Our industry's product looks like garbage and we TOLERATE this. We should NOT


#1

@frankrolfe - could you take a few minutes and respond to this question - it’s been burning on my mind for quite a while. Style and beauty has been democratized everywhere except the factory-made, affordable singlewide mobile home. Why? This makes NO sense. Mobile homes are the ideal candidate for the modern style treatment - they’re rectangular boxes. Don’t tell me it would be unaffordable to make a mobile home with horizontal cedar-toned siding, a modern-looking dark metal roof and dark framed windows. That formula is what makes tiny houses gorgeous. Yes TH’s are expensive per-square-foot - but why? It’s because they’re usually hand crafted on a small scale and use very expensive materials. That issue is a non-issue today. If Target can sell me truly gorgeous writing desk of good quality for $79.99 - a desk that’s at home in a million dollar house and makes my design-minded friends go “wow!” - then Clayton can do the same for a rectangle box house turned out by the thousands. IKEA also proved style and price are NOT mutually exclusive and style on a budget does NOT sacrifice quality. IKEA furniture is not the same quality as furniture costing 3X the price but it IS just as good as bland crap in the same price range.

Style is about color, proportion & texture - these are things which do not cost money. The industry is simply lazy and we the park owners tolerate it. Our product is visually embarrassing and to be honest - an eyesore. The homes had style in the 50’s and 60’s - but today’s singlewides make you cringe when you look at them.

You want to make an upwardly mobile 20-something or 30-something couple with good jobs excited to live in trailer parks - WITHOUT spending megabucks restoring vintage trailers to a polished state of “hip?” Then do what Target did to kill its own market - bring style in at an affordable price in the new mass produced product.

The tiny house movement is fueled in large part by style - many tiny houses are crazy gorgeous. No we can’t put real cedar siding on our factory product but there is no reason Clayton can’t also make a synthetic siding material that looks gorgeous and modern as well. This tiny house is gorgeous - but this look could be done on a 14X70 factory product, no problem - if a product manager got off his fat lazy ass, hired a designer, talked with some engineers and materials scientists and got to work. Imagine THIS home for $35K:

Instead we buy these disgusting boxes straight out of a dystopian sci-fi movie - and wonder why everybody hates our parks and they have such a stigma:

We are a long long way from the bad days of 2008. People have money to spend - why not give them something they WANT to buy instead of what they HAVE to buy? Now you could compete on something other than price and you’d be in tune with the aesthetic sophistication which has swept every area of modern consumer life except affordable homes.


#2

I bring up Target again because although most folks are familiar with IKEA not everyone has noticed (I hadn’t until recently) that Target is making amazingly detailed furniture for a really aggressive price. IKEA can be knocked by those who do not like or appreciate Scandinavian minimalism and claim it looks good because it’s just too simple.

Fine - so look at what Target is doing. I don’t know how they do it but they are offering very detailed fabric textures and sophisticated finishes on wood product, along with highly textured and durable synthetic wood veneers on desks at AMAZING prices. This is furniture sold to the same folks who can afford our homes.

How do you think they feel after seeing that their entire world of consumer products looks great at affordable prices - except the singlewide box we want to sell them on payments for many hundreds of dollars per month - with the accompanying stigma of NOT owning their land?

Imagine how much easier sales would go - and the demographic you could sell to - if you could show off a product as gorgeous on the outside as the affordable art, rugs, kitchenware and furniture is that they buy at mass market stores every day?


#3

Target Windham cabinet - $152:

More chairs currently at Target under $200 each - many are collaborations with known designers:


#4

Metal & pine coffee table - $129:


#5

So where do all these cheap, gorgeous pieces of furniture and art go? In this:

Designed by this guy:

Instead of this or this:

Designed by folks more like this:


#6

Ivan, I’ve had much the same thoughts. I did an experiment with an old, kind of trashy 70s home where I doll housed it up with better grade, affordable yet stylish fixtures from Home Depot. When I get time to organize the photos, I will post a thread and show you the outcome with the costs and how it did on the market. I think you will find it interesting.


#7

Thanks - I’d love to see it! I’ll post some pics of my first remodel also. Look forward to seeing what you did!


#8

I agree with many of your points, and have written articles many times on the fact that the exterior designs of current new mobile homes are not nearly as advanced as the interior designs. But I’m not sure the problem is fairly pinned on the manufacturers. The Clayton I-Home looks fantastic – and similar to the photos you included https://www.huffingtonpost.com/2009/05/07/clayton-homes-i-house-the_n_198877.html . However, it is my understanding that it did not sell well at all. As a result, the problem may be with the tastes of our customers rather than the abilities of our manufacturers. But I, too, would like to see many aesthetic features from tiny homes incorporated into the standard MH design, so I’m hoping the changing landscape of affordable housing may elevate tastes in the product over time.


#9

There are great designs available, here’s a link to product that Karsten is building:

http://www.balboaislandcollection.com/


#10

Those ARE nice - good find!


#11

I note the dates on the Balboa Island series are a few years old, and Clayton’s I-home was a flop. So, does the lower-middle-class, just-upgrading-from-an-apartment, customer want to pay the extra for good design? What if a “designer” class 2BR/2BA home is $60,000 and a “budget” model is $40,000? I think our customers will take the cheaper model.


#12

I would agree with you @MHP_Investor that a $20,000 premium over the “white vinyl & shingle roof” box is not realistic for most buyers. On the other hand I have a young married couple with 750 FICO scores paying me $900 per month rent in my park (plus electricity and gas) for a 35 year old 3/2 BR singlewide which came to me essentially as a useless “bombed out” shell of disgusting particle board cabinets and 1970’s decor. Stellar references personal, work & landlord, clean and quiet, don’t smoke. Just lovely folks. If you saw them you’d say “Uh oh - hipster invasion” not “Here comes Bubba.” Whether these clients are more profitable in the long run I don’t know.

On the outside it looks like this:

On the outside it looks like this except I now have new skirting. I will also paint and maybe side but not sure yet - will decide next spring. Will do some minor landscaping with flower boxes.

On this inside here is the before/after. This was a couple that qualified for a mortgage and had a down payment for stick-built on land, but the wife was not happy with what they found in the $80-$90K price point in this part of central Wisconsin. Median SFH is $160K and rising in the town - higher in the immediate zip code. They came to the park to save up more money for a house - not expecting to find what I gave them. They liked the remodel idea so much they gave me a $3,000 deposit to hold the house (they were deathly afraid I’d sell it out from under them) and then waited almost four months for it to be done. When it was over they were delighted and said it was much nicer than any apartment they could find in town for even several hundred dollars more - and obviously much nicer than any stick built on land remotely in their price range. Will they leave? I dunno - but if they pay $900 a month for four years I’ll give them the house as long as they sign a lot rent lease for a couple more years. I stabilized this empty asset I inherited and attracted a higher demographic than the park has otherwise. The young 28 y/o husband has a bachelors in sociology University of Wisconsin (ironically he works in a factory 60 hours a week because it pays well.) He makes about $4,000 a month in wages, enough to let her stay home with the baby for now. The remodel included most wiring redone and also much of the plumbing lines redone in PEX. Roof is in perfect shape as are windows. We rebuilt all trusses and installed new insulation in the ceiling. Flooring, ceilings, lights, kitchens and baths all new by me (I designed, not installed). Maintenance hopefully will be low:

From this:



To this:

Recessed LED lights with extra-wide dispersion pattern and warm 2700K color temp raises perceived height of the low mobile home ceiling. Many panel areas replaced with sheetrock also - gives that upscale look:

(nasty kitchen window got lovely casing - that shot was in progress)



Cabinets off-the-shelf at Lowes. Silver hardware feels modern. Real glass tile (plastic sheets of tile just look pathetic) came in 1-ft-square sheets. Maintenance tech applied to wall and grouted them.


6 panel doors to make it feel more like a stick-built:

Travertine shower - local home improvement store had the tiles for $5 each. Pulled out the nasty mobile home tub, dropped the floor with a custom shower pan ordered online - and achieved a “lipless” walk-in shower that is seamless with the rest of the bathroom. Frameless sliding glass shower door. Recessed waterproof lights again make it seem bigger - as does the narrower toilet I bought. More small touches like silent bathroom exhaust fan that senses moisture - make the renters/buyers feel special.

Vanity has tons of storage to maximize the small mobile home bathroom. 5" white baseboards throughout the home only cost about $1 / linear foot to purchase (plus install) but add luxurious feel to the home. White casings installed on all door/window/room openings. New paneled white front and rear doors as well. Carpet has luxurious memory foam underlay that again, adds that small touch of “this is so nice” when walking through it. Little touches add up.

They say their friends were stunned when they walked in the first time.


#13

@frankrolfe & @MHP_Investor I looked up the ihome:

1 - It was priced at $86,000 in 2017 dollars ($75K back then)
2 - It launched right into the Great Recession

Clayton tried again in 2009 with the “ehome” and then in 2014 built a concept house they have never released called - the “concept.”

I am asking for only a few changes to the $25-35,000 “tube” we buy:

1 - Modern siding appearance and color - this means non-overlapping siding with a natural warm and bright wood appearance (or corrugated metal as an alternative).
2 - Larger, dramatic black frame windows
3 - Single pitch metal roof.

On the inside don’t need to go all out. Just do this:

1 - sheet rock walls and ceiling
2 - LED recessed lights
3 - Affordable kitchen & bath cabinetry that says “IKEA” not “singlewide”

Tru Home sells singlewides at what - $18-22K? Add $10K marginal cost to that sticker for the changes I asked for above to pay for the swapped out higher end materials and you’ve taken a pig and made it something “wow.” You could very close get this look for $35K. That’s a game changer in the mind of hundreds of thousands of young people who are into low cost sustainable living as a cultural mindset. Give them 90% of the Tiny House look with 300% more space for 50% LESS money - and you’d grab all those Tiny House “wannabes” who know they’re just not practical solutions for most families.


#14

Wow! Ivan, just wow. That kind of blows my experiment out of the water. You went for some pretty high end finishes. I will try to get my photos and numbers up this weekend.

So, as I understand, you are renting it. If you sold, what price do you think it would go for? How much did it cost and how much more above the usual, slap-it-back-together rehap do you think it cost?

Man, there’s a TV show in what you did; “Mobile Home Makeover”.


#15

Just reread your post and see they put $3k down to buy.


#16

Thank you! It was a lot of work - mainly because I have never done a rehab or any home improvement before. I was also trying to stabilize my first park, learn management, do evictions of awful people etc. etc. 2nd time around will be much easier because I know what to select and can simply check all the boxes, have it all shipped and stacked into our shop building and go from there.

Your questions are spot on - how much “premium” did I get over doing a rehab for much less. Also I should ask - did I leave money on the table? I didn’t advertise for this couple, nor negotiate the price or length of payments. If I’d said 60 or 72 months for pay-off, not 48 - would they have gone for it? Dunno. If I’d said $1,000 a month would they have still signed on the dotted line? Have no idea.

I did a bunch of “change orders” on my install guys - which of course racked up the cost because they were by-the-hour. The project was not planned at all - it was no further than “Ivan make a decision on XYZ.” “Goddamnit Lou! Fine - I’ll get to you in an hour.” Since then I’ve learned a ton - purchased remodeling management software and will optimize labor - I now have cheap labor to do demolition, sub-floor repair, flooring installs, sheetrock prep for pre-paint. I will save my $25 per hour master carpenter for cabinet and lighting installs and trim. Trim, LED recessed lights, modern griege paint, light gray washed oak vinyl plank flooring and 6 panel doors made a huge difference all by themselves. Probably I will not go “stunner” level on the master bath again - I’ll do travertine floor again but not a crazy lipless shower. Everything takes 2-3 times longer than planned obviously.

The cost didn’t come really from the finishes. And this project would NOT make sense to do on a functional mobile home that doesn’t have 35 y/o particle board cabinets falling apart. If the home is in good mechanical shape then my project doesn’t pencil.

But if the home needs a gut re-do anyway, if you got it “free” with the park purchase and the market is strong, then the additional cost of the high finishes I think made sense.

Cheap kitchen sink and faucet: $150
Pot washer sink you see there: $299

Cheap vanity for master bedroom: $250-$300
Vanity in my remodel master bath: $599
Cheap guest bathroom 27" vanity: $99
Vanity in my remodel guest bath - 70% off sale - originally $800 - paid $240 - solid wood, solid marble top:


Cheap toilet: $99
My slimline toilet that helps make the master bath feel spacious: $300
Total extra cost vs buying crap fixtures: $800 - less than one month rent - but gives the “wow” factor and the feel of quality to the renter/buyer.
LED recessed can lights are now only $99 for a 10 pack on Amazon. Labor is the significant cost but my tech does a great job and the ceiling was open anyway to rebuild rotten trusses.
Kitchen counters look remarkably like black slate stone - but are actually a pre-formed laminate counter sold at the big box store for - get this SIX DOLLARS PER LINEAR FOOT:


#17

Kitchen cabinets are from Lowes - their in-stock “diamond finish” coated line. These were Shaker style - they call it “Arcadia.” Very reasonable, pre-painted/finished. Design your kitchen to match their sizes, put 'em in your cart and off you go. As I recall each cabinet was $70-$140 each. Small kitchen so maybe $700-$1000 total for the cabinets + about $60 total for the countertop. It’s the labor really that adds up on projects like this.


#18

The more a MH looks like a standard stick built home the more acceptable it will become. Going knish market to target the millennials will never work. They will never choose to live in a MH community and once they tire of the “tiny home” they will be transitioning into a standard subdivision home of today.
Standard modular homes placed on parameter foundations may be the best option although you must understand that this will result in MHCs moving away from “affordable housing” into retirement or middle class housing. Best suited to those wishing to downsize.

Mobile home buyers generally do not display a great deal of “taste”. You must increase the cost of housing in MHCs to increase the level of taste your target buyer has.


#19

This was my first project. I hired a contractor for this one and I overspent on it. I will admit it.

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#20

Really nice looking pics. We all spend too much on our first - it’s educational and now you know where to spend your $ versus not. I thought the most valuable part was getting my contractor list together that I still use today.