Real Estate for Preconceptions

download-7Prefab’s reputation isn’t exactly fabulous. Studies show consumers associate words like “prefab” and “modular” with mobile homes and double-wide trailers, and they feel factory-built homes don’t offer the quality or diverse options of conventionally built homes. But prefab manufacturers have a new message to share: These aren’t the boxy, plain vanilla, kit-made homes that in the past you could order from a catalog. Today’s factory-built homes, they argue, can be just as stylish and sturdy as homes that are constructed onsite (which are also known as “stick-built”).

They’re not necessarily cookie-cutter either. Computer-aided design allows for greater customization and personalization, offering shoppers the ability to design their new homes themselves. Those interested in smart-home technology and sustainability will be able to seek out those features, too.

 Still, prefab’s public relations problem may be stifling demand. In a 2007 study, the Department of Housing and Urban Development found that limited awareness about advances in factory-built housing—particularly regarding its visual appeal—was dampening the style’s growth. But that could be changing, according to Fred Hallahan, a housing consultant with Hallahan Associates in Baltimore who specializes in prefab research. “The general public—and that includes real estate professionals and builders—have a big part in helping to change the perception of what modular and manufactured housing means today,” says Hallahan. “Prefab housing has the same degree of aesthetics and function at the same price—or maybe even lower price” than traditional homes.

“This is not your grandma’s double-wide ranch. We try to break new ground in what’s achievable in modular construction,” says Brian Abramson, cofounder of modular-home builder Method Homes based in Seattle, citing features such as vaulted ceilings and curbless showers. Abramson’s company offers styles from modern to traditional and is able to combine factory-built modular units with onsite construction elements to meet customers’ design requests.

Architect-led customization is helping these homes shed the homogeneous label. “We’ve never built the same exact floor plan,” says Steve Tuma, president of Landmark Home & Land Co. in Michigan City, Ind., which sells panelized home kits for anywhere from $50,000 to $10 million. “Every customer is different and has different needs. The belief that prefab is a production line that doesn’t want to change is untrue. We take advantage of having a production line, but we give customers what they want.” Home shoppers work with a design team to customize more than 2,000 of Landmark’s standard plans. Like other panelized and modular companies, Landmark also ensures each home adheres to local and state building codes.