Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Upscale Modular Housing Being Proposed for Haiti

One of the stunningly beautiful islands of the Caribbean, also called the ‘Pearl of the Antilles’, Haiti has been witness to a rich historic past. However, it was struck by an earthquake of catastrophic magnitude (7.0 on Richter scale) in January 2010 that  destroyed its buildings and towns, displacing the people and their lives. Since then massive reconstruction efforts have been going on in Haiti in an attempt to rehouse its people and restore their lives and dignity.

Vincent CallebautArchitects have proposed a utopian eco-village, inspired by the coral reef, to provide housing for 1,000 Haitian families as part of the reconstruction efforts.

They have developed a plug-in matrix to build a self sustainable village from a standardized and prefabricated module.

This basic module is a duplex of two passive houses, a metal structure with tropical wood facades interlocked around a transversal horizontal circulation linking every unit. Built upon seismic piers off the coast of the mainland, the Coral Reef project comprises two rows of wave-like housing structures standing on an artificial pier. 

The modular housing units are layered and cantilevered in staggering rows on the fa├žade of these structures. The roof of each module offers itself as an organic suspended garden for each Creole family to cultivate their own food. Between the two inhabited waves is a lush interior canyon with terraces and cascades of food gardens. This canyon – the central axis and heart of the community life of this eco-village – will be a true reflection of the Haitian tropical ecosystem with its distinct and diverse local flora and fauna.

An anti-seismic basement, which will absorb the seismic shocks of an earthquake, will be provided in the heart of this canyon to provide a safety shell to its inhabitants in case of another natural calamity. This basement opens up to panoramic views of the ocean on the other side, and will be used as a multi-purpose community hub to enhance the social life of this futuristic village.

Codes and Regulations - The Builder Viewpoint

We’ve all heard the stories of how much harder it is to build a modular home in some states and communities than site building a home. Builders email me on a weekly basis about a problem they encountered with a local code enforcer or with their state’s code office.

Over the weekend I received an email from an East Coast builder telling me about yet another problem he ran into with the State and local code offices. Seems like the customer wanted a change to one room after PFS and the Certified Sprinkler Installer had both signed off on the plans and submitted them. The sprinkler system had to be redesigned and resubmitted showing the exact same system and head placement as before costing the home owner 2 weeks and another design charge. Yes, it was the homeowner’s fault that this happened but if it had been a site built home, there would have no need to resubmit the sprinkler plan.

I began wondering if there really was a problem with National, State and local regulations that single out modular home construction or are most of the problems just part of the modular building process.

So I sent out an email and got some great responses. First I asked the builders and then I asked the factory owner. Here is what I sent them:

I would love to do a series of articles about whether modular home builders in each state are having their homes singled out for more regs and tougher inspections than site builders or is it that having to add another player (factories), that site builders don’t use, into the mix causing a vast majority of the problems.

Here are some of the responses from modular home builders on the East Coast:

Builder #1
Hands down modular homes are being singled out and obtaining a permit for them as well as inspections along the way are MUCH more difficult to obtain and pass (a lot of inspectors are biased (against) modulars) as well as not educated on the process and therefore their default is to deny the permit and fail the inspections.  It is extremely hard to get anything done, then throw in lack of knowledge and you have the cause for continuous delays. 

Builder #2
For the most part I would say yes we have to jump through a few more hoops over conventional construction. No question about that at all.

As the builder going into a town we have not built in, there tends to be a good amount of confusion over the separation of factory vs builder. Best example I can give you is just recently we went into a town and the response from the building inspector was "make sure you bring this plan in with a stamp unlike the one you are doing on xyz street."

I told the inspector we have actually not worked in the town yet so it wasn't our home in which he thought I was pulling a fast one. He went and got the plans and slammed them in front of me and said "SEE it’s a (Factory Name) Homes. Why are you telling me you are not building a house in this town."

I then pointed to the actual builder on the plans and had to educate him on the difference and after that he understood. I without a doubt got the other builder in trouble because he lied to the inspector on how this works (looks like he PDF the stamp), but he certainly appreciated the education and understanding. 

This is the not the first time this has happened and I haven't been grouped with other builders because we use the same factory. There are many towns in my state that I refuse to work in because the inspector has such a tainted image of what modular is as they are unable to differentiate builder vs. factory. 

Some other areas in construction we are treated different because of modular is the onsite work. We stick build garages, decks, and porches and many times on the decks and porches they want a stamp from an engineer because it is being attached to an "engineered product."

Again this is not how the code is actually written, but I would say 5-10 departments around me have asked for this. Same goes with foundations. Again many builders go in with the generic state plan foundations and do not actually draw up their own with proper code for the area. Another one we get lumped into. 

I will say the education level of many inspectors on modular has dramatically improved from when we started. Also after we have built one house in a town their mindset completely changes when we go in with another. I still would say 75-80% of towns still lump us all under one umbrella, but most of the time we can at least go in and educate and explain the process and they will work with us.

Most of the time that is. The ones that I can't I just chalk up as a loss and don't build in their town. Not worth the headache! 

Builder #3
I don’t feel that we are singled out by the jurisdictions at all.  In my county, the chief inspector is an ex-modular builder himself and I feel most of the inspectors prefer our homes because much of their normal responsibilities are taken care of at the factory. 

I am however surprisingly experiencing some difficulty when I work in a nearby city.  They seem to think that every house should be designed by a local architect to meet the neighborhood requirements, some of which are historical and they don’t think we can do that with modular. 

I hope I have finally dissuaded them of this—it has only taken a year and a half, but I’ll know for sure when we get approval of the final re-design.  When the design was put out for community approval some of the uninformed had issues too and we’ll see if the final design has gotten rid of those. 

I haven’t come up against these kind of things in over 20 years so I am surprised it has occurred now.  Our factory has always been right behind me if there have been any issues, though they have been few and far between.  I would be interested to see what others have experienced.  

Are modular home builders having a tougher time than site builders? Yes. Are the problems insurmountable? No.

One common thread is that the local code officials would benefit from an all day class in modular housing design, production, set and finish.

Regulations and Code Enforcement - The Modular Factory Viewpoint

We’ve all heard the stories of how much harder it is to build a modular home in some states and communities than site building a home. Builders email me on a weekly basis about a problem they encountered with a local code enforcer or with their state’s code office.

Rarely do I get one from a factory telling me about problems they run into while designing or building a modular home. I don’t know if they aren’t having any problems or if they just don’t talk about them openly.

Over the weekend I received an email from an East Coast builder telling me about yet another problem he ran into with the State and local code offices. Seems like the customer wanted a change to one room after PFS and the Certified Sprinkler Installer had both signed off on the plans and submitted them. The sprinkler system had to be redesigned and resubmitted showing the exact same system and head placement as before costing the home owner 2 weeks and another design charge. Yes, it was the homeowner’s fault that this happened but if it had been a site built home, there would have no need to resubmit the sprinkler plan.

I began wondering if there really was a problem with National, State and local regulations that single out modular home construction or are most of the problems just part of the modular building process.

So I sent out an email and got some great responses. First I asked the builders and then I asked the factory owner. Here is what I sent them:

I would love to do a series of articles about whether modular home builders in each state are having their homes singled out for more regs and tougher inspections than site builders or is it that having to add another player (factories), that site builders don’t use, into the mix causing a vast majority of the problems.

Here is a response from one factory owner in the Midwest that sums up a lot of the problem areas in the modular home process:

I think that a lot of the frustration is caused by the different approach that modular home building takes, compared to site building.

In site building, the builder knows all. They are responsible for knowing the ins and outs of the project, for making sure it is up to code, etc. etc. and they get to touch and feel each part of that project. They can get information from their lumber supplier which shows engineering information, and of course an inspector can stop in to make sure they are on top of things at each phase of their process. And, building departments are used to this, which is a big factor.

In modular building, there is a shared responsibility between the factory and the builder. We, as the factory, are responsible for making sure our homes are designed properly and approved at the state level, as well as inspected and sealed by our third party engineering company. Our builders are almost completely out of the loop on this, other than being able to read our standards lists and their order. The builder is responsible for telling us about any specialty codes that county may have because the factory does not have enough manpower to know each code in each county (several of our states allow their counties to supercede the state on code requirements).

The builder must go to the building department, with a partial knowledge in my opinion, of how the home will be built, and show the county building department documents that have been prepared by the factory for the state. So I think that at least the first time our builders work with a certain county (which can happen often because our builders are going further and further for business), they go through a learning curve. If our builder is dealing with a small or medium sized county, they struggle through this curve and then it is easier the next time. If they are dealing with a larger county, they are forced to get more information from the factory, put together in a new format. The factory engineering department is used to putting our information together in a certain format and when a rep comes in and asks for them to put it together differently, especially more thoroughly than they are used to, it gets thrown to the bottom of their pile.

So the builder must wait longer than they typically have to get the right information back to the building department, which I am sure makes the building department think the builder is inept. On top of that, the building department has very little ability to inspect the home which either creates fear on their part, or a feeling of resentment which leads to further issues.

All of that being said, I think the midwest is much easier to build in than the east coast, as far as regulations and inspections are concerned. First of all, land is not our problem, we have a lot of it. Unlike a lot of east coast factories, we have stocking builders that are over 500 miles away from us. Since there is a lot of wide open space, many of our builders focus on rural building, and in my opinion will do a lot to avoid building in or near larger cities because they do not want to deal with the larger building departments and more stringent regulations and inspections. This means that a lot of our builders are building in towns that may not even have a permitting department, or if they do, have one inspector. After their first home gets in and looks good, they will never be inspected at another job. So, I think that you will find that most of our builders do not have a lot of issues with getting permits, passing inspections, or dealing with regulations.

I will finish by beating up our industry a little bit, specifically in the Midwest.

As a factory owner in the Midwest, I can tell you that we are complacent about making this process easier because there is a lot of business to be had through smaller counties with easier building departments. If we ever decide to grow substantially we will need to focus on this issue.

We at the factory, are almost pushing our builders to only focus on more rural projects because of the difficulty of going through the building process in larger towns and cities. The few builders we have that are prepared to fight this battle and get into bigger areas, are often further dissuaded when we say we will not build to a code like electrical conduit being required in Chicago because it could choke our line, forcing the builder to spend more time and money to get it done on site. This is something that will have to change if we ever want to have more than a 3% market share.

Either factories will have to spend money on line improvements and technological advancements to make building better homes easier-which means we can keep our production speeds the same and our prices similar to where they are or we are going to have allow ourselves to build better homes, slower than we are used to running our production lines. Then we will have to be ok with not selling our homes based on price only, but rather selling them based off of quality improvement over site building, which is where we will need a lot of improvement from our builders.

An East Coast factory owner added more insight into this matter talking about how complicated modular home construction has become:

In my opinion it is quite simple. Our exposure to codes and compliance is much more closely monitored than our stick built cousins. The scrutiny given to structural and codes in building a modular product far exceeds any engineering done on a stick built home.

Stick builder go to the Wood Frame Construction Manual, we are forced to have an engineer look at the package and he then develops a calculations package. I have seen us build 20” reverse gable with 1 ½ “X9 ¼” framing members for the first two rafters and the span is only 15’.

Honestly it is that simple. Now there are more blatant displays of discrimination that put us at a disadvantage, like Maryland, where we are just singled out for discriminatory practices (Sprinklers mandatory in all modular homes built) and a few other smaller issues in other states. And Remember Connecticut with their enforcement of the devisable load laws!!!! and how strongly they enforce them. 

The worst part is, what can be done about it? The product that builders want manufactured has become increasingly more difficult and intricate to build. That requires more structural, because we build in components meant to be joined once on site as opposed to simple one piece framing. The only advantage we have to offset these increases in engineering costs and fees is that we have a readily available workforce to manufacture the product for the builders.

Costs savings on the price of the home from the factory are no longer an issue for builders in most markets.

Another East Coast factory added that a lot of small problems in isolated localities caused by local code enforcers can drive both the factory and the builder to look for a quiet place to hit their head against the wall:

We’re running into problems in certain municipalities in New Jersey with Sandy reconstruction, but that’s mostly because one town or another (principally, it seems, by fiat of one or two inspectors) begins adding to the code. 

For example, Little Egg Harbor requires modular home factories to insulate supply lines and traps even though, to my knowledge (which could very well be incomplete), it’s not required by the 2009 IRC, and it hasn’t been required by any other code official in New Jersey (that I’ve heard of). 

I don’t know if New Jersey’s DCA permits locals to adopt requirements that are more stringent than the code, but it’s just a battle not worth fighting, and these last-minute “oh-by-the-way” requirements are sometimes more difficult to deal with than up-front difficulties of building in, say, Maryland, where at least the rules are clear and every builder should, in theory, be on equal footing. 

With that said, every inspector, it seems, has a family member in the deck-building business or HVAC business and seems to over-critique a factory installation that took a local job away.

These are real answers from real factory owners. This is a side of the equation that most modular home builders rarely see and to hear that factories also have their share of problems with codes and regulations aimed at them that site builders don’t should be an eye opener for many.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Speakers Announced for the Modular Home Boot Camp

The countdown has begun. Boot Camp is fast approaching and the speakers are lined up, the room is ready and the buffet will be packed with the best PA Dutch food. Join with your fellow builders for the first ever Modular Home Boot Camp.

The date is Wednesday, September 16, 2015 at the CountryCupboard in LewisburgPA. The Boot Camp runs from 8:30 AM to 3:30 PM.  Cost is only $99 per person.  CLICK HERE to Register.

Schedule of Events:

8:30 AM - 8:50 AM    Continental Breakfast
8:50 - 9:00                   Welcome by Gary Fleisher, the Modcoach
9:00 - 10:30                 Steve Snyder, Attorney to the Modular Industry
​10:30 - 11:00               Break
11:00 - 12:00 PM        Tifanee McCall, RWC expert for Modular Industry
12:00 - 1:00                 Unlimited Buffet Lunch and Networking
1:00 - 2:00                   Tom Hardiman, Executive Dir of MHBA
2:00 - 3:30 PM            Scott Stroud, Builder Radio

The Boot Camp is open to all modular home builders and modular factory owners, management and sales staff. Seating however is limited to the first 50 people, so make your reservations today.

Your Boot Camp Leaders:

Steve Snyder, Attorney at Law

“A Hard Look at Modular Home Builder Contracts, the Do’s and Don’ts”

Steve Snyder is licensed to Practice in Pennsylvania and New Jersey and available Pro Hac Vice (for individual cases) in other states. He has been in private practice since 2003, after graduating from Widener University School of Law.

Commercial and Residential Construction – A considerable portion of Steve’s current law practice concentrates on complex civil matters in the residential and commercial construction and land development industry, including land use, zoning and subdivision, commercial and residential construction, environmental law, administrative law, state and federal regulatory compliance, state and federal tax law (with an emphasis on modular construction sales and use taxes).

“Expressed Written Warranties and the Benefits, Limits of Liability 
and Cost/Time Savings for Service”

Tifanee McCall is an Account Executive for RWC. RWC provides a written, third party insured warranty program for builders and manufacturers of new homes. We also have warranty programs for that are approved for government backed loans (FHA, Rural Dev., VA, USDA). In conjunction to the warranty program, I am able to provide training for the homebuilder to enhance or establish a cost effective and time efficient plan.

“The Future of Modular Housing and Your Role in It”

Tom Hardiman has been the involved with the modular construction industry since 2004 as the Executive Director for the Modular Building Institute, the trade association serving the non-residential modular industry in North America.  In this capacity, Hardiman manages the day to day operations, is Director of Government Affairs, and serves as a registered lobbyist with the United States Congress.  In 2012, Hardiman formed his own non-profit management company with his partner Steven Williams.  In addition to managing MBI, Hardiman-Williams began managing the activities of the Modular Home Builders Association (MHBA). The MHBA works closely with modular home builders and factories in understanding the laws effecting the industry. Under Tom's time with the MHBA membership has grown rapidly.

“Modular Marketing - Why Marketing Matters 
and How to Ensure Measurable Results”

Scott Stroud has been immersed in factory-built housing for over 30 years.  He is Business Development Manager for Power Marketing & Advertising, a premier marketing firm specializing in new home marketing, and co-founder and host of BuilderRadio’s Selling More Homes Podcast - the #1 ranked podcast for new home sales professionals.  Scott is an Infusionsoft Certified Partner and helps builders and manufacturers get more qualified leads from their marketing investment.

Seating is limited to the first 50 people, so act today. CLICK HERE to make your reservations. Special Hotel Rates for anyone needing to stay overnight.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Modular Housing Starts Could Dim Later This Year

By JOSH BOAK, AP Economics Writer

Too few available homes, rising prices and higher mortgage rates could slow housing's surge

WASHINGTON (AP) — The U.S. housing market has sizzled this summer, lifting expectations that home sales will finally help drive an economic expansion now in its seventh year.

Or will it?

Signs are emerging that housing's momentum may be destined to falter in coming months. Analysts note that some of the key foundations needed to sustain a brisk pace of home-buying in the long run appear to be missing.

The U.S. economy had only just begun to derive strength from housing for the first time since the Great Recession began in 2007. If home sales flag, that strength would fizzle.

The main problem is also the simplest: There just aren't enough homes available. Robust demand has failed to draw many sellers into the market. And few in the industry foresee a flurry of home listings arriving soon.

Other pressures will also likely slow sales. Steadily rising home prices can put ownership out of reach for some. What's more, builders are increasingly focused on apartment construction rather than single-family homes.

And then there are mortgage rates, which have crept up from recent lows and made it incrementally harder for some would-be buyers already struggling to afford a purchase. Some buyers are rushing to finalize deals for fear that rates will keep rising — a trend that could depress demand later this year.

"What we fear is next is if interest rates rise and prices rise," said Deborah Heffernan, a Boston-area broker. "That combination will definitely eliminate people from the market."

Early this spring, buyers leapt back into the market. Mortgage rates were just slightly above their 2012 lows, and nearly two years of solid job growth had generated millions of new paychecks.

Sales of existing homes have surged 9.6 percent in the past 12 months, according to the National Association of Realtors. In June, they hit an annual rate of 5.49 million, a pace last achieved before the recession began. And sales of new homes have jumped 21 percent through the first half of 2015, the government reported Friday.

But an unusual trend has taken hold: Stronger home sales have yet to motivate many people to put their homes on the market. Listings for existing homes have barely edged up in the past year. And the pace of home building remains subpar compared with previous economic expansions.

With buyer demand outstripping supply, the national median sales price for homes last month reached $236,400, the highest ever recorded, the Realtors said.

For many would-be buyers, those higher prices are manageable if mortgage rates remain ultra-low. In June, the average 30-year fixed mortgage was 3.8 percent. The average has since topped 4 percent as the Federal Reserve has moved toward raising a key interest rate from its near-zero level. When the Fed last prepared to curtail its stimulus efforts in 2013, rates spiked and home sales sank.

Though only modestly up, the higher mortgage rates are having a dampening effect, according an index of buyer demand released Thursday by the national real estate brokerage Redfin. It expects a slowdown in the growth of sales and prices as buyers pursue less expensive homes.

"Interest rates are having an effect," said Nela Richardson, chief economist at Redfin. "It's making buyers a bit more conservative."

In some key markets, prices have begun to stagnate as buyers seem to be retreating. A majority of homes in Chicago, Phoenix, Los Angeles, New York and Washington, D.C., either lost value or basically flat-lined during May, according to a study by Weiss Residential Research.

Weiss' analysis points to a contributing factor for the shortage of available homes: Many homeowners can't find affordable homes themselves and so can't list their own properties for sale.

"The reason why demand is high relative to supply is that homeowners are having a hard time moving up," said Allan Weiss, founder of Weiss Residential Research. "There is gridlock."

Aesop’s Fables for the Modular Home Industry

One day a modular home factory Owner, his Sales Manager and Service Manager were walking to lunch when they found an antique oil lantern.

They rubbed it and a Genie comes out. The Genie says “I’ll give each of you just one wish.”

Me first! Me first!” yelled the Service Manager. “I want to be in the Bahamas, driving a speedboat, without a care in the world.”

Puff! He’s gone.

Me next! Me next!” says the Sales Manager. “I want to be in Hawaii, relaxing on the beach with my personal masseuse, an endless supply of Pina Coladas and the love of my life.”

Puff! He’s gone.

“OK, you’re up,” the Genie tells the factory owner.

The Owner says “I want those two back in the office after lunch.”

Moral of the story:
Always let your boss have the first say.


One day a farmer was raking up the Bull dung in the barn and took a break for lunch. While he was gone a small bird flew in and starting eating from the large pile of dung.

He ate and ate until he was about to burst. He flew up to the handle of the rake where he became dizzy, fell off and broke his neck on the ground.

Moral of the story:

Don’t fly off the handle when you’re full of bullsh*t

Brand Content is King for Modular Home Builders

An article by Reed Dillon

Lately it seems that everyone’s ultimate goal is great website Search Engine Optimization (SEO). All modular home factories and builders want to be at least on the first page if not the number 1 or 2 in Google search rankings. SEO specialists claim that they have the secret sauce to propel you into a higher search ranking position.

I maintain that great SEO is not an end in its self. It is an admirable goal but a fundamental point has been missed. What happens when they get there?  I believe a very crucial element has been forgotten and that is brand content.

Great brand content actually drives SEO through dynamic compelling written and visual content that engages and informs the visitor. Your goal, through brand content is to drive them to becoming a customer.

A quick scan of your website dash board analytics can reveal some real truths about what happens when someone actually comes to your site. On your dash board some things that you want to pay attention to is the amount of new visitors that have coming to your site over time as compared to repeat visitors, pages visited, time on site and your bounce rate.

Between just those stats you will be able to get a general sense of how well your site is doing when it comes to engaging and retaining potential customers.

Below is a list of some brand content solutions you may consider:

Video: As stated recently in the Washington Post, in 5 years 80% of internet content will be online video. This is not a pipe dream this is for real. People like moving pictures. It keeps your visitors engaged as well educates and can drive visitors to act.

Photography: I have seen so many websites with either incredibly bad photography or meaningless generic stock photography populating the site. Photography is the gift that keeps on giving and acts as a vehicle to convey visual ideas and concepts. As much as possible make it a priority to invest in good custom photography that shows off you product in the best light.

Written Content: Remember websites are more of a visual medium than a written medium. Many websites out there are cluttered with too many words that actually interrupt communication with the visitor. Keep your written content direct and succinct. Few people will actually read your entire website and remember that your website is not about you it is about them.

Don’t Bury Your Lead: People’s attention spans are short and are getting shorter. Cut to the chase. Be overt and direct your visitors to what you want them to do. Use bullet points, call to action statements, compelling offers and most importantly articulate how your benefits will improve their lives.

Widgets: A Widget is a stand-alone software application that can be embedded in the HTML of your website. They take the form as on-screen devices such as clocks, maps, mortgage calculators, tickers, daily weather etc. Don’t add a widget just for the sake of it but do not hesitate if it make sense and contributes to your brand content theme.

Consistency: Stay consistent with the format of your website and your branding. Using different layout formats for each page makes your website look disheveled and disorganized.  Use the same branding mandates that you use in your other marketing materials such as colors, type treatments etc.  Your website is often the first thing people see, so make the most of it because you may not get a second chance.

Automation: People do not want to feel as if they are interacting with a brick wall. When people give you something as intimate as personal information, they want to be assured that their communication was received and that their needs are being taken care of. Customer Relationship Management (CRM) systems help to manage communications through automation and are a must on any website.

Blogs: Use blogs on your site. A website without a blog is like a boat with an undersized motor. Blogs are the place where you want the majority of your words. Blogs position you as an expert in the field and are an easy way to keep new relevant content on your site that can be indexed on search engines.

I’d welcome hearing your suggestions regarding how and what types of brand content tools works for you. Post your questions and ideas in the comments section below.

ABOUT Reed Dillon - After nearly two decades of experience heading the marketing departments of some of the industry’s largest modular manufacturers and earning numerous national awards, Reed Dillon is the owner of Creative Brand Content - a national marketing consulting company. You can contact Reed at rkdillon@embarqmail.com or by phone at 540-488-2978.