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What is the difference between stick-built, manufactured and modular housing?

  Stick-built Homes - The term "stick-built home" or "site built" refers to a home that has not been pre-assembled in any way – in other words, a home that is constructed on-site around a "stick" frame. Stick-built homes take longer to construct than modular or manufactured homes, but offer the option of complete customization.  
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  Manufactured Homes

The term "manufactured home" generically refers to a home that has been partially or entirely constructed in a factory then transported to the site for assembly. In a specific sense, a "manufactured house" denotes a factory-built house constructed to the HUD Code. The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has strict codes regarding the standards of manufactured homes, and the regulation of factories producing manufactured homes is strict. Manufactured homes can be single- or multi-section; some popular varieties include:

Modular Homes

"Modular" refers to a factory-built house constructed in compliance with the standards of the regional, state, or local building code used by the governing body where the dwelling is located. Generally, this means under one of the model codes (BOCA, UBC, etc.). Most modular homes are built over a 2 x 10 platform and are designed to be placed over a crawl space or basement foundation.

There are two classifications of modulars...

On-Frame  - built on a permanent chassis like a manufactured home and presently classified by Fannie Mae as a "manufactured" home. Note: since "on-frame" modulars are not built to the HUD code, they do not meet Fannie Mae's property eligibility requirements and, at present, mortgages secured by on-frame modulars are not eligible for purchase by Fannie Mae. On the other hand, Freddie Mac treats "on-frame" the same as "off-frame" (conventional) modular homes.

Off-Frame - often referred to as "conventional" modular and built to local and state codes.

Other types of factory built housing include the following:

Panelized Homes

"Panelized" refers to a home constructed of factory-built panels (usually floor and wall panels) which are shipped to the site on trucks and lifted into place using a crane. These wall panels may consist of nothing more than studs and sheathing or they can include windows, doors, wiring, and insulation. When finished, panelized may be indistinguishable from site-built construction but they must meet state or local building codes.

Pre-cut, Pre-fab, Kit Homes 

This term refers to a home package that includes materials that are pre-cut at a factory and assembled on-site. They can include log homes, domes, etc. and must meet local and state codes. Like panelized homes, when completed it may be impossible to distinguish from site-built homes.  

Multi-sectional Home

"Multi-sectional" refers to a factory-built home delivered to a site in more than one section and can include either modular or manufactured housing.

Nonspecific terms considered out of date and no longer used include single-wide, double-wide, sectional, trailer, and house trailer. Frequently these terms are used interchangeably, but this is not the case when dealing with housing codes. While still in common use by the public, most real estate professionals will avoid these terms due to the potential for misunderstanding when communicating with clients.

Federal laws distinguish between manufactured homes (mobile homes) and manufactured buildings (panelized, pre-cut, etc.). Manufactured homes, even those which come in sections (doublewides), must be built on a permanent chassis; manufactured buildings are constructed of units that have been built off-site and then transported for assembly.

Is either type "better" than the other?

Deciding which type of home (manufactured or stick-built) is better than the other depends entirely on the individual situation. Modular homes can often be built more quickly and for less money than stick-built homes – also, often many inspections have been taken care of in the factory and do not need to be performed on-site. On the other hand, stick-built homes do not carry with them the added cost and worry of being transported to the construction site in pieces, and can be modified to suit whatever size, shape, and cost the buyer wishes.

How can I tell the difference between manufactured and stick-built homes when buying property?

If this information has not already been provided for you, you should be able to find a serial number and label permanently attached somewhere in the building that states the home as a modular building and documents its compliance with building code standards. Another label should be available stating a unit’s compliance with the HUD code (manufactured housing).

Often,  these labels (modular) are attached near exterior doors or inside built-in cabinets while HUD labels (manufactured homes) are usually found on the outside end of the unit. These labels can provide useful information that you can use to determine if the building if a manufactured home or a modular building.

Other Considerations - Manufactured & Modular Homes

Transport - Since manufactured homes are built to be transported by road to their installation site, manufactured home builders are regulated by the Division of Motor Vehicles. This means that, when purchasing a manufactured home for transport to a site, a special license and registration must be obtained before the home can be taken on the road.

– Your state’s Licensing Board for General Contractors (or its equivalent) licenses those persons who install modular homes.

- Your state’s manufactured housing board regulates and licenses persons selling manufactured homes. However, a special real estate broker or salesman license is usually not required to sell a manufactured home that has not been affixed to real estate. These regulations change once a home has been installed on-site – once a home has been installed onto real property, a real estate license is required to perform real estate transactions involving the home.

When planning to install a manufactured home of any type on a property, it may be necessary to see if there are any subdivision covenants or zoning codes that may prevent the presence of a manufactured home on the property. Furthermore, in addition to complying with state building codes, manufactured housing must also comply with federal  building codes. It is important to exercise care and stay informed about the type of housing and property you are dealing with, as well as all the appropriate building codes involved, whenever buying, selling, or leasing a property containing manufactured housing.

Stick-Built Homes (Site Built)

There are many specifications to consider when building a stick-built home, many of which are beyond the scope of this article. Some points to consider include: materials, internal structure, wiring and electrical concerns, plumbing, and location. The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) can provide help for those seeking specific information about stick-built housing requirements.

What do I need to know about buying, renting, and selling these types of property?

It is the job of property owners to know the requirements and licensure needed to work with manufactured housing and properties containing manufactured housing. The combinations of laws and restrictions pertaining to a property are as varied as the types of structures that can be built on any given property. Regulations may apply to a type of home at the federal, state, and city levels, and it is important to be informed about all regulations before entering into a real estate

Where can I find more information?

The HUD provides a good starting point to find extensive information about property and housing laws



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