going to come from to destroy the manufactured home? From turning the door-knob too many times? From walking the same path from the living room to the kitchen over and over?

I can’t see where the stress is coming from to render a manufactured home temporary and a stick-built permanent.

Obsolescence

At some point in a manufactured home’s life does it wake up to find that it is obsolete? How can that happen? As a dwelling, the general pattern of American tastes has not changed that much over the last 100 years or more. Most people expect bedrooms, bathrooms, kitchens, living rooms, closets and the like in their homes. Are we expecting one day that all consumers demand an in-home movie theater and start to abandon all homes that do not have one? And if that did occur, why would they only abandon the manufactured homes and not the stick-built?

If we’re going to be picky, let’s remember that the manufactured home business has only been around since about the 1940s. And HUD code homes since 1976. But there’s a ton of stick-built inventory that is from the 1800s almost 100 years earlier. If something’s going to go obsolete, it would be that older stick-built housing, right? I live near St. Louis, and there are thousands of dwellings there built around the time of Abraham Lincoln, with tiny bedrooms and bathrooms that were installed later after the outhouse went out of fashion. I think we should be reviewing those in a conversation of housing obsolescence before we even bring up manufactured housing, don’t you?

Maintenance cost

Well, maybe the problem is the cost to maintain manufactured homes, or the existence of replacement parts. But wait a minute. Manufactured homes are normally built with metal exteriors. That’s going to hold up a lot longer than a frame house. And the average roof only needs to be coated with roofing compound every so often no shingles to replace. And the foundation looks good because there is no foundation. To level a manufactured home takes a couple hours. To level a stick-built home takes a fortune.

On the interior, you’re talking about paint and carpet. The same as a stick-built home.

Sure, I worry about my Dodge Durango one day not having parts available, but that concern is ill-founded with manufactured homes.

Government intervention

I hear all the time that old manufactured homes will one day be phased out. By who? Cities often have codes now that require certain dates or earlier on new homes coming into manufactured home communities. But that does not apply to homes already sited in them. Those are grandfathered.

And let’s be honest. There is a ton of single-family stick-built inventory out there that does not meet current code, either. One of the challenges of remodeling older stick-built homes is not triggering an end to all of the things that were grandfathered, such as inferior wiring, plumbing, setbacks, fire-codes, and the like.

Nope, manufactured homes are not likely to be outlawed.

So where does the “temporary” concept come from?

I suspect from two different sources.

First, the U.S. Government. With every modern weather catastrophe, FEMA rushes in with manufactured homes as temporary housing until real stick-built homes can be built and re-built. So they have created the impression that manufactured homes are not worthy of being lived in over the long term. They re-stress this point at least once a year during hurricane season. And they blast it all over the media.

The government did the same thing in the industry’s formative years, offering it as “temporary” housing at military bases and, later, colleges on the GI bill. So they have been promoting this negative publicity for virtually the entire history of manufactured housing.

The other source is manufactured home dealers, themselves.

They constantly advertise and promote the concept of “trading in your old home for a new one”. Just like a car. So the suggestion is that your manufactured home is only good for a few years, and then time to get a better model. When was the last time you saw Pulte or Lennar make this sales push?

The dealers also ruin things by putting old, destroyed manufactured homes out on their lots, or in fields next to dealerships, for all to see. These homes are normally trade-ins that are in such poor condition that nobody would ever buy one. But by putting them there in public view, it tells everyone who passes by what a disposable product it is that it just completely falls apart over time. If these homes were at least skirted and painted it would be different. But the dealers seem to have no problem leaving them there, leaning over to one side with the windows and doors missing and insulation blowing out from underneath.

Can you imagine a new car dealer having old wrecks rusting near their entrance?

Conclusion

As always, the urban legend of temporary, disposable manufactured homes is the result of poor marketing and public relations by the industry, not based on fact.

I am sorry to say that I have never seen any literature at any dealer, internet site, or association headquarters that tells the story of why manufactured homes last forever. So why would be expect anyone to know any better?

But then again, what would I expect from a manufacturing and retail industry that can’t seem to ever do anything right? Thank heavens I’m in the community side of the business.

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