Our Journey To Now – The Modular Debacle

I think I’ve been putting off writing this installment of the little series we’ve had going on here because it was really my least favorite part of the whole process. There was nothing fun or easy or enjoyable for us while trying to purchase a modular home.

This probably is mostly due to the company we were working with (a local one that shall remain nameless), but I don’t really have anything to compare our experience to. If anybody else has been there and done that and has fantastic things to say about it, by all means, I would love to hear your story!

The reasons that we opted to go for a modular/manufactured home had most to do with the fact that they are touted as inexpensive and quick to build. We wanted to get a house on the property as soon as possible because 1.) that was what the money Spencer gave/loaned us was intended for and 2.) we wanted to get the loan funds returned to him as soon as possible.

Note: These two factors also were major contributors as to why we didn’t opt for alternative building materials (e.g. straw bale or adobe), attempt to build as owner/builders and why we are not saving up and building step-by-step as we can afford it. There are many various other reasons as well (because, trust me, we delved into each of these possibilities before deciding on our current course of action) and I will list them in a later post.

When we first toured the lot models at the local sale site, we were pleasantly surprised. Make no mistake: the manufactured houses of today are a far cry from the aluminum-sided rusty mobile homes of a few decades ago. These ones come with crown molding, wet bars, bay windows and vaulted ceilings as options. You can swap the standard linoleum and Formica with tile and granite, for a price.

That, of course, is the catch. Much like on a car lot, everything that you like in the models is an upgrade that bumps the cost of the house up a notch. Asking for an exact replica of a model brings you a far cry from the tantalizing offer displayed on the banner outside: “Your dream home starts at only $40,000!”

Of course, we couldn’t just purchase a model directly off the lot and have it delivered anyway. Another factor to take into account was the stringent building codes in Southern California that required costly additional features to be put in place so that the home could reside in such a high fire-zone. Anything we wanted would have to be custom-built to include these standards.

Still, we picked out a modest floorplan that we liked and tried to ignore the fact that the salesman kept insisting it was 2,000 square feet because they counted 400 square feet of wraparound porch as living space (we like porches).

We signed a contract and wrote our first deposit check to a company that in the end would wind up trying to charge us far too much and delivering extremely sub-par customer service. Thankfully, most of the money we spent out of our own pockets during this time period, upwards of $10,000, went not to the company, but to the county for permits and for the grading violation (although we never actually got so far as a building permit). Of course, there was a large fee for them obtaining those permits for us.

The salesmen for the company were, for all intents and purposes, useless. I had so much trouble getting a completely straight answer out of the young man assigned to take care of us that we wound up eventually working directly with the owner himself. One of the other salesmen referred to Noah and I as “breeders” when we came in for a meeting one time with the girls while I was pregnant with Finn. Over and over again we had difficulties with their lack of communication, lack of progress, and muddled and confused answers to our questions.

Despite these huge clues as to what we were getting into, we soldiered on, determined to get some sort of livable, affordable home on our property come hell or high water.

When going over the costs of each and every feature in the house, Noah and I removed pretty much all the bells and whistles that didn’t have to do with structural soundness. We heartlessly crossed out things like recessed lighting and fancy little enclaves in the master bedroom and opted to spend that money on thicker walls. We requested that they not charge us for a lot of the finish work as Noah could do that himself and probably get a better price for the supplies.

Still, when all was said and done, the cost of the house was rather exorbitant for what we were going to get- mostly due to the fact that they were trying to charge us $25,000 for an unfinished, detached garage.

The one positive note about anything during this whole time was the lender that they connected us with (completely unassociated with their company). The lender worked solely with people building any kind of pre-fab house (manufactured, kit homes, etc.) and the gentleman we talked to answered all my questions completely and explained the process thoroughly. He was so honest, in fact, that he actually helped persuade us that we were not making a smart choice.

Eventually, during this whole debacle, Noah and I sat down and talked about all the money we had spent, and were planning to spend, on a house that wasn’t going to be worth what we were putting into it. According to the lender, the interest rate that we were going to be paying was higher than what we would have for a stick-built house, the depreciation of the house itself would be higher and, of course, there was that insanely priced garage that we were going to have to take off altogether in order to afford the house.

So, we stopped the whole thing. We canceled the contract (which was a lot easier to do because they had not actually gotten around to obtaining us a building permit) claiming that the project had exceeded our financial scope and we were displeased with the customer service and cut ties. They were gracious enough and simply reminded us that, although they couldn’t force us to complete the project, and since we hadn’t actually signed off on purchasing a model, if we purchased a different manufactured home through a different company we were still contractually obligated to hire them for the construction of said model.

Then a few weeks later they sent us a letter claiming that we owed them thousands of dollars for loss of potential profit. There was some back and forth and eventually they backed off and admitted we were in the clear.

And that was our experience with trying to build a manufactured house. We definitely made some costly mistakes and ignored our instincts and tried to rush into something just to get it done as soon as possible. I’m thankful that we eventually woke up and realized what a foolish choice it would have been to throw good money after bad and cut our losses when we did, but the whole thing still kind of stings.

Our next exploration was also within the realm of “pre-fab”, but this time we looked at kit homes. The idea of someone sending us the pieces of the house and then putting it together ourselves sounded right up our alley. I’ll fill y’all in on that one in the next installment.

Anybody have anything nice to say about modular homes or the companies that sell them? I would love to be less jaded about our whole experience.

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6 thoughts on “Our Journey To Now – The Modular Debacle

    1. Yup. My mother in law was actually more offended than I was at the time. I just kind of took it in stride, but it was pretty rude. I’m actually more offended now than I was then after reading the actual words! I think I was probably pregnant and exhausted and even indignation at that point would have seemed like to much effort.

  1. Building a house …yes it is indeed a very great task. I see that you chose not to build with adobe. Adobe is one of the oldest building materials there is, pre Egypt. Adobe, cool in the summer, warm in the winter, build from nature earth, I know , we built an adobe house in Arizona, the mud bricks weighed 35lbs each, 12″ thick…the blocks…3500, were made in four days, dryed in one week, layed the next week…the dirt, came from our own land, mixed with horseshit and straw, water…in six months , the roof was on and although only the interior bathroom wall was covered with plaster board, we moved in. It was a family project, and we enjoyed the building. Also in this time we dug the septic tank hole, and 100 foot of leach line in that time…the inspector said he had never seen that before. Now this was a few years back, but in 6 months we had only spent $8500.00.. Yes, this is a true story, you can ask Noah, he was there through it all..that’s why he knows how to build, and do things…I know…I am his father…David Grady Springfield

  2. Wow! No, our reasons for not going with a modular are nothing like yours! Yours, when you include the “breeders” remark especially, is a horror story! I am so glad that you got out of such a nasty situation. (We, on the other hand, just couldn’t find anyplace that would let us do all the finish work ourselves, and I don’t want any carpet or vinyl or sheetrock installed.)
    “Breeders”, wow! I wish I’d been there, and between your mother-in-law and me, there would have been one man with a lesson learned by the time we left the premises.

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