From the Introduction
Until quite recently, if anyone had told me that early in the 21st century my wife and I would buy a manufactured home and be telling anyone who would listen how thrilled we were, I would have smiled politely and asked them if they were still taking their medication. After all, while the industry strives earnestly to upgrade its product’s image, aren’t we really talking here about a mobile home? An instant house-in-a-box, built in a factory and then trucked in and dropped off in a trailer park, or plopped down in a field in some rural backwater county to become an attractive nuisance, or tornado bait, or both? Surely you jest.
However, if this same person had predicted that early in the new millennium we would buy property and put on it a 1500 square foot two-bedroom, two-bath. factory-built home with vaulted ceilings, lots of sky lights, a den, a retreat room, a large master bath, a spacious kitchen with Whirlpool appliances and solid oak cabinetry, and that sliding doors would open onto an expansive 300 square foot sun deck, and that the total cost, including a detached two-car garage, well and septic system would be a whopping 25 percent less than the cost of a site-built home with the same features —plus, we would move into that home a mere 74 days after we inked the purchase agreement—well, I still might have given the same skeptical response. But I would have been intrigued.
And intrigued we were when, not long ago, we decided to sell our home in California’s Bay Area and move north to a semi-rural community in Washington State. Soon after arriving here we began looking at homes for sale. We found many in our price range but nothing really excited us. Moreover, many homes needed repairs. After a decade of doing our own upkeep and improvements to our last home, we were ready for something less demanding. That’s when we decided one morning to check out one or two of the manufactured home dealerships in the area.
Walking through one of the double-wide lot models that was sticker-priced in the mid-range, around $55,000, we were amazed to find ourselves in surroundings that were indistinguishable from a custom site-built home: double-pane insulated windows, high ceilings, solid construction throughout, quality doors and fixtures and a great floor plan.
Before the day was out we had visited several dealerships, looked at a dozen models, and collected a stack of brochures. In the process we got a strong first impression that dealers can vary considerably. At one lot, when we walked into the sales offices, the stench and haze of cigarette smoke was so overpowering we had to rush back outside. The salesman on duty probably sensed that our behavior was not a good sign. He was right—we soon left.
By that evening, for the first time since we had arrived, we were excited by a new possibility: buy some undeveloped land and put a new manufactured home on it, get exactly what we want, and save a bundle. Could this be done?
Yes, it was possible. And we did it. But we were fortunate in that our backgrounds were a great help—my wife in earlier years had learned carpentry and had helped build a house, while I had once been active in a local environmental group and was familiar with dealing with local government planning and building departments. Still, we often asked ourselves What about buyers who don’t know what’s involved, and who don’t have the knowledge they need to make important decisions, to protect themselves from being misled or defrauded, and to avoid costly mistakes? What resources do they have?
Very few, we learned. And from that discovery grew the idea for this book. As our own home project proceeded, we used the experience to learn as much as we could. We took notes and photographs and asked questions, and did a lot of listening. My reporter’s instincts were piqued as I learned more about the manufactured housing industry, how it works, and, unfortunately, how its reputation has been sullied by predatory operators, primarily unscrupulous dealers and lenders, who have used fraud and deceit to swindle unwary buyers, especially the most vulnerable—those with limited means such as young families and the elderly.
In the pages that follow you will learn more about these scam tactics, and how to protect yourself, but rest assured the majority of manufactured home dealers are decent reputable professionals whose success and longevity owes to their honesty and commitment to fair dealing and to providing great service, before and after a home sale. This guide shows you how to find them. Indeed, these same dealers were anxious to offer invaluable tips on how to quickly spot the sleazeballs who are simply out to take you....