|Building a home? Good luck.
With thousands of individual parts that need to be ordered,
installed and inspected in a specific order, delays and errors
are frequent. Plus, the front end of the process (from clearing
the site to completing the exterior, a step called "drying
in") is heavily dependent on good weather.
And, oh yes, the industry has a shortage of skilled labor,
material prices have escalated rapidly in the last year and
job-site theft of materials is a regular occurrence.
Were you thinking four months until closing? Better make that
six, no, nine months -- and sometimes longer.
Compare that to the experience of Michael O'Brien, an architect
and professor in the School of Architecture + Design at Virginia
Tech in Blacksburg, Va. He designed his own three-bedroom,
two-story house with a finished basement. In the week it took
him to have a basement dug and the utilities installed, Nationwide
Custom Homes in Martinsville, Va., built his house in its
factory. It was built in modules, put on trucks and hauled
the roughly 50 miles to his site. Six hours later, it was
enclosed. O'Brien went to work putting on the siding and adding
some porches, and a month later, he had his certificate of
Of course, the process didn't go off without any hitches.
The fireworks started as soon as the trucks pulled up to the
"A guy across the street was real upset," O'Brien
says. "He said, 'You can't build mobile homes here. I'll
go get a court order.' I said, 'If it looks like a mobile
home in eight hours, I'll take it down.' He never came back."
It didn't look like a mobile home because it wasn't one.
It was (and is) a modular house, a growing segment of the
construction industry that can save consumers dramatic amounts
of time and frustration in building a house.
The two terms can be confusing, and it's critical for a consumer
to understand the difference. Mobile homes, also called manufactured
housing, are built to the Housing and Urban Development Code,
says Steve Snyder, executive director of the Modular Building
Systems Association. The HUD Code addresses construction for
affordable housing. Manufactured housing is built on a permanent
metal chassis, may or may not be permanently placed on a foundation,
and is the term used to describe a single- or double-wide
While they offer an affordable housing alternative for many
families, can be well-built and attractive, manufactured homes
generally depreciate in value and many banks are reluctant
to finance them.
Modular houses are built to the same code as a site-built
house (also known in the industry as a stick-built house).
They are built with their own wood floor systems, are shipped
on a carrier that goes back to the factory, and they are always
placed on a permanent foundation. In terms of investment potential,
modular homes increase in value at the same rate as a comparable
stick-built home in the same area, Snyder says. Banks finance
the purchases the same way (they're both construction loans
for new houses) and for the purpose of getting a mortgage,
appraisers can compare a modular home to a similar stick-built
Modular houses fall under a construction process called "building
systems," which refers to any kind of house built at
least in part off-site, says Eric Fulton, communication manager
of the Building Systems Councils of the National Association
of Home Builders. The term also includes log homes, panelized
building packages, geodesic domes, post and beam houses, and
structural insulated panels. (For information on each of the
processes, visit www.buildingsystems.org.)
Panelized building, the other process that's gained popularity
with builders, involves building walls, floors and roof sections
in a factory setting and assembling them on-site.
Even stick builders are moving more and more toward factory
products, using pre-constructed panels, cabinet modules, pre-hung
doors and windows, and pre-built stairs and roof trusses,
says Kevin Flaherty, vice president of sales and marketing
for Michigan-based Genesis Homes, the country's only national