Updated: May 28, 2019
Modular homes can be a source of much confusion. Sometimes even real estate agents cannot determine the difference between manufactured and on-frame / off-frame modular homes. Unlike site-built, often referred to as 'stick-built' homes, Modular and Manufactured homes are 'delivered' in one or more modules by truck to the building site.
Site-built homes are constructed entirely at the building site, with common construction materials being 2 x 4s and 4 x 6s pre cut wood used for framing and trusses. They must conform to all state, local and regional codes.
The main difference between whether modulars are described as 'On' or 'Off' frame, is determined by the existence of the frame that sits under the property. You can't see this from the outside of the home - they likely look just the same. There are also some other key differences. These differences are not ALWAYS present, however are a good indicator.
What are modular homes?
Modular homes are built in sections at a factory. This can actually improve the quality of a home, as they are built in a controlled environment.
They are built to conform to all state, local or regional building codes at their destinations.
Sections are transported to the building site on truck beds, then joined together onsite, after which the local building inspectors check the build to make sure that it meets requirements
Off-Frame modular homes appraise similar to stick-built and should have the same lifespan as its site built cousin.
Shipping containers, that have gained in popularity recently, can also be called modular homes.
Some Homeowners Covenants restrict the building of modular homes.
1. Off-Frame Modular Homes:
No steel frame underneath
2″ x 10″ floor joists, occasionally 2″ x 8″
Floor joists are 16″ centers
Built to same residential codes as stick built homes
Generally appraise (and gain or lose equity) as a 'stick-built' home. Most often manufactured homes (see below) decrease in value over time, as they are deemed 'personal' rather than 'real' property.
2. On-Frame Modular Homes:
Steel frame underneath
2″ x 6″ or 2″ x 8″ floor joists
Floor joists are up to 24″ centers
Need special loan products to purchase
Most often appraised as a manufactured home. Most often manufactured homes decrease in value over time, as they are deemed 'personal' rather than 'real' property.
3. Manufactured homes
These are commonly referred to as mobile homes or trailers and conform to the HUD or Federal building code. Building inspectors certify the local electrical work and other local work, and are not required to approve the structure.
Steel frame underneath is always present
How to identify a modular home vs a manufactured home
Modular homes have a permanent modular home seal - located either on the data plate, usually under the kitchen sink, or inside the main electrical panel.
There is usually a data tag at the electrical panel, or sometimes inside a kitchen cabinet or a bedroom closet, with the date the home was manufactured and information about the HVAC system. This is not the data sticker often found in a kitchen cabinet of a modular home, which provides information about inspections.
Doublewide manufactured homes have a data plate tag outside with HUD numbers on it.
Often the property card for the home will say 'modular' - just not which type. However, these can be incorrect! One thing to note is that manufactured homes are taxed as personal property, even though occasionally the MLS, the bank and the county tax records may have it listed as real property (a modular home on a permanent foundation)!
Under the home
The brick foundation is often nothing more than a brick skirt, and the home may sit on cement blocks. In a manufactured home, this floor frame is most always steel. If the wheels have been removed, you typically can see where they were once attached. You should see a series of metal tie-down straps. These are a requirement.
A number of loans are available, depending on your lender. Always check with your lender first:
FHA – A low down payment, foundation must meet FHA foundation requirements
VA – No money down required for Veterans, Service members, & qualified surviving spouses
USDA – No money down home loan, unless non-new manufactured or on-frame modular
Off-frame modular homes enjoy the same breadth of loans as 'stick-built' homes.
For some reason, modular homes always fight a stigma in the US, even though in other parts of the world, they are lauded as THE way to build a home. Companies such as DVELE offer higher-end modular homes in the US. Even luxury homes can be built in this modular fashion. The term 'pre-fab' (Pre-Fabricated) is also used.
Homes are built in a controlled environment - think about all those homes you see being built out of wood and rained on for months!
Workers get to enjoy working in that same controlled environment.
Often lower price compared to homes built on site, as there are less delays due to the controlled environment.
Most homes are completed within 60-120 days
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