• What I Looked for When I Bought My Mobile Home

    LIKE so many married couples today, we had to obtain adequate housing for our family. Living in the northeastern United States, we needed a well-built home, one that could withstand temperatures below zero on the Fahrenheit scale.

    My wife got the idea that she would like to live in a mobile home because of the lower maintenance cost and because conventional homes were priced so high. This idea was not an untried one, since we had lived in a small rented mobile home the first seven months of our marriage. That unit should have broken our desire ever to set foot in one again.

    Our honeymoon home had an old pot-bellied stove that would not heat properly. My wife kept two pairs of shoes, one pair on her feet and the other on the stove so she could switch them to keep her feet warm. The closets were filled with mildew. And condensation on the windows would frost up at night, only to melt in the next day’s sun and run down the walls to make puddles on the floors. This time, though, we were not renting, but buying a new mobile home.

    We found that the price of new mobile homes varies greatly, depending on quality. They generally begin at around $3,500 and run up to some $15,000; the average for a completely furnished sixty-footer is about $6,000 to $7,000. In some places, however, most mobile homes sold are the ‘double wides.’ The double width, twenty-four feet instead of twelve, is obtained by bolting together two mobile-home sections. The prices of these ‘double wides’ frequently run from $12,000 to $17,000 and more.

    Need for Caution, Taking Time

    Although the cost of a mobile home may be only a fraction of that of a regular house, it is nonetheless a major expense. Therefore, buying one deserves careful consideration and study.

    Some persons, however, decide rather abruptly that they want to move into a mobile home. At the sales lot they are captivated by the glamour and ornate beauty of a particular model, and so buy it on impulse. They do not really analyze its quality of construction, whether its design is practical for their needs, or whether the manufacturer and dealer are reputable. Later, they may deeply regret their hastiness.

    We did not want to make such a mistake. We realized the need for caution. It is as the business magazine Fortune observed: “Buyers of mobile homes have a good deal to beware of. An industrialized house is only as good as the assembly line which produced it and not infrequently that is not good, as evidenced by shoddy interior finishes, or substandard wiring, plumbing, and heating. Mass purchasing of furnishings can lead to uncomfortable beds, distorting mirrors, fustian [pretentious but inferior] fixtures, and other minor flaws.”

    Thus we took our time, carefully comparing prices and quality. We visited every mobile-home sales lot within a radius of sixty miles, looking at forty different makes on fourteen lots. We felt that this was a good cross section of mobile homes designed for the climate in which we live. Actually there are many other makes turned out by hundreds of manufacturers; in just 1969 an estimated 110 new manufacturers came into the field.

    At each sales lot we talked with salesmen about their homes. We also picked up the manufacturers’ printed literature, which at times describes the mobile home’s construction​—how the floor, the walls and the roof are made, and the type of materials used. We took the literature home and carefully studied it, comparing the various homes in the $6,000 to $10,000 price range in which we were interested. We are a family of four, with a girl five years of age and a boy four, so we were looking for a well-built mobile home with three bedrooms.

    Checking Dealer and Manufacturer

    We bought our mobile home through a dealer. Most persons do, although some have found it advantageous to buy directly from a manufacturer, when possible. Homes can often be purchased for less this way, but the services of a dealer are sacrificed.

    The need to do business with a reputable, established manufacturer can hardly be overemphasized. A manufacturer, for example, usually provides a warranty that guarantees correction of major defects of workmanship that appear within a certain time after purchase, perhaps three months or even a year. But his guarantee is of little value if he goes out of business or is not inclined to live up to the spirit of the warranty.

    A dealer should also provide a written guarantee, promising services in addition to those guaranteed by the manufacturer. For example, a dealer may promise to move the purchased mobile home to the location desired, block it up on its foundations, level it, connect the utilities and care for minor repairs, things that a distantly located manufacturer cannot be expected to do. When we purchased our mobile home we obtained a guarantee from our dealer that he would perform such services, and he has. It is good to have a written guarantee, properly signed.

    We were careful to check in advance on the reputation of both the dealer and the manufacturer of our mobile home. There are a number of ways in which this can be done. One of the best is to inquire of other persons who have purchased the same make of mobile home. Are they satisfied with it? Did the dealer fulfill his promises? Or one might check with the local Better Business Bureau or with a bank, asking about the reputation of a manufacturer or dealer. Such an investigation before buying is important, often saving many heartaches.

    Whether one buys directly from the manufacturer or through a dealer, it often pays to visit a mobile-home factory. Perhaps there is one not too far away. Some six hundred of them are in operation in the United States alone. A person may thus be able to see just how his home is put together.

    How Is It Built?

    The interiors of new mobile homes are often exceptionally beautiful; we saw models comparable in glamour to $50,000 conventional homes. But remember, looks can be superficial. How is the mobile home made? How will it stand up? These are vital considerations. We wanted one that would last and give us good service.

    I checked the manufacturers’ literature that describes how their homes are constructed. I learned that a mobile home rests on a steel chassis, the floor being built upon this steel framework. The floor’s wood joists or beams should be at no more than sixteen-inch intervals, and the plywood sheeting laid on them should be no less than three quarters or five eighths of an inch thick. A solidly constructed floor will not show signs of springing when a heavy person steps between the floor joists. If it does, the floor will probably develop squeaks and fail to hold up.

    Inside the walls, I learned, manufacturers usually use two-by-three-inch vertical beams at sixteen-inch intervals. The interior walls are generally quarter-inch plywood paneling, and the exterior walls are often aluminum sheeting. However, it is good to check the quality of construction by pushing on the walls. They will not be as sturdy as the walls of a well-built house, but they should give very little.

    Once while we were shopping I almost collapsed a wall between the living room and the first bedroom because it was so flimsy. And some persons have discovered that they must hold one hand against the wall when pulling a plug out of an outlet; otherwise the plug and the wall move together. So it is best to check these matters before buying .

    The quality of roof construction is also important. Some roofs have been observed to sink beneath a couple of feet of snow. The dealer may allow a customer to get onto the roof to check out its sturdiness, although he may understandably object to this.

    A particularly vital consideration is a mobile home’s insulation. If it is insufficient, the home will be cold in winter and hot in summer. It is not enough that a salesman says the home is well insulated, or even that the insulation is “extra thick” or “double thick.” Experience has revealed that it is not wise to take a salesman’s word for it.

    One can examine the insulation as well as other interior construction by using a screwdriver to take off light-switch plates or plates around heating ducts, and so forth. This will allow a look at the inner floor, walls and ceiling. If a salesman objects to such a simple check, it is probably best to go elsewhere to shop.

    Insulation in walls should be at least one and a half inches thick; and in the floors and ceiling, two to four inches thick. Important, too, is that insulation material include a vapor shield, typically of reflective paper or plastic. The reflective side of one sheet of this should be facing the interior, and another sheet should have its reflective side facing outside.

    We also examined cabinets and shelves. Sometimes cabinets are poorly built, doors even closing without entirely covering their openings. And in some homes we noted that the shelves were not well-supported, probably a clue to the quality of the rest of the construction. A mobile home, we learned, should be put together with screws, since these are more likely to remain secure than nails.

    Floor Plan, Decor and Furnishings

    Since modern mobile homes may have four or more rooms plus a couple of bathrooms, they are sold with a wide variety of floor plans. Many homes even have a balcony dining area, or sunken living room. Our choice was a single floor level with three bedrooms, providing both our son and our daughter with bedrooms. We also have a living room, utility room, bathroom, front kitchen and dining area in our twelve-foot-wide, seventy-foot-long home.

    Choice of floor plans, of course, depends upon individual circumstances and preferences. A couple without children may choose fewer but larger rooms; for instance, one large bedroom and bathroom. But couples with children may need several smaller bedrooms, and perhaps two smaller bathrooms. A woman who enjoys being in the kitchen may want the kitchen located on an end where it can receive sunlight from three sides. Or for persons who desire privacy, the bedrooms may be preferred on either end, with kitchen, living room and dining area in the middle.

    The buyer also has many choices of decor in a wide variety of price ranges. There is Early American, Spanish, Mediterranean, French Provincial, Oriental, contemporary, and so forth. We felt that the decor at times is overdone; for instance, we looked at a $12,500 Spanish decor that left no room for one’s personal touch. Our choice was Early American, for which we paid $7,600.

    One wants to avoid being enamored by fancy decor and forgetting to check on the amount of closet space, number of cabinets and other practical matters. And just because it may appear that there are cabinets, do not take it for granted. The cabinets may be fake, put there just for looks; or when opening them one may discover that the space in them is infinitesimal.

    It is important to have an exhaust fan over the stove and in the bathroom. In our home the fan in the bathroom was an optional item, so we decided to have it installed at extra expense. Other equipment usually offered as optional is air conditioning, automatic dishwashers, automatic garbage disposals, radios​—about any appliance found in today’s modern home.

    We found mobile-home furniture, for the most part, to be of poor quality. Many manufacturers offer a standard line and an optional deluxe line. We decided to take the deluxe line for the living room, but not to take any furniture in the bedroom since we preferred to use our present bedroom furniture.

    Other Considerations

    After finally selecting a new mobile home, there is the matter of paying for it. This is handled much like a new automobile purchase, with the dealer often handling the financing. Some people believe that it is not wise to pay the full cash amount immediately, since some dealers then have been less inclined to fulfill their promised services.

    Another vital consideration is selecting a site to park one’s home. Our home is on our own property, but zoning permission had to be granted. Our neighboring town, which borders our property, has no parking restrictions for mobile homes. But in the city in which we formerly lived the only lawful site is a state-approved mobile-home park, where the monthly rent is $40. Since mobile-home sites are often limited, it is good to line up one before buying .

    Both my wife and I feel that our earlier experience in a rented mobile home was a real help in selecting our new one and in adjusting to living in it. For persons who are thinking about buying a new mobile home, a similar experience may prove beneficial in selecting one that will be pleasing to them.​— Contributed

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