First time buyers - What's a manufactured home?

Written by Posted On Monday, 14 April 2014 06:07


Question - The MLS Sheet says this is a manufactured home. What’s that mean? What do I need to know?

Answer – Well, that means - A.) that it is considered to be real estate and not a mobile home, since it is in the MLS; and B.) in Michigan that means it was built inside a factory and not stick by stick out on the build site. Let’s make this clear right away – in Michigan a manufactured home is not equated to being a mobile home. This is not somebody who had their double-wide mobile home moved from the mobile home park and placed on a foundation (although that can happen, too; more on that later). In Michigan we use the term manufactured home and modular home pretty interchangeably, but other parts of the country differentiate – some even equate manufactured home to mobile home. Even the HUD site uses the term manufactured home and mobile home interchangeably - thus the confusion. The term pre-fabricated building is also used for modular homes. The semantics of this can get pretty confusing; so, I’ll use the awkward terms manufactured/modular and modular/manufactured as they are used in Michigan for this article.

A manufactured/modular home is built to the same national standards and codes as a so-called “stick-built” house (The standards used are The International Building Code (IBC) and BOCA (Building Officials Code Administrators International), but it is built in parts and in a factory. In some areas, the manufacturers take that a step further and actually manufacture their homes to meet the local building codes, too.  A modular/manufactured home is built in parts because it will be built on a chassis for transport to the home site (manufactured) or trucked there on a flatbed trailer (modular).  Whichever way it gets there, at the site there is usually a crane used to lift the two halves (or more parts) onto the foundation. The parts are then permanently joined and become one house. A manufactured home has a deed as a house, just like a stick-built house. There are even 2-story models of manufactured homes, which are usually delivered in four pieces and stacked up at the build site (see the construction picture at this modular-home company site).

Both the mobile home and some of the manufactured home are built on a steel chassis. Once on site the manufactured home chassis may be roved altogether or it  become a part of the foundation, but the wheels and axels are normally removed as there will be no further need for them. Mobile homes, even if placed on a foundation, usually retain their chassis and axels, even if the tires are removed. Mobile homes are also required to have a HUD label on the exterior to identify them as a mobile home that was built to the HUD standards for mobile homes. Click here to see what the HUD tags look like.  While it would be possible to move a modular/manufactured home again, it requires a specialized company to do that.

From a zoning point of view there are normally special zoning ordinances to cover manufactured/ modular homes and mobile homes. You should check your local zoning authority before making plans for any of those home types. Rural areas seem to have more friendly zoning ordinances than urban or suburban areas. You should also understand that if you are buying a mobile home you will not receive a deed for it, since it is not considered to be real estate, but rather viewed as a retail sale. You will likely get a certificate of ownership or perhaps a title, like a car title. You will also not be buying a mobile home through a Realtor, since they are not considered to be real estate and Realtors are not licensed to sell mobile homes.  If you were to have your mobile home placed on a permanent foundation somewhere, it is possible to apply to the local county for it to be declared to be a permanent real estate property and for a deed to be issued. A modular/manufactured home will be sold through a Realtor and will be considered to be a real estate property from the get-go, with a deed registered at the county.

Sometimes you can tell that a home is a modular or manufactured homes if you go into the basement. You’ll see the base plates for the two halves and were they were joined together the entire length of the house. You can kind of tell also from the entry level payout, since everything will usually be on one side or the other of the center line. Sometimes modular/ manufactured homes are designed around a fairly open floor plan that makes it difficult to tell that it is a modular. In some cases the flooring where the two halves of an open room meet may be finished on-site, once the halves are joined, allowing the flooring to flow between the two halves without a seam. Sometimes that seam may just be hidden under carpeting that is put in after the home is placed on the foundation. Truthfully, unless you tell them most people who visit your modular/manufactured hoe will never know.  Here is as link to a great site that has tons of information about modular homes. You probably won’t believe some of the pictures that are there for large modular homes.

So, what are the up- and the down-sides about considering a modular/manufactured home, at least in Michigan? For one, there is still a stigma associated with manufactured homes because to the confusion over the differences between them and mobile homes. That stigma will work against you slightly when it comes time to sell. Some people just can’t let go of the “trailer park” image and mentality for mobile homes and they apply that prejudice to modular/manufactured homes. There are also some zoning issues that you at least need to be aware of. Other than those bad things, everything else is usually good. Since these homes are built indoors in a factory environment, they have not been exposed to the elements in a half-finished state. They have not sat in the rain for days without the roof in place or had mud tracked all over the subfloor. They are usually manufactured to a very tightly controlled set of plans and standards and not subject to the variances that can creep in at the stick-built site depending upon who showed up for work that morning. They usually carry very good warranties for the workmanship and materials used.

When considering a modular/manufactured home you will still need to follow all of the advice that I’ve already covered about inspections and what to look for or be concerned about. There are usually very well made homes, but they have parts and systems that wear out over time, just like a stick-built house. In general you should not have a big issue with getting a mortgage on one of these homes; although some appraiser might take into consideration that it has that slight stigma when making pricing comparisons. Click here to visit a site that bills itself as providing everything you need to know about financing your modular home.

So, what’s the bottom line? There is little reason to be concerned if you see the terms manufactured home or modular home in the MLS description. Evaluate the house against the same standards that you are using to look at any house. If you like it, go for it.


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Norm Werner

Norm Werner is a Realtor at the Milford office of Real Estate One serving the southeastern Michigan area of Oakland and Livingston Counties. Norm specializes in residential real estate. Norm lives and works in Milford Michigan and is married to Carolyn Werner. Norm and Carolyn live in a historic home just three blocks from downtown Milford, with their two dogs - Sadie and Skippy. Norm specializes in the historic homes of Milford and the surrounding area and is on the Board of Directors of the Milford Historical Society. Norm especially enjoys working with first time buyers and those at the other end of the real estate spectrum who are downsizing into their retirement home. 

In addition to his web site, Norm also owns and m,aintains web site, the web site. He is also the webmaster for and the web site and the MilfordCar web site, as well as his church web site - In addition to blogging about real eastate, Norm has a personal blog - - on which he shares inspirational messages and the occasions personal observation about life.

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