Tips for Buying an Older Mobile Home or Trailer
Thinking of Buying an Old Trailer?
For years, I repeatedly and loudly proclaimed "I am never living in a trailer ever again. Never ever." Well, sometimes never comes pretty quickly. I moved from the wilds of Western New York state into a suburb of Winston-Salem, North Carolina a few years back. While I'm very glad to be "back down south" again, I am once again living in a mobile home.
I also did one of the things that you should never do when buying a mobile home, especially an older one (mine is a 1980). I entered into the agreement pretty much sight unseen. I'm not irresponsible with my money when it comes to paying bills (I clarified because I think I have 14 pairs of flip flops), but even I knew that this could possibly end badly. I was in a situation where my decisions had to be made quickly and inspecting the home prior to moving was not something I had the luxury of doing.
I got lucky. Yes, my trailer is kind of ugly on the outside. It's a two-tone brown and tan number, and there are some cosmetic issues on the inside as well as some serious problems that are in the process of being repaired, but it could have been a whole lot worse.
Though they are now technically referred to as "manufactured" homes, many of us still call these boxy residences trailers or mobile homes. Here are some things to consider before buying an older one. I've divided these considerations into physical characteristics and logistical concerns, and each is discussed in much greater detail below. Also included is a short history of mobile homes.
What to Consider When Shopping for an Older Mobile Home
Moving the Trailer
Heating and Air Conditioning
First, let's go over some important things to keep in mind about the trailer itself. Before you take the plunge and purchase an aging mobile home, be sure to check out the following.
A lot of the newer models have all kinds of frills, but many of the older trailers do not. Be aware before you even begin your journey that you are most likely not going to find skylights, wood flooring, drywall, or many of the finer things that some folks expect from newer manufactured homes. You'll probably find awful wallpaper, wood paneling, and linoleum—and lots of it!
If you're a fan of the retro look, then great! If not, you may have some serious redecorating projects and renovations on your hands. This is one of many reasons why it's a good idea to check out any trailers you are considering in-person before handing over the cash.
Believe it or not, most older trailers have plumbing fixtures that are not industry standard for regular homes. Your pipes, drains, and even some of your fixtures are likely to have been made for mobile homes only, and replacement parts may be hard to come by and/or expensive.
Also, it is rare for a mobile home with any kind of age on it to have shut off valves for sinks, tubs, and toilets. If you have to make a repair, you'll likely have to shut off the water to the entire trailer.
Just like with the plumbing, doors, doorknobs, and windows are difficult to replace on older-model mobile homes because they were specially made for trailers. These parts are getting harder and harder to find, and some enterprising sellers have realized this, causing the prices of some things to go through the roof. My advice is to know in advance where you will be able to find affordable parts for your trailer.
Unless your new home is sitting on a foundation, which most older mobile homes are not, it will likely be up on cinder blocks or other structures to make it stable. This is not a bad thing, but it does make for an interesting thunderstorm experience—these things can shake pretty good. Also, someone jumping up and down on the floor on one end of the house could bounce you right out of bed. This is another reason why a walkthrough of any new trailer you are considering is definitely advisable.
Most of the windows on older-model mobile homes are not the same as those on regular houses. They've got little levers that you have to press to open or close them, and the storm windows are often put into place on the inside and held in with little plastic clips that can break easily.
Most older trailers do not have the drywall used in most ordinary houses. Many are outfitted with cheap wooden paneling that has absolutely nothing behind it. This can make hanging things on your walls difficult. The studs that you will have to use to hang heavier decorations may be too thin to support them in some cases.
Heating and Air Conditioning
A lot of the older mobile homes on the market are heated with oil or an oil-kerosene blend. This can get extremely expensive in the winter months, especially if you live in a colder location. Central heating and air conditioning are popular features, so be sure both are in working order before you sign on the dotted line. I didn't check this and found out by accident that my central air didn't work. Fortunately, the owner of the park had it fixed the next morning at his expense. If that burden had fallen to me, my central air system would probably still be in need of repair!
Now that we've covered the physical aspects of older trailers, let's dive into some of the more situational factors you need to consider before sealing the deal and deciding to move.
Moving the Trailer
If you buy a mobile home that has to be moved, be aware that this is no small expense. It can cost up to thousands to move a trailer from one location to another, and moving it can cause expensive damage to the structure—especially the roof. If the trailer is what's called a "double-wide" or bigger, your move will cost even more because the home will need to be taken apart so that the pieces can be transported separately. The bigger the trailer is, the more it will cost to move. Don't forget to consider the cost of having your new home hooked up to electric and water/sewer at its destination as well.
Most banks will not finance a loan for an older model mobile home. This is primarily because these homes do not appreciate in value. By the time you make your final payment, the home may be worth half the price you paid for it. This makes it difficult for the bank to recoup their money if you default on the loan. Be prepared to pay for your "new" old home upfront.
Whether you are buying or renting a mobile home, if it sits in a mobile home park, you will be paying the park a fee each month to rent the land on which it sits. Obviously, when you pay for the trailer, you won't have any more payments to make, but the lot rent will continue as long as you live on the property. In every mobile home park I've ever rented from, water, sewer, and trash have been included in the lot rent, but be sure to check on that upfront before committing.
Know where you and your visitors are allowed to park, and ask your neighbors who have unused parking spots if you may have your guests use them. Don't just assume, because they can (and often will—just out of spite) have your friends' cars towed.
This may sound kind of comical, but I've had some issues with it. Most trailer parks have their homes set up in a specific order. My home is on a corner lot, and for some reason, my front door is on the opposite side as everyone else's in my row.
While this may seem like a minor inconvenience, I've had the post office leave packages on my back porch. If I know to look for them, I keep an eye out. If not, I can be in trouble. My AT&T modem sat out there for who knows how long, and I've had folks bring packages to the front door for me if they see them before I do.
A lot of parks have very specific guidelines about what you can throw away and how trash must be disposed of. My park has a dumpster at the end of each row. All of our trash has to be bagged, which means I can't clean out my baby sister's car and throw a McDonald's cup directly in the dumpster. Instead, I have to clean out the car and add its contents to an existing trash bag that must later be brought to the dumpster.
Many trailer parks do allow pets, but some have breed and/or size regulations. Some do not allow certain exotic pets like snakes and ferrets, and others require yearly proof of vaccinations and local licenses.
If you have any pets, make sure you are clear on any animal rules before you move in. Most parks demand that dog owners carry bags for their "doggy dirt." Nobody wants to step in it, and it can smell really bad in warmer weather.
If you allow your license and/or registration on your car to expire, many parks will demand that you either rectify that or remove the vehicle from their property. Also, some parks do not allow residents to make repairs on their vehicles inside of the park beyond changing tires. Most parks do not allow residents to wash their car son the property, especially if water is included with lot rent.
This one is entirely subjective, but in my experience, some folks in trailer parks can be real busybodies. Though I'm over 40 and single with no kids, I almost always feel eyes on me when I'm out roaming around on the property, and it's probably not paranoia on my part.
Some folks watch everything, just waiting for some juicy bit of gossip or something they can use to call the park manager or owner and "tell on me." Though I plan to give them neither, this can be a real big issue, so watch yourself!
What Does a Trailer Renovation Look Like?
A Short History of Mobile Homes
The modern mobile home phenomenon began with travel trailers, or what we now refer to as RVs (recreational vehicles—think Winnebago). They started out as small, single-room dwellings that could be towed behind cars or trucks, thus eliminating the need for hotel rooms while on vacation. They were designed to be more secure and comfortable than camping tents.
Travel trailers began production in 1926, and by the late 1940s, some enterprising folks figured out that they could make travel trailers that could also serve as permanent and affordable homes. First came the single-wide, which could be as large as 18 by 90 feet. Next came the double-wide, which is about the same length but double the width.
Essentially, with the exception of the newer homes, most trailers do still have axles and wheels attached to the underside unless the home has been put on a foundation. This makes it easier to haul it wherever it needs to go.
Mobile homes are now manufactured in all kinds of crazy ways, and some folks prefer the term "prefabricated" (prefab) or "modular" to "mobile." They even make mobile homes with multiple stories now!
Prices have changed dramatically as well. What once was touted as an industry that made housing affordable is now producing double and triple wides that can cost in excess of $80,000. Though that might seem like a deal, the ongoing cost of lot rent must also be considered. Additionally, it's important for prospective buyers to know that their new mobile, prefab, or modular home will never increase in value like other types of property often do.
What Does the Interior of a New Single-Wide Look Like?
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.
Questions & Answers
I am interested in a 1981 mobile home currently heated solely with electric. It has no ductwork. How big a deal is it to install a furnace, central a/c, and ductwork in a 1981 mobile home? I live in New England.
In my opinion, in a mobile home of that age, it would cost more to do the work than the home is worth. Get an appraisal and an estimate for the work and go from there.Helpful 18
How can I discover the value of a 1982 Fleetwood mobile home?
Check with a dealer and get an appraisal.Helpful 17
Can you get back what you paid on an updated mobile home if you keep it well maintained?
Usually, no. They depreciate just like a vehicle does. If you keep sinking dollars into it to keep the appraisal value up, it’s just a nice looking money pit.Helpful 14
Can I move my 1985 model mobile home/trailer?
It depends on the condition of your trailer. Get in touch with someone who transports mobile homes and have them come out and inspect it to see if your trailer is safe to move.Helpful 9
© 2013 GH Price