Things to Know Before You Buy a Modular Home

With modular homes increasing in popularity, do your homework and know your product before you ever meet with a modular home salesperson.

By definition and for purposes of this article, a modular home is a house that has been built in sections in a manufacturing facility and then moved to the site where it’s put together on a foundation, crawl space, or concrete slab. Once completed, a modular home is virtually undetectable from a site or stick-built house.

Shopping for a modular home is a lot like shopping for a new car. There’s the base price that doesn’t sound all that bad and is certainly not over your budget. Then there’s the “real” price. That’s the price the car will cost if you want a steering wheel and tires. I jest, but you’re probably getting the idea.

Modular home buying is similar. You see the pictures and walk through a few models and you just know this will be the best way to go. And there definitely are advantages to buying a modular home. They’re built indoors, so there’s no weather delays or weather-damaged building materials. Once construction begins in the plant, it takes less than a week to build the sections and prepare them for transport. The cost per square foot is generally less than a site built house, and in most cases the construction itself is high quality.

But here’s the catch. There’s a lot more expense to buying a modular home than selecting the model you like and waiting for its delivery and final construction. There are options you’ll need to choose from. There are contractors you’ll need to hire. There are many expenses and things to consider that are not included in the base price of the house. So, before you sit down with the friendly salesperson, investigate and think about the following:

Dimension. What size house can you afford? On average, a modular home will cost anywhere from $65 to $85 per square foot to build. But this is for the house itself and nothing more.

Site. Do you already own the site, or do you have to buy that too? Is your site undeveloped, or are the utilities already nearby? Will you be installing a septic system? Where is your electricity, water, and natural gas or propane coming from? Who will dig your basement or crawl space or pour the cement slab? Estimates and costs from contractors and utility companies might surprise you.

Heating, air conditioning, plumbing. Remember that your house will not come from the factory with any duct work or wiring or water lines. You’ll need contractors for your sheet metal, electrical, and plumbing plans and installation. Have you thought about what kind of heating and air conditioning units you want? How about appliances?

Garage, porches, and decks. Pictures of modular homes always display garages and pretty porches and decks. But those don’t come with the price of your modular home either. If you can’t do the work yourself, you’ll need to hire someone to pour the garage floor and a carpenter to build your porches, decks, and garage.

Options. And then there are the options. Electrical outlets and phone jacks, priced by the number of each. Wall and floor coverings made to sound like great inclusions, when in reality the quality is fair and the selection poor. Basic lighting fixtures that are also included, but would be better left out with a discount so you can shop and buy what you really want from your favorite home building center.

When all is said and done, expect to pay at least 20% more than the friendly salesperson’s figures. That’s not to say the salesperson won’t make you aware of the things I’ve written about, but the cost estimates and work involved will likely be downplayed and considerably less than reality. Your friendly salesperson will also encourage you to believe you are getting many wonderful inclusions, when in fact you would be better off to ask for the inclusions to become exclusions, with the house discounted accordingly. Then when your home arrives, go to your favorite department stores and home building centers and buy the best you can afford.

Shopping for a modular home can be fun and exciting, but the more information you have before you sign on the dotted line, the more positive your experience will be and the happier you will be with the final product.

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