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September 8, 2021
Expert Insight

LearnMH and Guide Consumers Making the Move to Factory-Built Homes

With interest in modular housing booming, consumers and builders are seeking resources on how to design, construct and  finance manufactured homes. In this Expert Insight we sit down with Paul Barretto, Executive Director at LearnMH and former Director at Fannie Mae and Chris Nicely, President at and former marketing executive at Clayton Homes.

We discuss how their businesses are actively furthering the adoption of modular and manufactured housing and the advantages of manufactured housing when it comes to cost, time and long-term value. We review the unique dynamics from selecting a modular home to finding a modular dealer and financing the modular home. 

We will also dive into how factory-built  homes are well suited to address the HUD (Department of Housing and Urban Development) initiatives of providing high quality affordable housing nationwide and how builders should market their products to the public. 

Q: Paul: LearnMH’s objective is to bring industry leaders together to push the modular and manufactured housing industry forward and advance the industry’s overall image. What would you say are the most common pitfalls that you see dealers and manufacturers make when promoting their products and how would you suggest they avoid these? Are these product marketing strategies different when targeting commercial buyers?

Thank you for recognizing LearnMH’s effort in supporting the modular and manufactured housing industries. We’ve been offering free webinars, writing blogs, speaking at industry engagements, and providing training to share best practices and provide insight from subject matter experts on today’s housing challenges.   

Manufactured and Modular Housing is in a great position given the current challenges we have with our nation’s housing, including the increasing affordable housing gap. It’s very difficult for traditional home builders to compete with the efficiencies inherent in factory-built housing. However, it doesn’t mean the success of factory-built housing is a given. Whether you’re a retailer, manufacturer, installer, transporter, lender, insurer, community manager, or service provider, as an industry we must be mindful of the importance of customer service, the continued need to acquire and cultivate talent in our workforce, and work for the collective good of the industry. 

Knowing your customer will always be a core necessity, regardless of your role in the industry. The effective use of CRM tools, social media, and technology to attract, communicate, and understand your customer’s needs is critical. The different generations that make up today’s homebuyers have different needs, styles of communication, and motivations. Make the most of the tools to serve them and watch your productivity grow.

Attracting and retaining talent into your workforce is critical to your success. Identifying and developing your future leaders will ensure your product and service will continue to evolve. Mission, sense of purpose, ability to make a difference are all key drivers that will separate the attractiveness of your business against the other opportunities out there. If pay and benefits were equalized how would your company compare to what’s out there?

Now more than ever it is important that our industry be very specific in its promotion and communication of success. Terms like mobile home, trailer, trailer parks, and other outdated references are damaging to today’s factory-built housing. We should be leading with terms that resonate with today’s consumer and industry. Energy-efficient, precision manufactured, cost efficiency, high quality, and American-made, are what should come to mind when referring to manufactured and modular housing. Our voices should also be unified on the challenges specific to our industry, such as zoning and over regulation because it impacts everyone including residents. Make your voice heard by participating in your local trade association and collaborate on the most pressing challenges. 

Another advantage modular housing factories can benefit from, is showcasing technology to their customers. Products like Offsight provide owners with visibility into the factory built process and add a layer of confidence in a product's quality and delivery reliability. This is huge in convincing owners and consumers to make the switch to factory built housing and to accelerate adoption.

Q: Paul: Many new factories are opening later this year with a focus on delivering factory-built housing. This looks to be a major focal point for the industry as more and more capital is allocated for affordable housing. What are the advantages in leveraging manufactured and modular housing to deliver affordable housing projects? Are there advantages that consumers can benefit from in terms of financing?

While there are new manufactured and modular housing plants and factories opening and existing ones expanding, there aren’t enough to address the affordable housing gap that exists in the U.S. The population of homebuyers in search of housing is much greater than the supply of new and existing homes, which is why you are seeing the dramatic increase in sales prices. 

This imbalance of affordable housing has been growing over decades and won’t be solved overnight. There aren’t enough traditional homebuilders to close the gap and they aren’t building new homes at the price point for them to be affordable to much of the homebuying population. This is where factory-built housing excels because of its ability to produce quality homes faster than if they were built individually on-site, and with less waste. Manufactured homes are more cost effective and affordable in comparison to modular housing because they are federally regulated by the HUD Code whereas modular homes must meet state and local building codes. The factory-built production and efficiencies in modular housing make them more affordable than traditional site-built housing.

In the recent past, manufacturers have been producing manufactured homes with higher end amenities and architectural features that make them blend into traditional site-built communities. We are beginning to see subdivisions being created with these homes which is attracting a larger population of homebuyers who haven’t considered manufactured housing in the past. These homes are more affordable than their site-built counterparts and have begun addressing the ‘not in my backyard’ zoning that had been an issue with manufactured housing in the past. 

With respect to financing manufactured and modular housing, consumers are able to finance them with fixed-rate 30 year conventional and government financing provided the home and land are titled together. Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac are government-sponsored organizations that buy the residential mortgage loans. They have programs that provide access to low-interest fixed rate 30-year mortgages similar to traditional site-built housing for manufactured homes built to higher standards.  In terms of financing, we’re seeing the barriers separating factory-built and site-built homes fading. 

Q: Chris: What would you say are the most compelling reasons consumers should consider a modular or manufactured home over a traditional site built home? Do these reasons also apply for luxury homes?

Today’s factory-built housing breaks all stereotypes and previous stigmas. These homes are engineered to be built in a controlled environment, by trained tradespeople, efficiently and at a lower cost. Materials are purchased in volume and are often pre-cut to avoid waste. The components are the same materials used by any builder; name brands anyone will recognize. As a result, a home can be delivered, set, finished and financed for far less than a comparable site-built home. A home buyer can acquire open floor plans, deluxe kitchens and glamorous bathroom suites - at a price,...well, for considerably less. 

As in any product line, you will have an entry-level product all the way to deluxe, premium product, custom designed, engineered and built. Premium luxury homes are built with the same philosophy as any home any builder offers. Even our first time home buyers can customize their home with a selection of finishes and amenities. 

Q: Chris: How is the process of designing, building and financing a modular home different from a traditional site built home? What would you say are some of the main points consumers should be aware of before they start the process? 

First, there are no delays due to weather. Your home is built inside, protected from the elements. It won’t take months to close and move in once your home arrives on site; it’s weeks. To finance your home, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac have new loan products for MH that have the similar characteristics as traditional mortgages. And FHA/VA and others have great programs for buying a manufactured home. There are thousands of floor plans to select from and each floor plan allows you to customize features to make a house your home.

Shop online to see what you might like. Educate yourself to ask great questions. There are many resources that allow you to educate yourself and then search for homes in your area., provides you a search tool allowing you to specify size, beds and baths and even house plans that qualify for the MH Advantage loan product from Fannie Mae. Then visit a sales center that offers the type of home and floor plan you are interested in. As a buyer you are looking for someone you can trust and deliver on their promises, first, and if they are the right person, they will help you find the right home. They will explain everything as you move through the process. Take a close look at the reputation of the builder and the dealer who will be the general contractor. In approaching your home purchase in this manner, you take the extra steps to ensure you get the highest value for your housing dollar.

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