Saturday, November 2, 2013

A Conversation with a Realtor about Modular Homes

Yesterday I met a Realtor for the largest Real Estate brokerage in my area as she was preparing to list my neighbor’s house. She has been in the real estate game for almost 20 years and knows quite a bit about construction.

The topic turned to modular housing; I wonder why? She said that she is currently living in a large 2 story home built in 1948 and the cost to heat it is starting to get out of hand. As we talked she made a couple of statements that made me smile when the subject of modular home construction came up.

She said that she is ready to downsize and thinks modular might be a good option because they are usually less than 1,500 sq ft, cheaper than a ‘real’ house and because they are smaller and better insulated will save her on heating costs. Even though she is technically correct on two of those three statements, she is way off on the third.

DIYer building a new home on site?
First, modular homes can be smaller than 1,500 sq ft. They can be a single module around 600-700 sq ft all the way up to thousands and thousands of sq ft; so I guess that 1,500 sq ft is technically correct. Modular home factories build homes in all shapes and sizes and can produced both customer and Architect designed homes.

The cheaper than a ‘real’ house statement made me wince. It was hard for me to listen to a Realtor make that statement. I would bet that she has sold used homes that she never knew were modular as you really have to know what to look for to tell the difference between site built and modular. The term cheap hurt a little. After all those years of some modular factories and builders telling their customers that they could save about 20% over site building, it’s no wonder that people still believe it.

Modular homes have been hit with things that site builders don’t have to contend with, like freight and increased construction costs because of prejudice against modular construction in some states and by local regulations. This makes site building and modular building about the same retail. The big savings is found in speed to occupancy that can save a new home owner thousands in interest. Time and money are on the side of modular.

The last statement about saving money on heating bills is something that most factories and builders just don’t talk enough about with their customers. Modular homes are better at energy savings simply because they ARE built in a factory. Continuous inspections and workers doing the same job every day produce a better home. I’ve been to site jobs where the guy that was shoveling dirt out of the foundation yesterday is installing fiberglass insulation the next before moving on to helping hang drywall.

Not only are the homes more effectively insulated, they are also inherently greener. Waste not, want not is the mantra for the modular factory. Odd lumber cuts are ground up for fuel for winter, paper and drywall is recycled, wiring and plumbing is recycled and even insulation that is left over is tucked into nooks and crannies. You would be surprised how few trash dumpster are at the typical modular factory compared to site builders who until the last decade used to just bury all their trash in the backyard of the customer’s home.

My advice to this Realtor was simple. When she is ready to sell her home and move into a new one, she should contact a good modular home builder in her area, ask about building her a custom home for a reasonable price that is Energy Star rated, ready for occupancy quicker that a site built home and definitely save a lot of money in heating and cooling costs.

Hopefully I have a convert.

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