Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Stick Builder Tells Why He is about to Switch to Modular

I received this email today from a stick builder that reads this blog. After doing the research, he is about to go modular. Here is the email:


Just a small  town, small time stick builder, but wanted to give an observation or two on your industry. This comes by way of a photo I have of a modular home that was pushed off its foundation by a tornado in a locale just north of me. The home itself - other than some missing siding - looked remarkably intact, even as one corner rested precariously on the basement and  the rest perched on a steep slope. It is not often one can read "tornado" and "house" in the same sentence without "debris and carnage" included, but this was the case.

Mlive News Story

This has caused me to do some research on modular manufacturing and practices. Small town, and small time I may be, but I do have some experience in the industry. I have chaired the local Planning Commission, chaired membership for the local HBA, also served at the state level for MAHB/NAHB, and shared in management duties for a company that built in the largest ever planned community in Michigan (Waterstone, in Oxford, $1.2billion). Further, as you know, Pulte is based here in Michigan, and has dallied in the modular market.

So, let me get to my points: 

1. The perception that Modular is crap - inferior materials, shoddy build quality, horrible supervision of onsite placement (by both "Builder" and Local Inspectors), and indifferent, sometimes calloused "out the door" warranty responses.

2. The perception is "Real Builders" - even the shoddy ones - offer more design choices and finishing options than Modular, and once financing, code approvals and production delays are considered, will likely get their stick-built dwelling up sooner.

3. The perception that Modular means lower resale value - even negative "saleability". The connections and practices with "mobile homes" are many and have existed for too long. The only well-known production buildrs that ever go into Modular, do so to reduce cost, not improve quality.

I am simply flabbergasted by all the above, yet I know these are the realities. Flabbergasted, because every one of those items I ticked off above ought to be the reason to buy a Modular, factory built home. I also know this, because I've spent my life living in the automobile capital of the U.S.

Factory built should mean: Tested and superior materials. Refined and proven methods. Consistent and quality-checked assemblies.  Running changes that are backed by well-understood engineering.

Factory built ought to mean easier approvals, easier financing and a more durable product.

Factory built brands ought to be preferred over the output of some unknown, "Here today, gone tomorrow" Builder.

As we march further into the 21st century, the reality that energy efficiency, healthy materials and indoor environments, ecological footprints and the ability to oversee/manage all these will become increasingly important and more difficult. This ultimately means that, like it or not, ready or not, Modular/factory built housing will become more and more the norm.

The one, incredibly important contribution "Modular Home Coach" can offer to the industry, is a voluntary vetting program - similar to the one that J.D. Powers does. 

In other words, make quality a selling point. Allow Modular manufacturers and Builders the opportunity to stand toe-to-toe with one another - based on buyer feedback, and then use the outcomes to drive the industry perception upwards.

I don't like J.D. Powers. I've had to endure what I considered a rigged game. But if Modular Manufacturers and Builders don't perform this process on themselves, and by their own volition, then they will continue to labor under the reputation they have now - until that is, someone less merciful does it to them.

Just my thoughts, and thanks for a helluva good site,

C. John S.

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