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Manufactured home sales are on the rebound in Washington state

When the opportunity arose for Marla Bahadori to move near her sister on a large waterfront lot in a small town, she sold her four-story Seattle home and began looking at options for building a house on the property. It was suggested that she consider placing a manufactured home on her sister’s land in Allyn, Wash., but she was hesitant at first. “It surprised me,” she said. “I was thinking trailer.” What she found was just the opposite. “They used 2-by-6 studs, double-pane windows, all the same materials.”

After weighing the quality, costs and time to completion of a manufactured home compared to a site-built house, Bahadori went with the first option. She purchased a two-bedroom, two-bath model “It looked like a cabin in the woods.”

It’s people like Bahadori who are fueling the resurgence in prefabricated home sales, which rose in Washington this year by 47 percent after a decade-long decline that dropped yearly shipments from 3,000 to just 600.

“We’re still not where we were before the housing recession, but it’s the first time we’re seeing a real breakthrough,” said Joan Brown, executive director of the Northwest Housing Association, which represents the manufactured and modular home industry. She credits the improved economy, a need for affordable housing and greater mortgage and financing availability for the recovery.

 

Besides affordability, his customers like how quickly a manufactured home can be in place and operational. “Speed is the name of the game. The weather in the Northwest guarantees sub flooring will get wet on a site-built house.” Bahadori said that once she had selected her home model, it took about three months to get it into place, complete the foundation work and hook up to utilities.

Lower costs, lower prices

The prefabricated structures are built to U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development code in enclosed facilities and are not subject to the theft of materials and weather slowdowns, which hastens the process and keeps construction costs down, Brown explained.

The homes cost on average $48 a square foot to build, compared to $101 a square foot for a site-built house, according to 2015 figures from the Manufactured Housing Institute. Part of the industry’s challenge has been to overcome negative notions that factory-built homes are plain and cheaply made. “It’s been the saga here for 30 years,” Brown said. “Once they see one, people often say they had no idea.” She emphasizes that a variety of models are available and that customers can modify interior floor plans and add exterior features such as a garage or porch. “You can have wood floors, granite counter tops, Delta faucets, Whirlpool appliances – or you can buy an entry-level product.”

The ability to customize has helped renew interest, Brown said. Last year, some Washington counties reported that manufactured housing accounted for roughly a third or more of all new housing permits issued in unincorporated areas. The homes are permitted in all cities in the state. Bahadori said she’s very happy with her home and enjoys the proximity to her sister, with whom she has coffee each morning. “We built a ramp from my sister’s deck to my porch. We call it the sky bridge.”