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Manufactured Houses Go Up Fast While Managing to Hold Costs Down by Making Efficient Use of Time and Materials

March 01, 1992|STEPHANIE O'NEILL | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES, O'Neill is a Los Angeles free-lance writer. and

When James and Diana Jones outgrew their 1,200-square-foot home in Palmdale, they bought a 2 1/2-acre lot nearby and began searching for a contractor to build them a larger house.

They figured it would be at least a year before they'd step into their dream home. But before signing on with a traditional builder, the couple visited a manufactured housing dealer who offered them a lot more house in a lot less time for a lot less money.

After walking through models at several dealer showrooms, the Joneses were convinced that manufactured housing was the way to go. "The more we talked to them and looked into it, the better it sounded," James Jones said.

Together with company engineers, they designed their own floor plan and in just three months, the couple, with their 6-year-old daughter and new baby on the way, moved into their custom 2,500-square-foot house, complete with cathedral ceilings, arched doorways, built-in planter shelves, double-paned windows, appliances, window treatments, upgraded carpets and tile countertops.

"A lot of people think when you say pre-fab you're talking about a trailer," Diana Jones, 31, said. "But when people see our house, they can't believe it."

As is standard for the industry, the company delivered the house in several finished pieces that included counters, cabinets, appliances and even drapes. A general contractor was hired to pour the foundation, assemble the house and attach it to the foundation, install the carpeting and hook up the utilities.

Best of all, they say, was the price of their factory-built home. The four-bedroom, three-bath house that's permanently attached to the foundation cost $105,000--half of what they would have paid had a contractor built their house.

"I'm very, very happy with it," James Jones, 32, said as he took a visitor for a tour. "A lot of my friends are contractors and they say it's a really good house--not just for a manufactured home, but compared to any house, it's really well built."

The Joneses are among a growing number of Californians opting for custom, upscale manufactured homes over traditional stick-built housing. Already, 1.1 million Californians live in manufactured homes, representing about 9% of all single-family homes statewide.

About 560,000 of those houses are in the more than 5,900 manufactured-home developments in the state, according to the California Manufactured Housing Institute in Rancho Cucamonga. In 1990, retail sales of manufactured housing totaled $556 million statewide, a figure that industry leaders predict will soar as a larger number of families and developers search for more affordable, less risky housing options.

Spurring that growth, they say, are significant new California housing laws that are helping to pump life into the manufactured-home market.

The 1980s saw tremendous financial advances for manufactured homes built on foundations. During that time, they became eligible for conventional home loans instead of higher interest financing more closely associated with auto loans.

Historically in California, manufactured houses, which also include mobile homes, were permitted only in mobile-home parks or rural, agricultural zones, and until about 10 years ago weren't allowed on permanent foundation, unless they were within a mobile-home park.

Later, in 1989, a state law was passed that allowed for manufactured homes to be placed on any single-family-zoned residential parcel of land anywhere in the state. That law was preceded by one passed a year earlier that prohibited neighborhood covenants from banning manufactured homes if the house can meet the architectural standards of homes in that particular neighborhood. And these days, many of them can.

Today, the manufactured home industry is turning out aesthetically appealing homes with higher roof lines and many of the amenities traditionally found only in high-end stick-built homes. A manufactured-home buyer can now order oak cabinetry, rounded walls, flat and cathedral ceilings, rock fireplaces, brick or stucco faces and tile roofs.

"We refer to manufactured homes as the best-kept secret in the housing industry," said Craig Fleming, vice president of Silvercrest Manufactured Housing Inc. one of California's largest manufactured-housing companies. "When people come to our factory and see our models they're pretty impressed and surprised."

But industry leaders are quick to add that not all manufactured homes fit that description.

"Today you can still go out and buy a very inexpensive, downgraded manufactured home that looks like a 10-year-old mobile home," says Gary Pomeroy, president of Select Housing Associates, a manufactured-housing dealership in Newport Beach that sells homes from several companies.

Unfortunately for the industry, Pomeroy said, those are the homes most people associate with manufactured housing. Few, he said, recognize the newer-style manufactured home for what they are because they look so much like conventional houses.

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