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"Modular" Homes versus "Manufactured" Homes


hausdok
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Fellow Inspectors,

One of my pet peeves is when I hear someone refer to a manufactured home - one that has a steel chassis and a wheeled truck and was literally towed to the homesite - as a modular home. Inspectors, please, STOP referring to manufactured homes as modular homes!

Home inspectors need to use the correct terminology when describing things to their clients - especially when it comes to a type of structure. Imagine what would happen if an inspector, that doesn't know the difference between a modular home and a manufactured home, were to continually refer to a modular home during an inspection as a "manufactured home." In the minds of many, the term "manufactured home" cues up mental images of double-wide trailers; that inspector might actually cause the potential buyer to run away from a home that's built better and stronger than a stick-built home as most modulars are.

Conversely, calling a manufactured home a modular home during an inspection only perpetuates the idea in the mind of listeners - particularly real estate folks - that a manufactured home and a modular home are the same thing. Agents are liable to continue to go around mistakenly calling manufactured homes modular homes after that, because they heard the inspector - who's supposed to be an expert - call a manufactured home a modular home.

As a profession, we really need to ensure that we are clear about the differences and that we don't confuse them in the minds of buyers. A manufactured home has a full-length steel chassis beneath it and its own wheel systems (trucks) as well as it's own draw tongues. It's towed to the homesite on its own wheels in sections, just like a pair of trailers, it's set on the supporting foundation - whether it's just block piers or something more elaborate - and then the trucks and tongues are removed.

A modular on the other hand is built in a factory in the form of heavily reinforced boxes known as "modules" and then those modules are individually trucked to the site on flatbed trucks, lifted into place on a permanent foundation by a crane, and then the home is completed.

Are there similarities between the two? Sure, both are built in a factory setting, both have restriction on section size that's dictated by what can be legally carried over the highway system, both are pre-wired and pre-plumbed and might be complete when they leave the factory, but that's where the similarity ends. Manufactured homes are intentionally built lighter to a manufactured building code, not conventional building codes, so that they'll be lighter and easier to tow over the highway. Don't confuse the two and don't perpetuate the myth that a modular home is akin to a manufactured home and is therefore inferior to a stick-built home when the opposite is more often the case.

You might be reading this and thinking to yourself, "Ah, O'Handley is off his nut, nothing bad can happen if I have a slip of the tongue and call a manufactured home a modular home." If you believe that, I've got the deed to the Brooklyn Bridge and will be happy to sell it to you.

Just imagine for a minute a buyer who has heard that a modular home is built stronger and better than a regular stick built home, but knows little more than that. The buyer goes to his/her realtor and says, "I want to buy a modular home because I've heard they're pretty good." If the realtor thinks that manufactured and modular homes are the same thing, the realtor is liable to try and dissuade the buyer and might say something like, "Oh no, modular homes are not as well built; you're misinformed. You really don't want to buy one of those."

Worse, what if the realtor thinks manufactured and modular homes are the same thing and hasn't the least idea how a true modular is built? The realtor might take the buyer around to look at nothing but manufactured homes; and, if those manufactured homes are like some around here, there's liable to be very little outward indication that the home is actually a manufactured home. The buyer, not really knowing the difference, might make an offer on a manufactured home under the misbegotten belief that it is a modular home.

This kind of identify mixup is not as far-fetched as if sounds; I know that because I personally was involved in such a mixup. I did a home years ago that from all outward appearances appeared to be a stick-built home. There was even a two-story addition added. As I commenced the inspection and did the exterior, nothing seemed out of the ordinary - it looked like an ordinary one-story ranch with an addition. However, when I got on the roof I could clearly see a slight change in the roof plane near the eaves that looked like the roof overhangs had been extended. Inside, I began to notice things in the one-story part that told me that it was probably a manufactured home that had been placed on a permanent foundation and had the eaves extended to look like a normal ranch; things like thin drywall, a thicker than normal center wall that ran end-to-end, polybutylene plumbing and smaller-than-normal bathroom fixtures molded from fiberglass.

I mentioned my suspicions to the client, at which point the realtor interrupted me and insisted that it was not a manufactured home but modular home. She explained that the owner had advertised it as a modular with a stick-built addition, and she opined that I must not know the difference. I pointed out to her that I had grown up building houses and that my own father built modular homes, so I definitely knew the difference. Nonetheless, she insisted that I was wrong and she clearly was slightly angry with me for suggesting that the home was most likely nothing more than an altered double-wide.

Since it was obvious to me that the realtor actually believed what she was saying, I decided to deviate from my normal inspection routine and inspect the crawlspace before I inspected the interior or the electro-mechanicals. That's when I found the trucks, the steel chassis and tongues beneath the one-story part of the structure. When I came out of the crawlspace and told the client, who'd flown in from the mid-west to see the home had made an offer and then flown back home, only to return for the inspection, that it really was a manufactured home, the client went ballistic. He verbally lit into the real estate agent like Mike Tyson into a speed bag. I went about packing my gear - it was obvious that the client didn't want me to go any further.

Sure, I did my job and got paid, but the whole unpleasant mess could probably have been avoided if the homeowner hadn't called the manufactured home portion of the building a "modular" home, thus giving the agent the wrong information. Plus, what if I hadn't known the difference between a modular home and a manufactured home and had told the client that I thought that the one-story portion of the home was a modular home? The agent would have stepped in to confirm that and I would have come out of that crawlspace and said, "Yep, it's a modular just like she said?" The agent would have assumed that it was a true modular based on my say so and the client might have bought that home. Can you imagine the fix I would have been in if later if the client, now the homeowner, discovered that the home wasn't a modular at all, and that he'd spent easily twice what the home was actually worth because I'd used the wrong terminology? I probably would have been sued out of business by now.

So, the bottom line here and the message that I'm trying to convey with this long ramble is THINK before you open your mouth to describe something or put a pen to paper to report something; and fer cryin' out loud, use the correct terminology.

ONE TEAM - ONE FIGHT!!!

Mike

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  • 3 weeks later...
Originally posted by MTL_Inspet_Man

Here's another variable

Homes that are built up using factory built modular wall sections with insulation, wiring and plumbing already in place and erected on site.

Are theseto be classified "modular" ?

thx

No, those are panelized homes; another form of factory-built housing.

Understanding what a modular home is; is easy - it's built up from modules - building blocks if you will, that have six sides on them and don't have an integral chassis and wheels under them.

ONE TEAM - ONE FIGHT!!!

Mike

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  • 4 months later...

Fellow Inspectors,

One of my pet peeves is when I hear someone refer to a manufactured home - one that has a steel chassis and a wheeled truck and was literally towed to the homesite - as a modular home. Inspectors, please, STOP referring to manufactured homes as modular homes!

Home inspectors need to use the correct terminology when describing things to their clients - especially when it comes to a type of structure. Imagine what would happen if an inspector, that doesn't know the difference between a modular home and a manufactured home, were to continually refer to a modular home during an inspection as a "manufactured home." In the minds of many, the term "manufactured home" cues up mental images of double-wide trailers; that inspector might actually cause the potential buyer to run away from a home that's built better and stronger than a stick-built home as most modulars are.

Conversely, calling a manufactured home a modular home during an inspection only perpetuates the idea in the mind of listeners - particularly real estate folks - that a manufactured home and a modular home are the same thing. Agents are liable to continue to go around mistakenly calling manufactured homes modular homes after that, because they heard the inspector - who's supposed to be an expert - call a manufactured home a modular home.

As a profession, we really need to ensure that we are clear about the differences and that we don't confuse them in the minds of buyers. A manufactured home has a full-length steel chassis beneath it and its own wheel systems (trucks) as well as it's own draw tongues. It's towed to the homesite on its own wheels in sections, just like a pair of trailers, it's set on the supporting foundation - whether it's just block piers or something more elaborate - and then the trucks and tongues are removed.

A modular on the other hand is built in a factory in the form of heavily reinforced boxes known as "modules" and then those modules are individually trucked to the site on flatbed trucks, lifted into place on a permanent foundation by a crane, and then the home is completed.

Are there similarities between the two? Sure, both are built in a factory setting, both have restriction on section size that's dictated by what can be legally carried over the highway system, both are pre-wired and pre-plumbed and might be complete when they leave the factory, but that's where the similarity ends. Manufactured homes are intentionally built lighter to a manufactured building code, not conventional building codes, so that they'll be lighter and easier to tow over the highway. Don't confuse the two and don't perpetuate the myth that a modular home is akin to a manufactured home and is therefore inferior to a stick-built home when the opposite is more often the case.

You might be reading this and thinking to yourself, "Ah, O'Handley is off his nut, nothing bad can happen if I have a slip of the tongue and call a manufactured home a modular home." If you believe that, I've got the deed to the Brooklyn Bridge and will be happy to sell it to you.

Just imagine for a minute a buyer who has heard that a modular home is built stronger and better than a regular stick built home, but knows little more than that. The buyer goes to his/her realtor and says, "I want to buy a modular home because I've heard they're pretty good." If the realtor thinks that manufactured and modular homes are the same thing, the realtor is liable to try and dissuade the buyer and might say something like, "Oh no, modular homes are not as well built; you're misinformed. You really don't want to buy one of those."

Worse, what if the realtor thinks manufactured and modular homes are the same thing and hasn't the least idea how a true modular is built? The realtor might take the buyer around to look at nothing but manufactured homes; and, if those manufactured homes are like some around here, there's liable to be very little outward indication that the home is actually a manufactured home. The buyer, not really knowing the difference, might make an offer on a manufactured home under the misbegotten belief that it is a modular home.

This kind of identify mixup is not as far-fetched as if sounds; I know that because I personally was involved in such a mixup. I did a home years ago that from all outward appearances appeared to be a stick-built home. There was even a two-story addition added. As I commenced the inspection and did the exterior, nothing seemed out of the ordinary - it looked like an ordinary one-story ranch with an addition. However, when I got on the roof I could clearly see a slight change in the roof plane near the eaves that looked like the roof overhangs had been extended. Inside, I began to notice things in the one-story part that told me that it was probably a manufactured home that had been placed on a permanent foundation and had the eaves extended to look like a normal ranch; things like thin drywall, a thicker than normal center wall that ran end-to-end, polybutylene plumbing and smaller-than-normal bathroom fixtures molded from fiberglass.

I mentioned my suspicions to the client, at which point the realtor interrupted me and insisted that it was not a manufactured home but modular home. She explained that the owner had advertised it as a modular with a stick-built addition, and she opined that I must not know the difference. I pointed out to her that I had grown up building houses and that my own father built modular homes, so I definitely knew the difference. Nonetheless, she insisted that I was wrong and she clearly was slightly angry with me for suggesting that the home was most likely nothing more than an altered double-wide.

Since it was obvious to me that the realtor actually believed what she was saying, I decided to deviate from my normal inspection routine and inspect the crawlspace before I inspected the interior or the electro-mechanicals. That's when I found the trucks, the steel chassis and tongues beneath the one-story part of the structure. When I came out of the crawlspace and told the client, who'd flown in from the mid-west to see the home had made an offer and then flown back home, only to return for the inspection, that it really was a manufactured home, the client went ballistic. He verbally lit into the real estate agent like Mike Tyson into a speed bag. I went about packing my gear - it was obvious that the client didn't want me to go any further.

Sure, I did my job and got paid, but the whole unpleasant mess could probably have been avoided if the homeowner hadn't called the manufactured home portion of the building a "modular" home, thus giving the agent the wrong information. Plus, what if I hadn't known the difference between a modular home and a manufactured home and had told the client that I thought that the one-story portion of the home was a modular home? The agent would have stepped in to confirm that and I would have come out of that crawlspace and said, "Yep, it's a modular just like she said?" The agent would have assumed that it was a true modular based on my say so and the client might have bought that home. Can you imagine the fix I would have been in if later if the client, now the homeowner, discovered that the home wasn't a modular at all, and that he'd spent easily twice what the home was actually worth because I'd used the wrong terminology? I probably would have been sued out of business by now.

So, the bottom line here and the message that I'm trying to convey with this long ramble is THINK before you open your mouth to describe something or put a pen to paper to report something; and fer cryin' out loud, use the correct terminology.

ONE TEAM - ONE FIGHT!!!

Mike

Hey Mike,

I came across this and thought I would give you some insight and you can check into the info I am giving you to to help you out in the future and maybe prevent some legal action or something. Manufactured homes are classified as being built by HUD code after 1976. Modular homes are built by the current IRC code, just as stick built homes are. There are several manufactured home manufacturers building modular homes as well and from outward apperances they are identical, metal frame, wheels and all. These mods can be set with or without the frame. Many are trailered to site and craned into place without the frame, but some keep the frame. The modular homes are much more expensive and meet most city codes and can be set within city limits. Your definition of modular is one representation of modular home, but not the only one. Some states may not recognize the distinction I am describing, but I know many do. I can tell you that just because you see a frame and axle hangers under a home does not mean it is definitely not a modular. The definitions I am giving you are paraphrased but they are the legal definitions of manufactured and modular, but don't just go by me, check with your respective state manufactured home department for postitive confirmation.

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Hey Mike,

I came across this and thought I would give you some insight and you can check into the info I am giving you to to help you out in the future and maybe prevent some legal action or something. Manufactured homes are classified as being built by HUD code after 1976. Modular homes are built by the current IRC code, just as stick built homes are. There are several manufactured home manufacturers building modular homes as well and from outward apperances they are identical, metal frame, wheels and all. These mods can be set with or without the frame. Many are trailered to site and craned into place without the frame, but some keep the frame. The modular homes are much more expensive and meet most city codes and can be set within city limits. Your definition of modular is one representation of modular home, but not the only one. Some states may not recognize the distinction I am describing, but I know many do. I can tell you that just because you see a frame and axle hangers under a home does not mean it is definitely not a modular. The definitions I am giving you are paraphrased but they are the legal definitions of manufactured and modular, but don't just go by me, check with your respective state manufactured home department for postitive confirmation.

Mike

$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$

My first clue (unless evident) that it is a Manf. Home is the electric meter and main breaker are on a pedestal somewhere out away from the home/ with a subpanel inside.... If I remember correctly they cannot mount meter 'on' a manf home???

Question...Any modular homes setup with a pedestal, or are they attached to the structure like other stick built home????????

Jerry

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If I remember correctly they cannot mount meter 'on' a manf home???

Perfectly proper to mount the meter bases on a manufactured home, pedestals are mainly seen in MH parks.

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In California MHs can be installed on most real property parcels (including city lots) zoned for single family housing. Local zoning and architectural requirements will apply.

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The Feds passed a law a ways back prohibiting discrimination against manufactured housing and

the states have adopted rules and regulation dealing with the installations of MH on private land. Most manufacturers of MHs have infill models specifically designed for city installations.

Question...Any modular homes setup with a pedestal, or are they attached to the structure like other stick built home????????

If your state allows “modularsâ€

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I know of several stick built homes that have the meter and panel mounted on pedestals, including a local home builder who wanted power when he built his own home rather than mess with a generator, and several "trailers" with meters mounted on the buildings.

Nearly every township in my area requires a permanent foundation under any new MH on a private lot, the most common is a "frost proof" foundation but I do see a few basements. If you wish to set one on piers with skirting around it, it must be in a park, on the reservation, or in one of the extremely rural towns. I prefer not to mess with mobiles, so I don't know the provisions for replacing existing units on private land.

Tom

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  • 5 months later...

There is ONE other critical item. The buyer and seller can be significantly affected by the definition, especially if it is an older manufactured (mobile) home. Anything built before 1976 is essentially considered a "mobile home", and you would be very hard pressed to find any lender willing to offer a loan on an old mobile home.

I recently did an inspection on what the listing realtor called a 1970 constructed "modular home", built over a permanent finished walk-out basement. A fair amount of remodeling had been done over the years including the exterior siding, but there were a few tell-tale signs. Finally in the basement I found a couple of closet areas that had not been finished off, and found the metal framing charastic of manufactured homes. The vents on the roof, the roof style, the heating system, and the electrical panel were other clues that had made me suspicious early on.

Though the home was probably a large top-of-the line model when it was built, with extras, and was in VERY good condition for its age with a lot of interior remodeling, it was still essentially a mobile home (notice, being pre-1976, I am calling it a mobile home, not a manufactured home), on a very desirable lot.

Of course the listing realtor blew her lid when I told the buyers. Because she knew that if disclosed, NO buyer could get a loan (especially any FHA or HUD-backed loan program), and the sellers were essentilly stuck with a home they could not sell except on a cash basis. So, besides terminology, it can make a BIG difference.

Even if the manufactured home is newer, banks have become more critical these days (especially after the recent real estate disaster). Most banks now require closer idenficiation, wanting to have the Serial number verified, and most now also want to make sure that foundation ("permanent" or piers which is acceptable) has been certified (tie-downs, etc).

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  • 2 years later...

I'm not an inspector, but a home owner....hoping for your thoughts. Two years ago we but what we thought was a stick built home. Appraiser, inspector, seller--none of them said anything otherwise. 6 months later we removed carpet to lay pergo upstairs (we have a full walk out basement beneath) and noticed a gap in the floor boards beneath the carpet padding. Suddenly what we never paid attention to before, thick wall running down the center of the home, etc made sense.

However, we didn't realize it made any difference. Then last week we had an appraiser come out for a refi. He could tell by looking at the pic of the home it wasn't stick built. Now we are suddenly stuck with something we paid way to much for, have put tons of money into making it nice, and are quite frustrated.

I'm still uncertain exactly what kind of home we're dealing with. So, how would I find these metal chassis spoken of since we have a finished basement beneath? One area (storage) is not finished and you can see wooden floor joist and all signs of a typical house. This new appraiser could not find the HUD number--he thinks it was covered up by new siding. The city records have always considered it a normal home.

Any ideas on what to look for and where. Or what we can do about all this?

Thank you!!!!

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Look for a data plate. It's a paper label. Go here for more information.

If you can't find it, view 24 CFR 3280 - MANUFACTURED HOME CONSTRUCTION AND SAFETY STANDARDS and see if this standard describes your house. If it doesn't, you may be in possession of a modular home instead of a HUD-Code home. The two look nearly identical in many ways. Document these differences and send it to the appraiser.

Marc

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The appraiser is an idiot.

No chassis, wood floor joists, standard foundation - it sounds like a classic modular. There's no way they should appraise for less than a stick built; they're better built most of the time.

Tell him I said so and invite him to come here. We'll educate the sweat monkey.

ONE TEAM - ONE FIGHT!!!

Mike

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HUD Codes will be built upon a permanently attached steel frame. Some may be hy-brids with recessed steel frames, but the steel frame is always there and is the most visible means of ID. Roof trusses of HUD codes are often very different, but as mentioned above are seldom visible. Mods look very much like stick-built in basement appearance, but will always have a built-up beam running lengthwise between major components located at what is called the marriage-wall. Data plates are only found on HUD Codes and they are "plates"-small metal tags, painted red with embossed/engraved lettering affixed to the exterior of the home. Data sheets are supplied with all HUD codes, typically (nowadays) affixed to the wall or door in the homes largest closet. This information details what environmental zone the home is constructed for and gives handy info such as r-values, major appliance brands/sizes etc. Lastly, mods are constructed to meet the state building codes for where they will be sited and HUD Codes meet national manufactured home standards. And, as mentioned above, mods frequently are better built than stick built - after all, they need to travel the highways at 70mph on their way home[;)]......Greg

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  • 3 months later...

I was told 12 years ago my home was a modular when I purchased it. It is on a poured wall basement and foundation. Under the home has wooden floor joists, but they are individually constructed wooden joists not solid wood. Down the center of the home lengthwise there is a steel I-beam. I never found any metal joists anywhere. I was told the home was placed there in the early 70's. I recently listed the home for sale, because I have to move. An apparently highly regarded and experienced realtor agent showed my home yesterday. She told the prospective buyer and my selling agent my house is a doublewide. Based on the framing I described above, does it sound like I have a modular or doublewide? If I have a doublewide, I will have to see what legal action I may have against the prior owner for misrepresentation of the home when they sold it to me!

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...............a photo would tell us all we need to know. It sounds like you are describing a mod. I'm confused by your terminology regarding the joists and think you are referring what I know as floor trusses-which are common in mods, not in HUD Codes. If it were a Hud Code (double-wide) you would see four longitudinal beams (two per half) resting upon transverse beams spanning the width of the basement, at about 8 to 12 feet on center............Greg.

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Mr Booth, thank you for your reply. You are correct, the joists I am speaking of are just like floor trusses. I do not have any metal beams running 8 to 10 feet on center - all floor trusses the full length. Only metal I have ever found was the steel I-beam running down the center the full length of the house. I will see if I can get a picture loaded on here later.

Thanks again!

-Steve

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These last few posts go back to my initial post. The realtor called it a double-wide because the realtor doesn't know the difference between a modular home and a manufactured home.

A steel beam down the center of a basement doesn't a modular make. You need to have marriage walls and other things unique to modular construction. It could simply be an ordinary little house with a steel longitudinal support beam instead of a wood longitudinal beam.

Can anyone remember modular homes being built in NYS in 1979? I admit, I left NYS in 1975 but my father didn't and he didn't get involved with modulars until the 90's and I can't remember him ever talking about them before the late 80's.

ONE TEAM - ONE FIGHT!!!

Mike

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