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What PBS NewsHour Missed About Manufactured Home Living

Videos can be a powerful way to quickly capture and convey impressions. The written word can provide details and context that a typically short video will of necessity miss. Put video and written words together, add some photos and/or graphics, and you can have rich, multi-media insights that – properly portrayed – can begin to truly inform the reader/viewer.

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A 3 bedroom, 2 bath home like the one above has a starting price in the $40s in a number of U.S. markets. This home is from an Energy Star-rated builder; it boasts 8-foot sidewalls, fully finished drywall with designer colors and bullnose corners. Properly installed, it’s safer in a windstorm – and is also safer against a fire – than on-site construction costing far more. Photo credit Sunshine Homes, Red Bay AL.

Before we talk about PBS’ recent feature about the manufactured home (MH) lifestyle, let’s briefly offer some factual background that will be useful to the home shopping public, the media, policy advocates, educators, investors and public officials.

Let’s also note that, while examples of large down payments or cash purchases are used in the chart that follows, thankfully smaller down payments can be made that keep the MH option the highest quality and most affordable one for tens of millions of Americans, as cited in U.S. Census Bureau reports, and in the GAO report referenced below.

Chasing the American Dream

The rather interesting infographic below provides a number of useful statistics about income, average rents and other costs. But this chart by Online Accounting Degrees assumes that someone will save a 20 percent down payment of almost $40,000, and use it to buy an existing house costing almost $200,000.

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The infographic above provides a wealth of information, but as often happens with such research, completely misses the manufactured home option. MH lenders can often make loans for about 5% down, similar to the movein price of a rental and security deposit. Of course, larger down payments mean less to finance, and thus lower monthly payments.

Because the chart never considers the Manufactured Home option, the infographic arrives at a series of false conclusions.

For example, that roughly $40,000 “down payment” on a nearly $200,000 house could pay for a new entry level 3 bedroom, 2 bath manufactured homes outright. That kind of cash purchase would mean no mortgage payment. Or that $40,000 could pay some 80 percent of the cost of the home shown above, with a very modest $10,000 to finance.

Someone could buy improved property, lease a lot, or have the home installed on family land.

In a manufactured home community the up-front cost of buying land is saved. In many states, there are no real estate taxes on a manufactured home installed on leased property.

It should be noted that building on leased land is done by commercial businesses nationally, every day.

Leased land is also used with conventional housing in Hawaii, Maryland, and parts of the Chicago metro, where $600,000+ conventional housing is erected on a land lease.

So when it is done by smart business professionals or in affluent neighborhoods, it’s clearly not the bad deal that PBS’ 10-minute video seems to suggest.

Perhaps due to time limitations, or perhaps for other reasons, the PBS video failed to note a number of facts that must be considered for balance.

If your options include renting for $1,000 monthly, or owning a home outright and placing it on leased land for $350 monthly, both the land lease and the rental unit fees will go up over time.

But the reality is, even on land you own, there are taxes, and those often go up in good economic times, too.

So the routinely rising costs of living apply to every form of housing, not just manufactured homes. But because the manufactured home costs less to begin with, millions are financially ahead to begin with. That’s why MH — yes, even on leased land — is, and will continue to be, an appealing choice for people of all ages and economic groups.

Because if you raised the rents — say 2 percent on the rental house of $1000 monthly, you just saw an extra $20 increase. That same 2 percent on a land lease yields a $7 hike. Can you clearly see the savings in the land lease versus the rental housing unit?

Factory-Built Homeowner and Community Manager Wendi Early’s insights

The Inside MH Road Show with Wendi Early of New Durham Estates in Westville, Indiana was produced prior to the PBS report. It wasn’t meant as a tit for tat, we simply know the frequently asked questions that consumers and others have about MH Community living.

We should note that besides the safety factors Wendi explains, there are lifestyle additions this specific video doesn’t cover. It is also fair to say that not every MH Community had the kinds of standards that New Durham Estates has. Housing shoppers should learn the facts, and see what standards a community has, to make sure it’s a good fit for them.

We’ve done a series of video interviews with singles, couples and families like the Tillers shown in the video above. Millionaires and movie stars own and have owned modern manufactured housing, so it isn’t just housing for those in the working class or people of modest means. PBS’ own video made that same point, even though they stressed the myth that it is less educated individuals who buy MH. The more accurate statement would be that people from a wide range of economic and educational backgrounds own manufactured homes, from the working class to the middle and upper class.

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Carla Burr left her condo for a manufactured home, based upon a personal recommendation, followed by her own shopping. The PBS Newshour story failed to note that she is a VP for an anti-MH Community owner activist group. Still credit from PBS video, see that video in full below.

Burr…”Trapped”…Really?

Carla Burr — who was featured as a homeowner in the PBS video — failed to say many things.

First, there is the big omission that Burr is part of an activist group whose leader – Ishbel Dickens — has publicly called MH community owners “the enemy.” Dickens and Burr have an agenda, which we believe the facts will prove is actually harmful to many of the MH Community residents they claim to advocate for. We’ll explore that topic in a future Inside MH report.

Next, Burr talks about depreciation and losing money on her manufactured home, if she felt compelled to sell.

Anyone who lived through the past decade knows that tens of millions saw their home values drop. Some argue that it is only the Federal Reserve pumping up stock market and housing values that has caused housing prices to rise again. Factors that influence resale values include, but are not limited to, the condition of the home, its location, the availability of financing, market forces like supply and demand, and so on.

So let’s not get carried away with Burr’s emotional appeal that, once more, is based upon a hidden agenda that went undisclosed in the PBS report. Another video below features an MH owner and community resident who explains that appreciation of manufactured homes is the norm at their location.

The published transcript for the PBS NewsHour piece is linked here. The photo collage below will be explained in the next segment of this report.

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An appealing, and true ‘mobile home park’ (with predominately pre-HUD Code mobile homes, vs. federal HUD Code manufactured homes) located in St. Petersburg, FL. Dozens of residents attended a meeting where they planned their 2016 events calander, at the weekly coffee and donuts breakfast. The new home at the bottom right and top center would be priced in the 50s. Some of the pre-owned homes would be valued in the upper teens to the twenties. A wide range of economic groups is represented in this community. Inside MH Road Show’s L. A. “Tony” Kovach was introduced to the residents, a number of whom invited Kovach to tour their homes. Future episodes of Inside MH Road Show will be done with residents at this location.

An Inside MH meeting with MH Community Residents

I spent yesterday morning to early afternoon – 1/6/2016 – with dozens of MHC residents in an appealing 55+ community in St Petersburg, Florida. The owner introduced me to residents, who then held their weekly coffee and donuts meeting.  See caption above.

Among other items, I was asked to explain to the residents what we do at MHLivingNews, and why.

As part of my explanation, I told the residents the tale of a retired nurse we interviewed. She told me off camera, “I am not trailer trash.”

I didn’t tell the residents this, but to say that my heart ached for that lady and others who have felt that sting would be an understatement. That retired nurse clearly loved her home, and she loved her beautiful community, too.

I told those residents in St. Pete that we have a vision of sharing the manufactured home lifestyle from the point of view of those living in the homes. That we did that precisely to debunk the false and unfair image of MH the public often has. That we also interview professionals and experts, but that the essence of our trade publication and videos are that we let homeowners explain the realities versus the myths of manufactured home living.

I asked for a show of hands: “Do you think many ‘don’t get it’ about mobile (many of those homes in that community were older, but finely renovated pre-HUD code mobile homes, with some some manufactured homes too) and manufactured home living?” At a quick glance, nearly — perhaps every — hand in the room shot up.

Since I was with a group of seasoned citizens (my better half tells me I’m beginning to resemble that remark, so I write it with all due respect! 😉 I commented to those MH homeowners that many today seem to have forgotten or never learned the law of supply and demand.

There were smiles and chuckles among the resident/home owners. Continuing the explanation of what we do, I explained when people understand the appeal of the MH option, then demand goes up. When demand goes up, those in a land lease community see their prices rise in value, too.

Many of those residents nodded in agreement. It is common sense. It is also the truth that Carla Burr failed to either understand or that went unexpressed in PBS’ story.

Any well-run MHC, where residents understand the value and that is at or near capacity, can routinely see the appreciation in their homes.  Kim Capen and his neighbors enjoy such appreciation in their community. This I know from my own experiences, and that of others. It should be noted that the properly maintained mobile homes in the photo collage above have enjoyed appreciation too.

The fallacy in Burr’s and Dickens’ position is that if you keep telling any media that will listen how bad things are — first, some reporters will listen. Their complaint can become a self-fulfilling prophecy. 

Because the MH Industry has often relied on the “We have lower prices” (true enough, but not deep enough) argument, the MH industry has all-to-often failed to make the powerful case that millions of MH residents in well-run communities nationwide know from lived experience.

Too Good to Be True?

Near the end, I asked the group of over-55 residents how many liked their lifestyle there. I believe every hand in the room went up. I invited those who wanted to be part of a future Inside MH Road Show video to get with the owners or managers, and that we would plan those videos in the days ahead.  A number of the residents indicated their desire to be interviewed.

The truth well-told is powerful. The truth untold or badly told can seem weak. And when only one side of a story is boldly told, and the other is weakly told, the stronger message of course tends to drown out the weaker ones.

Ron Thomas, Sr., who is in the RV MH Hall of Fame, has an operation in Ohio that’s sold some 6,000 manufactured homes over the years.

Ron calls manufactured housing a phenomenon — which it clearly is. We’ll share that video, linked here.

MH sounds too good to be true. That’s why we go inside the factories, to show people like you just how these amazing modern manufactured homes are made, and how they are third-party inspected and federally certified.

You pay less to buy, less to own, less on monthly payments (see the GAO chart below). It sounds too good to be true.

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But it is true. It is the job of every honest, hard-working MH professional who truly cares about their customers and the future of this industry to get behind that story telling in their area.

It is the job of manufactured home owners to rally around this common sense way of telling the good news about MH, and share these video and story links via Facebook, email or word of mouth.

And it is the job of the media, educators, policy advocates and public officials to likewise grasp reality, and see that MH isn’t the problem, MH done right is the solution millions need.

As the videos on this page and throughout this website reveal, in market after market, the MH story is amazingly appealing. Properly presented and understood, the realities of the MH living story address the omissions and oversights in activist-inspired stories like the recent PBS piece, and debunks the deeply flawed agenda-driven attacks by The SeattleTimes and BuzzFeed.

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Public officials, advocates, educators, media and millions of others are looking for solutions on complex housing issues. The answers are found in modern manufactured homes. When done right, they are an appealing, safe and affordable alternative to rentals or more expensive housing options. Chasing the Dream image credit = PBS.

With millions living paycheck to paycheck, or with some 11,000 retiring daily — many of whom are on limited, fixed incomes — or those who simply don’t want to spend a fortune on the place they hang their hat, the MH story is a great American Dream that can come true. ##

(Editor’s Notes: the photo collage at the top represents actual manufactured homes from both large corporate as well as independent producers in different parts of the nation.  A comparison of entry level “shade and shelter” manufactured homes and residential style manufactured homes, is found at the report, linked here. An in-depth report by an award winning journalist that explains manufactured home financing issues, is linked here.)

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L. A. “Tony” Kovach at an MH educational session . Tony is one of the most recognized experts on MH today.

By L. A. ‘Tony’ Kovach.

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