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Modular vs. manufactured homes: what’s the difference?

If you’re in the market to purchase a home and are looking for more affordable options, you may want to explore modular or manufactured homes. Modular and manufactured homes are built and assembled in factories and later delivered to your desired location. That’s right — no more worrying about the weather messing up your building schedule! Building offsite is faster, more efficient and even cheaper than standard on-site, or stick-built, homes.

Read on to learn more about modular and manufactured homes, how they differ and why they might be the financially savvy choice for you.

What is a modular home?

Modular homes are built part by part in factories with quality checks at each step. They have box-like structures that, when placed together and secured, make a whole house. Once complete, they are covered and shipped to your home and set on top of a premade foundation bound together by an experienced local builder. The process, including manufacturing and on-site bounding, takes about four to eight weeks.

Because modular homes are made indoors, inclement weather doesn’t affect their build timeline as much as a standard home. Keep in mind, however, that additional household features like decks, porches or garages aren’t usually transported with a modular build.

Homeowners who are interested in customization often combine modular building with panel building. Panel building is done by laying the base of the house, then dropping each section of a wall in, one piece at a time. This is better for larger structures since it allows for higher ceilings and bigger spaces.

What does a modular home look like?

After reading the manufacturing details, you may be wondering what a modular home ends up looking like. You may have seen one without knowing it! Modular homes can pass for traditional on-site or stick-built construction but cost less to build.

What is a manufactured home?

You may be familiar with the term “mobile home,” because that’s what manufactured homes used to be called. In 1976, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) updated building codes for mobile homes to include higher safety and quality standards. This is when they transformed into what we call them today: manufactured homes.

Manufactured homes don’t have any onsite construction. They’re fully built in a factory on a steel frame and wheeled to their destination. Similar to modular homes, they are secured onto a base of concrete at the home’s desired location. Sometimes the wheels are removed from the home and other times they are kept and covered up.

Manufactured homes must follow strict federal standards set by HUD, whereas modular homes just have to follow the local code set by their local homeowner's association. A HUD agent will arrive with a red HUD stamp and a data plate, which is a certificate with detailed manufacturing information. If your home is inspected and they ask to see your data plate, it can usually be found on the main electric panel.

What does a manufactured home look like?

Since manufactured homes evolved from mobile homes, they typically run smaller than modular models. They need to be small enough to pick up and move from one location to another. Some will have their wheels attached and covered up, while others have them removed. If you remove your wheels but later decide you want to move the home, you can hire an experienced manufacturer and transport company to reattach your wheels and help move your home.

The cost of manufactured home vs. modular

The cost of both a modular and manufactured home will depend on how big you want them, what features you’re looking to install and where you’re buying from. You’ll find modular homes to be more expensive than manufactured homes per square foot. According to Home Advisor, modular homes usually go anywhere between 40 and 80 dollars per square foot, whereas manufactured homes go for 40 to 50 dollars per square foot.

Modular vs. manufactured homes financing options

There are a variety of ways to finance both modular and manufactured homes. Here’s how it works.

Modular home financing

Once your modular home is built (you may need a construction loan to do so), it’s treated exactly like a traditional stick-built home and can be financed through a regular mortgage. Depending on your credit score, financial standing, loan preferences and various other qualifications, you’ll want to shop around for the mortgage that’s best for you.

Manufactured home financing

According to HUD, there are many ways to finance your manufactured home. The most common method of financing a manufactured home is through a retail installment contract, available through your retailer.

In addition, there’s a growing number of lenders who provide conventional and government-insured financing for future manufactured homeowners. Note, if you’re going through a bank or private lender, they may request your home is put on a permanent base.

Finally, manufactured homes are eligible for government-insured loans offered by the Federal Housing Administration (FHA), the Veterans Administration (VA), and the Rural Housing Services (RHS) under the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

What we’ve learned

So, are you in the market for a home? Does a modular or a manufactured home make sense for you? In general, modular homes are prefabricated in a factory and assembled on site. Manufactured homes come to the property fully constructed and often just need a few tweaks to be ready to move in. Both are faster and cheaper than a traditional build. So, if you’re looking to save on a new home, do a little research weighing the pros and cons of modular vs. manufactured homes and find out if either of these options is the right fit for you.

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