Manufactured vs. Site-Built & Modular Homes

The main difference between manufactured, site-built, and modular homes is the way they’re built, but that important difference can affect both the time and cost it takes to build yours. Ultimately, the type of home that’s best for you depends on your needs, budget, and personal preferences.

How Do Site-Built, Modular, and Manufactured Homes Compare?

Thanks to Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and homebuilding advances, manufactured homes are built with the same high-quality materials used to build a typical site-built home, and it’s possible to design yours with the same high-end features, like modern design and energy-efficient construction.

Today, manufactured homes can look indistinguishable from site-built homes. They use the same materials and come in a variety of sizes ranging from single-wide all the way up to triple- and multi-wide which can have upwards of five bedrooms.

Below, we’ll outline a few of the distinctions between all three types, including details on cost to build, time before move-in, and financing a manufactured home.

Manufactured Homes

First things first, let’s dispel the myth that manufactured homes and mobile homes are the same. They’re not. In fact, mobile homes are now obsolete due to HUD policy changes in 1976.

You can likely imagine an old-school mobile home: similar to a modern-day camper with a trailer hitch and wheels. Often, these sat on steel beams which could be placed on concrete blocks, wooden blocks, metal stands, or a concrete foundation. Largely unregulated, problems ranged from high utility bills and freezing temps due to lack of insulation all the way to fire hazards from aluminum wiring.

For durability, quality, and safety reasons, the HUD Code now regulates:

  • Manufactured home design & construction
  • Body & frame requirements
  • Thermal protection
  • Plumbing & electrical
  • Fire safety
  • Energy efficiency

This differs from site-built and modular homes which are regulated based on local or state standards.

Cost to build a manufactured home

Of all three types, manufactured homes are often the least expensive option. According to the United States Census Bureau in August 2021, the average sales price of a manufactured home was $112,000.

This lower price is a result of many factors, starting right away with the construction. Because manufactured homes are built indoors in a factory, the same materials used to build site-built homes are purchased by the manufactured home builder in bulk. This saves you and the builder money and time, because nobody is waiting for materials to arrive at the home site or buying costly materials just for one house.

Another reason this price is lower is that it doesn’t include land. When you purchase a manufactured home, you buy a home with the freedom to move it anywhere. As specified by the HUD Code, manufactured homes are built on a permanent chassis which ensures you can always transport it. And these homes can be placed either on a temporary foundation or a permanent one.

So, your options are endless when you buy yours: you can buy properly zoned land and prep it for your manufactured home, or move into a manufactured home community. In a community, homeowners can get the added benefits of a neighborhood atmosphere, including community amenities like playgrounds, dog parks, and included utilities.

Time to build a manufactured home

One of the biggest advantages of buying a manufactured home is the short building and delivery process. Because they’re factory built, manufacturers can build a home in a matter of days, and new homeowners can move in just a few months after placing an order.

Because the manufacturer’s materials are purchased in bulk as mentioned above, they don’t have to wait on material delivery before moving forward with construction. And because construction is done inside, the timeline isn’t affected by outdoor elements like inclement weather. This means, when you place an order for a manufactured home, you have a solid timeline and know much more accurately when you can move in.

The largest time variable is usually site preparation prior to home delivery—especially if you’re purchasing your own land. However, choosing to live in a manufactured home community means site set-up is essentially taken care of and you can move in more easily and quickly.

Financing a manufactured home

Like site-built homes, financing for manufactured homes is common and available in similar ways, so you can finance your purchase, pay it back over time, and even refinance at a later date. These loans are often available from your manufactured home retailers or specialized lenders.

Options include personal loans, the FHA Title I program, specialized home loans for homes on leased land, and even mortgage financing if your manufactured home is set on a permanent foundation.

Site-Built Homes

As the name suggests, a site-built home is constructed on the site—or land—where it will permanently stand. Because of this building process, costs can be higher as materials are ordered for one job and stored outdoors at the site. Timelines can also be delayed as crews wait for materials to arrive or are stalled by weather conditions.

In 2020, the Average Length of Time from Start to Completion of New Privately Owned Residential Buildings with one unit was 6.8 months. This means the average length of time from start to finish when building a single-family home was 6.8 months, but that ranges from the built-for-sale average of 5.9 months to the owner-built average of 11.8 months. All these numbers are longer than the typical length of time from order to move-in date for a manufactured home.

In terms of cost, the National Association of Home Builders Cost of Constructing a Home report published in February 2020, states the average sales price of a new construction single-family home was $485,128 in 2019. The average construction cost was $296,652.

So, in terms of both money and time, manufactured homes can be a great, budget-friendly alternative to a traditional site-built home.

Modular Homes

Modular homes are a bit of both. These are built in sections inside a factory then transported to the home site where they’re put together. Like site-built homes, all modular homes have permanent foundations, but a modular home’s foundation can be laid at the same time the home is being constructed in the factory which saves time.

Because they sit on a permanent foundation, modular homes are titled as property, just like site-built homes, so buyers have the same financing and mortgage options as they would with a new construction home.

Also like site-built homes, modular homes are built according to local or state building codes. Manufactured homes are also built in a factory but are governed by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development which ensures they’re regulated no matter where they’re located or moved.

As a middle ground in terms of price and timeline, modular homes are a good choice for permanent real estate that you don’t want to take with you when you move.

In Summary

Manufactured homes are often less expensive with faster move-in times than both site-built and modular homes. Available in a variety of sizes and designs, a manufactured home can look indistinguishable from a site-built home whether you purchase your own land or lease from a community.