I got a call from a reporter at an Orlando newspaper recently, doing a story on mobile homes and mobile home parks. It seems that there is a grassroots movement building in the U.S. suggesting that cheap housing is the future (we already knew that, but it’s taken a while for everybody else to figure it out). So is the popular home of the future a mobile home? Is it possible that, as a country, we are shifting from wanting McMansions down to smaller abodes?
New tastes in size
There are no shortage of articles out there on “micro-housing”. Articles have been popping up from MSN to Town & Country magazine, and everywhere in between. Essentially, Americans are learning that they can get by with much less house than they are used to. A recent apartment development in Rhode Island is a major success with units that are less than 300 square feet in size. Dwell magazine has been showcasing homes that are under 1,000 square feet. What’s interesting is that we are returning to our roots. The average square footage of a house in the 1930’s was 600 square feet. Prior to 1900, it was only 450 square feet. The giant, monstrous home of today is a recent invention. And maybe not a good one.
New realities in mortgage markets
The zero down/no income documentation loan era ended with the great mortgage crash of 2007/2008 (also known as the Great Recession). Since that time, if you want to buy a house, you have to have good credit and a huge amount of down payment. For older Americans, that’s no big deal, as they rode the inflation of home values already, and are using existing home equity as their down. But for everyone else, the new rules seem impossible. This will trigger more people seeking out smaller, cheaper homes that they can qualify for.
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New realities in affordability
The term “affordable housing” is often misunderstood. If you live in Malibu, “affordable housing” means anything under $1 million. In Dallas, it’s $500 per month. The whole point is that people need to live within their means, and it’s getting in vogue to be on budget. During the pre-crash housing market, people would run negative every month, and then make it up with a fresh home equity loan. Now consumers are figuring out that home prices do not always go up, and that peace of mind is maybe more exciting than granite countertops.
New realities in mobile home design and finish-out
Meanwhile, the mobile home manufacturers have been working overtime to make their product look more like a stick-built dwelling. Shingled roofs, vinyl siding, better cabinetry – all of these things have broken down the “stigma” barrier between mobile homes and traditional housing options. As the product is more appealing, more consumers put mobile homes on their list of potential housing options – and they always rank #1 in affordability. What if you can buy a McMansion for 75% less? Well, that’s possible with mobile homes.
Mobile homes and mobile home parks are front and center in the new debate on affordable housing and smaller homes. As the country moves towards fiscal responsibility, maybe the McMansion of tomorrow will be a smaller home – even a mobile home in a mobile home park – that can be paid for each month with money left over to take a real vacation. Maybe the national fatal attraction for giant homes is over, and we can usher in a new era with fewer heart attacks and suicides due to homes with smaller price points that can actually be afforded on a normal salary.