Forget the 20th-century images of rundown trailer parks. Modern mobile (now called manufactured) homes offer an affordable, comfortable, and even spacious option for homebuyers in well-planned communities.
“When I decided to downsize from a large home in Lynn several years ago, I chose a mobile home,” said Madeline Mulcahy. “With the sale of my house, I was able to pay cash for a three-bedroom home in an established community off Route 1 in Peabody and put away some money for my retirement.”
“In general, manufactured homes are a great option for home buyers,” said Mike Bullard, of Resident Owned Communities (ROC) USA. “What we have seen is that manufactured homes are anywhere from three to five times cheaper than site-built homes.”
Manufactured homes come in a variety of sizes and configurations, and are located in communities that are equally varied. There are age 55-and-older communities, all-age communities, and a few can be found on individual private lots.
Mulcahy’s community is a cooperative. She owns the small piece of land on which her home sits. Most manufactured homes are in land-lease communities where homeowners lease the land and pay a monthly fee, which includes the rent, property taxes, snow removal, and the general upkeep of shared spaces. Depending on location and the size and specifics of the lot, land leases can run between $150 and $800 per month, according to the online news site The Cold Wire.
“I have a small fenced-in yard, friendly mixed-age neighborhood, space for my grandchildren to stay over, and best of all ― financial independence,” said Mulcahy.
Melissa Caro, executive director of the Massachusetts Manufactured Housing Association, has seen the transformation from the old “trailer park” image to “well-planned communities that have become welcomed by cities and towns that offer a nice alternative for age 55-plus residents and families to start moving forward with home ownership.”
Jack Behan, 60, chose to buy his two-bedroom, manufactured home at Nob Hill Estates, a 55-plus land-lease community in Weymouth, to facilitate his early retirement.
“The home is just enough for me and my cat Trixie,” said Behan. “The neighborhood is a little jewel. I have a lovely yard, I am close to shopping, a local hospital, and the highway. When my friends come visit, they are amazed.”
Resembling a traditional ranch house, Behan’s home is sheet-rocked, has a full kitchen, and a spacious bath and a half-bath.
Affordability in a hot real estate market has increased interest in manufactured homes.
In 2021, the average price of a new shipped manufactured home in Massachusetts was $132,300, according to the US Census Bureau. There are, however, additional costs for the concrete slab, installation, and site work.
Manufactured housing makes up about 6 percent of occupied housing stock in the United States, and is the nation’s largest source of unsubsidized affordable housing, according to a 2021 report by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. In Massachusetts, manufactured housing makes up less than 1 percent of housing units in Massachusetts.
“Although the number of manufactured homes in Massachusetts is small compared to other states, it is essential that we preserve the manufactured homes inventory because there’s already a severe shortage of affordable housing,” said George “Mac” McCarthy, president and CEO of The Lincoln Institute of Land Policy. “Most owners of manufactured homes would qualify for subsidized housing. If we don’t preserve manufactured homes nationally, the waiting list for subsidized housing would quadruple.”
One key to preserving communities is to keep rents low for homeowners who do not own the land.
“Stability in housing is important,” said Bullard. “There has been a trend of equity firms buying up manufactured land-lease home communities and dramatically increasing the rents. When you dramatically increase rents you destabilize the community.”
ROC’s focus is on helping manufactured home communities become co-ops so that residents own the land, and not just the home. The group is currently working with 27 communities in Massachusetts.
“There are tragic stories about investors buying communities and deferring maintenance until the places become public nuisances,” added McCarthy. “By establishing a cooperative, you preserve the community and stabilize the housing market.”
Joanne Hamberg, owner of Woodland Estates, a 55+ land-lease manufactured home community in Fitchburg, has specialized in the sale of new and previously owned manufactured homes for 38 years.
“Affordability is key. Soup to nuts, a new double-wide manufactured home at Woodland Estates, ranging in size from 24 by 48 feet to 28 by 60 feet, is about $245,000,” said Hamberg. “That includes the concrete slab, grading the lot, paving the driveway, and installing utilities.”
This spring, Debra Fonger of the Fonger Group, Jack Conway Realtors in Mansfield, listed a 720-square-foot, two-bedroom, one bath manufactured home in Norton, overlooking the reservoir, in an all-ages community, for $125,000.
“The phone rang off the hook and I did seven showings in one night,” said Fonger. “Most were first-time buyers. The home was actually priced below market because it needed some upgrades. The biggest challenge for buyers was financing.”
“Purchasing a manufactured home is different from a single-family or condo,” explained Caro. “They are not eligible for traditional mortgages — instead are considered chattel or personal property. A manufactured home is financed like a boat or RV. The finance rate is generally higher, the down payments are often higher, and not many banks finance them.”
In addition, Carol said, there’s a 6.25 percent sales tax on the purchase of a new manufactured home in Massachusetts. Old homes that have previously been a primary residence are generally exempt from the sales tax.
For most downsizing buyers, the choice of a manufactured home is about lifestyle.
Nicole and Kevin Acker purchased a mobile home in Ayer from Hamberg two years ago.
“Built in 1979, it is one of the oldest homes I have sold,” said Hamberg, “but it was just what they were looking for.”
“Kevin had been diagnosed with cancer,” recalled Nicole. “We were down to one income and decided to downsize. We sold our four-bedroom house and bought a one-bedroom manufactured home in an all-ages community.”
Now Kevin is “cancer-free,” and the Ackers are enjoying the “freer lifestyle.”
“We love it,” said Nicole. “We are in our 40s, we don’t worry much about upkeep. Our $460 a month fee includes the property tax, water, sewer, trash, and snow removal. We have single-floor living, wood floors, sheet-rocked walls, an in-home laundry, and a nice deck. Our neighbors are close, but we are not on top of each other. "
When Mulcahy was searching for her manufactured home, she knew she was also choosing a neighborhood.
“I did not want a condo because I did not want shared walls,” she said. “My neighborhood is really nice and quiet. I have a small yard and I can sit on my deck and watch the birds.”
Linda Greenstein can be reached at email@example.com.