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Alternative Shelter

Purchase Orders Can Also Serve as Ballots

May 26, 1985|Terence M. Green

Very often the most telling comment about a product--and it can be either praising or damning--is the answer to the question, "Would you buy another one?"

That question was answered pretty clearly on the "praising" side by respondents to a nationwide survey of 10,000 manufactured home owners commissioned by Foremost Insurance Co. of Grand Rapids, Mich. Nearly two out of five answers were affirmative and not just a theoretical, verbal "Yes, I would" but a hard, factual affirmation--they had bought another.

Specifically, 39% of the people who bought new manufactured homes in the past two years had previously lived in a mobile home. Furthermore, 49% of all the new buyers said they plan to live in their manufactured home "indefinitely", while an additional 30% said they plan to spend at least five and up to 10 years in theirs.

A large part of what is going on is, of course, a matter of changing image. Genevieve Fernandez, director of home building and decoration for Good Housekeeping magazine, said this:

"Manufactured housing was once considered a less-than-desirable alternative to traditional housing. Today, the public is recognizing that manufactured housing can be one of the most versatile and cost-efficient forms of housing available."

Her words were spoken in connection with the magazine's choice of a manufactured house as its Centennial Home--so named because the magazine is 100 years old, having begun publication in 1885--and featured in the magazine's May issue. It is a 2,030-square-foot factory--built house manufactured in Ocala, Fla. by Brigadier Homes, a subsidiary of U. S. Home Corp., possibly the nation's largest home builder.

The single-level home has three bedrooms and two baths. The exterior is gray Masonite trimmed in "holly red" and sliding glass doors in the living room lead to a solarium. The house--a modification of an existing multisection Brigadier home--is valued by Good Housekeeping at about $84,000, not including the land; without the added amenities it would sell for $42,500.

It may not have been said explicitly but it's implicit that manufactured housing has received the Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval.

And the change of image is reflected from a different angle by a finding in the Foremost survey: its previous survey, in 1982, found that 46% of new manufactured homes were placed on private lots rather than in rental parks; in 1984 that figure had grown to 58%.

Homes in the survey were, however, not so luxurious as the magazine's showpiece. For one thing, 74% were single-section houses, meaning the biggest would be less than 1,000 square feet.

For another, 54% of the new homes cost less than $20,000 and 22% less than $15,000. The average price paid by buyers was $20,989, slightly less than the $21,351 average in 1982.

Part of the reason may be that the buyers were younger. In 1982, 61% were under 40; that rose to 72% under 40 in 1984. In 1982, 35% were under 30, a ratio that rose to 41% under 30 in 1984.

But the new buyers' incomes are higher; 1984's reported a median household income of $19,800, (it was only $17,000 in 1982) and 16% reported family incomes of more than $30,000 a year. Yet their new homes were financed by 87% of 1984's buyers--only 77% two years before.

The profile of new buyers is changing in another way. The new survey found 45% of new buyers working in blue-collar jobs, up from 1982's 32%. White-collar workers stayed pretty much the same, 28% in the latest survey, 29% two years earlier.

The increasing youth of the buyers has a flip side: In 1982, 18% of the buyers were retirees; in 1984, only 8%.

Another point comes through when one stops to think about it. While the change in image is surely an important factor, the increasing youth of the mass of buyers suggests that a large part of the reason may be purely economical.

Younger people today, just starting career jobs and probably families at the same time, just don't have the money to buy a conventionally built house. Manufactured housing is what they find affordable.

Since a large proportion of them are staying with manufactured homes when they outgrow their starter homes and move up, one suspects they found a lot of satisfaction in them.

Not a bad basis for the Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval.

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