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Questions you must ask before purchasing a manufactured home

by Mark Bower

If your thinking about purchasing or trading for a manufactured home, then this article will help determine whether or not your dealing with the right dealer or looking at the right manufactured home. One question I'm often asked is "How do I know I'm buying a quality home?" No, you can't yet buy a consumer report comparing the all the various brands. So to help answer that, I have devised a set of questions and observations that will help you weed-out the good companies from the not-as-good. The questions and observations have been divided into two parts -- quality of the home and quality of the dealer's set-up and service.

Quality of Manufactured Home

Please keep in mind that construction costs for manufacturers have risen at astronomic proportions. In order to help keep the houses affordable, home manufacturers often choose the low-cost alternative in some areas of constructions. This article will point out some of these areas. If the higher-cost alternative is more important to you, then ask your dealer if that option is available.

Most all manufactured homes are constructed on an assembly line. No assembly line process is perfect, but a few quick observations can tell you whether or not the assembly line cares about it's work. First, take a look at your cabinet doors. Are they hung straight? Is the trim around the doors, windows and walls properly mitered and installed straight? Is the siding (especially vinyl) installed straight without too many seams from unnecessary small pieces? These are just few signs that will give you an insight to the quality of the assembly line. If the visible signs that you see aren't good, then be watchful for what you can't see. Of course, a good dealer will immediately correct any noticeable problems; and that's good.

New manufactured homes these days are constructed with 2x4 or 2x6 walls filled with insulation. 7-1/2' foot ceilings are also becoming the norm. The size of your walls and the amount of insulation in your roof and belly do vary with the climate of your area. If you desire more than the normal amount of insulation, upgraded insulation packages may be available from the mobile home manufacturer.

A quality manufactured home starts with a heavy-duty steel frame. Take a peek underneath. Running the length underneath each home (except those going on basements or perimeter foundations) are steel I-beams. Singlewides have two I-beams, doublewides found and triplewides six. Perpendicular to these I-beams are triangle-shaped beams called outriggers. They extend from the I-beam to the edge of the home. The I-beams and outriggers in a quality home will be solid steel (vs. looking like welded bars).

Below is a list of other quality or upgraded items to look for or ask about. Remember, upgraded items usually add to the cost of the manufactured home. If you are trying to hold down your initial cost, then you may instead choose to upgrade some of these items yourself at a later time.

* Water shut-off's to all fixtures.
* Main waterline shut-off inside home (often installed after the home is setup)
* Fiberglass tubs and showers vs. plastic.
* Porcelain bathroom sinks vs. plastic.
* Removable hitch vs. welded.
* Drawer slide roller system vs. friction slide.
* Outside outlet and outside frost-free faucet.
* Light over kitchen sink and in closets.
* 40 gallon water heater (gas or electric) vs. 30 gallon.
* Vinyl windows vs. metal double hung (double hung is fast becoming unavailable).
* Vinyl siding with a thickness of at least .042" vs. .040".
* Plywood or OSB exterior sheathing vs. buffalo board or foam board.
* Plywood floors vs. particle board.
* House wrap under siding vs. none.
* T-joists every four foot in floor for greater support at floorboard seams.
* 25 year shingles with high wind and fire rating that are nailed not stabled to roof (nailing may not be an option) vs. 14 year shingles.
* Perimeter heat registers vs. heat registers that run down the middle of the home.
* PEX waterlines vs. CPVC, copper or galvanized.
* 200 amp electrical service vs. 100 amp.
* Wind straps completely over the frame of the house vs. straps that tack to the wall.
* Heaviest carpet pad available.
* Vinyl flooring glued completely vs. glued only along the edges.
* Gas furnace with electric igniter (glow-plug) vs. standing pilot models.

Don't expect every dealer to have all the above options available, but the dealer who has most may be able to get you the better home. Remember the old saying: "You get what you pay for!", so expect to pay more for a better manufactured home. Also realize that most all manufactures use cheap carpets, faucets, door knobs and storm doors, so don't be surprised if they don't last.

Quality of Set-up and Service

The best home can be ruined if improperly set-up. Be sure you know the details on how the dealer sets-up the home before plunking down your hard-earned money. If the sales person can't tell you (bad sign), then talk to the service manager or whoever they use to set-up their homes.

Set-up of doublewide and triplewide homes (also called sectionals) is much more crucial than the set-up of singlewide homes. Unless not permitted by the park manager, all sectionals should be set on cement piers or runners that extends past the frost line (4' deep in the northern areas of the United States). Most likely you will be responsible for ensuring that your lot is correctly compacted and graded, and for pouring the piers and runners. These days, many homes come with tape and textured walls. Many dealers rightfully insist that these homes be set on a permanent foundation like piers or runners to minimize movement which would crack textured walls.

Each sectional should come with a blocking print. A blocking print shows the set-up crew exactly where the blocks or supports are positioned underneath the frame. The manufacturer's engineering department will provide a blocking print for each sectional home. You should always keep a copy of the blocking print yourself. If a dealer doesn't use a blocking print, and simply tells you they space the blocks or support around 8' apart, then you better shop around. With singlewide homes it may be permissible to use 8' block spacing unless the manufacturer specifies otherwise.

Next, ask how the blocks are set. They should be positioned (as pictured on the right), with the openings up. Blocks laid with the openings facing to the side are weaker and have a great tendency to crack. If footings are not poured, then two solid 4" blocks should be used as the base. Any boards or shims should be hardwood only. In some areas, blocks are not permitted and jack supports are used instead.

Then ask how they determine whether or not the manufactured home is exactly level. The wrong answer would be to use a 4' level along the frame and floor. Go back to shopping around if your ever hear that answer. The right answer is a waterline level, or maybe a type of a laser level.

When discussing set-up with your dealer, be sure you know who's doing or paying for the following. Unless it's written in your agreement, you are probably responsible:

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