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Modular homes shed cookie-cutter reputation

Modular homes shed cookie-cutter reputation

 
Writer:Mary Diduch From:http://www.post-gazette.com/homes/2013/02/03/Modular-homes-shed-cookie-cutter-reputation/stories/201302030394 
Factory-built homes might be shaking their low-end reputation, as climate-controlled home-building factories increasingly cater to high-end home buyers and investors with customized, amenity-filled homes.

In the United States, about 3 percent of homes are modulars, Mr. Mathis said.

Mr. Mathis is the listing agent for a Westwood, N.J., modular home being built by Excel Homes, based in Liverpool, Pa. When he shows the high-end home, people don't know it's modular, he said. He said that he thinks interest will grow because there is a strong market for new homes with more amenities.

Robert Caruso, managing partner and owner of Big Sky Custom Homes in Ho-Ho-Kus, N.J., has been the exclusive New Jersey builder for Westchester Modular Homes of Wingdale, N.Y., for about five years. Homebuyers, he said, can work with a design team on a 3-D monitor in his studio, avoiding an outside architect and extra costs, or the company can create a design from someone's plans.

First, you'll need buildable land. And unlike when purchasing an existing home, which would involve a conventional mortgage, putting up a new modular home -- or any new building for that matter -- requires a construction loan. Those loans are riskier, carrying higher interest rates in the 5 percent range and terms of just six or 12 months. And some lenders unfamiliar with the construction process may be unwilling to lend to modular home builders.

But once the home is complete, you can refinance the construction loan into a conventional 15-year or 30-year mortgage to bring down interest rates to around 3 percent, said Michael Sema, president of Elmwood Park, N.J.-based Amber Sky Home Mortgage, which typically refurbishes existing homes to resell.

And while prospective buyers can dicker with traditional contractors or home sellers, pricing on modular homes is less flexible. Once a price is quoted, it's set, said Mr. Caruso of Big Sky Custom Homes. On the other hand, the buyer doesn't have to worry about the price of a new home going up.

Usually, the price per square foot in construction is $100 to $150, depending on how high-end a builder is. Now, he's getting a home built for about $75 to $80 a square foot, possibly $100 depending on the finishing touches, Mr. Sema said.

Rob Ebbets, executive vice president of Innovative Building Systems, Excel's parent company, has found that people save 5 percent to 20 percent, depending on the amenities.

He said his company has found that people are buying older homes, tearing them down and replacing them with a new modular home.

This is especially true in urban areas, where construction sites can be exposed to theft or vandals. With modular housing, all the pieces arrive and are bolted together weather-tight in a day, Mr. Ebbets said.

That wasn't always so. In the middle of the last century, modular homes looked like more like double-wide mobile homes, not the modular mansions of today, Mr. Ebbets said.

And the average person can't tell how it was built, he said, even though they come flying down the highway on trucks in as little as two to as many as 20 sections.

While industry professionals can spot thicker walls, doubled-up beams in basements and hinged roofs, a homeowner can tell by peeking under the kitchen sink, where there should be a plate with the home's manufacturing data, said Michael Del Greco, owner of Accurate Inspections Inc. in Woodland Park, N.J.

Among the modular homes Mr. Del Greco has inspected in his 19 years of experience, there weren't issues from the manufacturer. If there was an issue, it came from a homeowner adding something -- like new electrical wiring or an addition.