Modular Homes Undergo Change in Image

THE JOURNAL RECORD, June 23, 1993 | Go to article overview

Modular Homes Undergo Change in Image


OXFORD, Maine _ Five years ago Edward M. Lawrence wouldn't consider buying a modular home. "Manufactured housing just carries a stigma," he said.

But recently he and his wife, Brenda, decided to buy a three-bedroom modular cape-style home made in Maine. They have picked out a lot in a quiet neighborhood in Gardiner, just outside the state capital and have put their twobedroom house up for sale.

"Modular homes have more design options today," said Lawrence, a 32-year-old land surveyor and father of two. "Now they're comparable to stick-built homes in construction and they're more affordable."

His decision is music to the ears of New England's largest concentration of modular home manufacturers, all in the small town of Oxford, 30 miles west of Lewiston.

Burlington Homes of New England, Keiser Industries and Oxford Homes are all trying to struggle out of the recession and beat the out-of-state competition to meet Maine's giant demand for manufactured housing. Burlington and Oxford make both modular and mobile homes, Keiser only modular.

The Manufactured Housing Association of Maine says 45 percent of the manufactured housing sold in New England is sold and put up in Maine. The figures do not distinguish between mobile and modular homes, but all three Oxford companies say orders for modular homes are growing and they expect sales to double this year.

A mobile home, usually 14 to 16 feet wide, is not put on a permanent foundation. A modular home is generally made in two to four sections and is on a permanent foundation or basement; it is about 90 percent complete when it leaves the factory. (There also are panelized homes, in which pieces such as pre-built walls are shipped to a construction site to be put together.)

In both modular and mobile homes, plumbing and wiring are installed in the factory and need only be connected to utility hookups.

In 1989 one out of five homes in Maine was manufactured and industry officials predict increases in modular sales. In 1990, Maine residents bought 1,901 manufactured housing units; in New York state, with 17 times the population, 5,998 were bought.

"You have always had this tradition in Maine of the mobile home as the starter home," said Charles L. Wood III, president of Burlington Homes. "Here young couples can put a $25,000 mobile home on a piece of their parents' farm or homestead. This has always been a land-rich but cash-poor state, which is why manufactured housing has always been so popular."

A modest three-bedroom modular ranch costs in the low $30,000s, said Harvey Klugman, owner of Portland Builders Inc. The same house, conventionally built, he said, would cost $45,000. Prices do not include land, foundation or installation of utilities and a heating system; they do, however, include delivery and attachment to the foundation.

Company officials here expect demand for mobile homes _ a two-bedroom, two-bath mobile home can be bought for as little as $17,000 _ to taper off and the modular home market to flourish. As a result, they are retooling and shifting their marketing focus to modulars, which do not have the zoning restrictions imposed on mobile homes.

The new spurt of modular home sales isn't just a result of improved consumer confidence, said Peter N. Connell, president and chief executive officer of Oxford Homes. The modular homes Connell makes are more attractive, sturdier and better designed than they were five years ago.

The companies are also conducting marketing campaigns and forming alliances with contractors to educate consumers about the quality of their modular homes.

"During the housing boom of the '80s, sales of mobile homes were fantastic," said Wood of Burlington, "but we sat on our laurels. Like everyone else we never thought the economy or consumer preferences would change. …

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