Mobile vs Modular vs Manufactured Homes: Key Differences

By Emma Diehl · March 06, 2023 · 6 minute read

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Mobile vs Modular vs Manufactured Homes: Key Differences

Mobile, manufactured, modular. These types of homes sound similar, and they’re all prefabricated, but they differ in cost, customization, ease of financing, and more.

When it comes to old mobile homes and modular vs. manufactured homes, here’s what to know if you’re considering a purchase.

What Is a Mobile Home?

Unlike a stick-built, or traditional, home built from the ground up, a mobile home was built in a factory before mid-1976 and transported on wheels to its destination. The name is a bit of a misnomer: Most are never moved.

First-time homebuyers can
prequalify for a SoFi mortgage loan,
with as little as 3% down.


What Is a Manufactured Home?

A manufactured home is built in a factory, then transported to its destination in one or more sections. Sound familiar? That’s because manufactured homes are the 2.0 version of mobile homes.

In 1976, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) changed the “mobile home” classification to “manufactured” legally and began to regulate the construction and durability of the homes.

More change and innovation have come with time. That is covered below.

What Is a Modular Home?

Modular homes start their lives in a factory, where modules of the homes are built. The pieces, usually with wiring, plumbing, insulation, flooring, windows, and doors in place, are transported to their destination and assembled like a puzzle.

Modular homes are comparable to stick-built homes in most ways other than birthplace.

Recommended: Choose a Favorite From the Different Types of Homes

How Mobile, Manufactured, and Modular Homes Differ

These homes may all share a starting point, but there are key differences to know, whether you’re a first-time homebuyer or not. For the sake of simplicity, let’s compare manufactured homes and modular homes.

Construction

Manufactured homes are built from beginning to end in a factory on a steel chassis with its own wheels. Once a manufactured home is complete, it’s driven to its destination, where the wheels and axles are usually removed and skirting added to make it look like a site-built home, or it may be attached to a permanent foundation.

Construction and installation must comply with the HUD Code (formally the Manufactured Home Construction and Safety Standards) and local building codes.

Modular homes are built in pieces in a factory, then transported to the property. From there, a team assembles the home on a permanent foundation.

While a modular home may be built states away from its final home, it needs to comply with the state and local building codes where it ultimately resides.

Manufactured Homes

Modular Homes

Fully factory-built? Yes No (but mostly)
Permanent foundation? Not commonly Yes
Construction regulated by HUD Code State and local codes

Design

There’s a fair share of design differences when it comes to modular vs. manufactured homes.

Manufactured homes come in three standard sizes:

•   Single-wide: roughly 500 to 1,100 square feet

•   Double-wide: about 1,200 to 2,000 square feet

•   Triple-wide: 2,000+ square feet

The most significant limiting design factor of manufactured homes is the layout. As they must be delivered fully assembled on a trailer, they only come in a rectangular shape. In the case of single- or double-wides, there’s not much space to separate rooms or interior hallways to connect them.

In terms of design, there’s much more freedom in modular homes. They can be just about any style, from log cabin to modern, and can have more than one floor.

The design options of a modular home are similar to a stick-built home. Floor plan and style are only limited by a buyer’s budget and space. A modular home may look just like a site-built home upon completion.

Manufactured Homes

Modular Homes

Size limitations Yes, single-, double-, or triple-wide No
Shape limitations Yes, rectangular only No

Customization Options

Most makers of manufactured homes allow some customization, including:

•   Custom kitchen layout and cabinetry

•   Porches

•   Custom layouts (within the confines of prefab shapes)

•   Siding

•   Built-in lighting

•   Ceiling finish

•   Fireplace

•   Tiling

Similar to stick-built homes, modular homes have nearly endless customization options. From the style of the home to its size and layout, modular homes offer more flexibility for buyers.

Expense

The expense of a modular home vs. manufactured home can vary dramatically.

A modular home — also sometimes called a kit home — may cost less than a stick-built home, but it usually costs a lot more than a manufactured home.

Both modular and manufactured homes have a separate expense: land. In the case of manufactured homes, it may be possible to rent the land the home is delivered to, but owners of modular homes will need to buy the land they want to build on.

Another cost associated with modular homes is the foundation, which needs to be in place when the modules arrive. Manufactured homes affixed to a permanent foundation on land owned by the homeowner are considered real property, not personal property.

Here are some typical expenses associated with each home:

Manufactured Home

Modular Home

Average cost $85,800 for a single-wide
$159,200 for a double-wide
$200,000 to $400,000 (2,000 square feet, including installation but not the land)
Foundation $4,000 to $13,000 $4,000 to $13,000
Land Is often rented; varies by location $55,000 median; varies by location

Another expense to keep in mind is financing. An existing modular home will qualify for a conventional mortgage or government-backed loan if the borrower meets minimum credit score, income, and down payment requirements.

Homebuyers building a new modular home often will need to obtain a construction loan.

Manufactured and mobile home financing is trickier. The key is whether the home is classified as real or personal property.

Manufactured homes classified as real property, including those used as accessory dwelling units that are at least 400 square feet, might qualify for a conventional or government-backed loan.

Financing options for mobile and manufactured homes classified as personal property include a chattel mortgage and an FHA Title I loan.

A personal loan is another option.

Recommended: Explore the Mortgage Help Center

The Takeaway

Mobile, manufactured, and modular homes have key differences. A manufactured home on leased land is not considered real property, while a modular home, always on its own foundation and land, is, and compares in most ways to a traditional stick-built home.

SoFi does not finance manufactured homes but will, if you qualify, refinance a construction-only loan to a traditional home mortgage loan or provide a mortgage for an existing modular home.

SoFi mortgages have lots of advantages, including low down payments. Find your rate with no obligation.

FAQ

Is a modular home better than a manufactured home?

In terms of appreciation and resale value, a modular home has the edge over most manufactured homes. And if a manufactured home is on leased land, the owner may face lot fees that keep rising.

What’s the price difference between mobile, manufactured, and modular homes?

Generally, mobile and manufactured homes are much less expensive than modular homes. A mobile home, by its very definition, was built before mid-1976. The size of the price gaps depend on how customized the home is, where it is, and how large it is.

Between manufactured and modular homes, which is fastest to build?

Unless there are factory or supply chain delays, manufactured homes are typically faster to build than modular homes. (Of note: A modular home can often be built much faster than a stick-built home.)


Photo credit: iStock/Marje

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