December 12th, 2012 | More in Home Buying

The Difference Between Modular Homes, Manufactured Homes, and Custom-Built Homes

A common question among empty-nesters or those looking to build a second home is, “What is the difference between modular homes, manufactured homes, and site-built homes?” At Palm Harbor Homes, we build both modular homes and manufactured homes on lots all across the country. These homes are built from our extensive library of plans, but we can also customize a plan to fit the buyer’s needs. We can build what you want build on your lot.

Here are some of the main differences between modular homes, manufactured homes, and site-built homes.

Modular Homes

A modular home is constructed in an off-site building center and delivered to your lot for the final construction phase. Almost all of the plans offered by Palm Harbor Homes can be built as modular homes and are built to the same state and local codes as site-built homes. They are just built in building centers instead of “on site.” Some important distinguishing characteristics of modular homes include:

  • Stronger and tighter construction compared site-built homes because they are built indoors in a controlled and supervised environment and must be able to withstand the rigors of transportation to your site and, if more than one story, being lifted in the air by a crane for setting.
  • Architectural and design flexibilities not available in a manufactured home.
  • Unlimited placement or deed restrictions.
  • Slightly higher cost per square foot than manufactured homes, but more affordable than site-built homes.
  • Quicker build cycle than site built, with minimal impact from weather.
  • More favorable financing rates than manufactured homes.

Manufactured Homes

When you build with Palm Harbor Homes, manufactured homes are not significantly different from modular homes. They are also built off-site in a controlled building center and delivered in sections to the homesite. Characteristics that apply to manufactured homes include:

  • Typically less expensive than modular homes, meaning you get more square footage for the price.
  • Home-only mortgage available, meaning land is not tied up. This is not available with a modular home or a site-built home.
  • Many of the same floor plans available for modular homes can be built as a manufactured home.
  • Meets stringent U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) requirements for durability, strength, fire codes, energy efficiency, and overall quality.

Site Built Homes

Site built homes generally fall into two categories; tract homes and custom (or spec) builders.

Tract homes are typically built by large national builders in a subdivision where they benefit from economies of scale. The subdivision is typically composed of a few models with minor exterior tweaks to provide some differentiation. Your ability to custom a tract home is very limited, as most are purchased after construction is complete or as it nears completion. The benefit of buying a site built tract home is that since it is complete, you can move in as soon as you can get your loan closed and you know what types of homes will be built around you. Tract homes are generally priced comparable to modular housing.

Custom or spec builders build a variety of homes. They’ll work with you or your architect to build whatever you want. While this option affords you the greatest freedom in design and selections, it is typically the most expensive and time-consuming form of home building.

However, there are some things to consider: they are typically a more expensive option for building on a rural or “one off” lot.

  • You should expect construction to take between 6 and 12 months.
  • Some builders will quote a firm price for the home up front, but others will only build on a cost plus basis.
  • Custom building often requires a higher cash down payment if financing is involved, since appraisers do not account for the extra expense associated with custom building.

If you elect to custom build, understand that there are numerous factors your builder cannot control such as weather delays and inspection delays. Build these “what-ifs” into your budget (construction loan interest) and your calendar (potential delays).

Now that you know the difference between modular homes, manufactured homes, and site-built homes, you can make your choice more easily. With over 500 modular and manufactured floor plans to choose from, Palm Harbor Homes has the perfect home design to help you live more comfortably. So, what are you waiting for? Find a Model Center near you today! You can also visit us online at Facebook, YouTube, Twitter or Pinterest.

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The opinions expressed by the article do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Palm Harbor Homes.


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