"Granite Islands And Backsplashes": Even Doublewide Trailers Are No Longer "Affordable"

Since the early 1900s, millions of Americans have relied on trailers as a source of no-frills, affordable housing.  In fact, roughly 22 million Americans live in trailer parks today, but the industry is hardly the stable source of affordable housing that it used to be...a lesson that 73-year-old Judy Goff of Naples, Florida recently discovered the hard way after Hurricane Irma ripped through her park and destroyed her home, along with roughly 1.8 million others.

As Bloomberg points out, when Goff went to a local LeeCorp dealer lot to replace her $46,000, 1,200 square foot trailer with something of similar size and value, what she found instead was "manufactured homes" stuffed with high-end upgrades like granite counter-tops and vaulted ceilings that rendered them too expensive for her $23,000 per year of income.

Last month, Judy Goff, a 73-year-old hardware store clerk whose double-wide in Naples, Fla., was blown to bits, pulled into a LeeCorp Homes Inc. sales lot and wandered through models with kitchen islands and vaulted ceilings. In the salesman’s office, she got the total price, including a carport, taxes, and removal of her destroyed trailer: $140,000. “I don’t have that kind of money,” said Goff as she stood amid the wreckage of her old home, whose walls and ceiling were stripped away, leaving her leather furniture and a lifetime of possessions to bake in the sun. “That was all I had.”


Goff—who just wants to replace the wrecked 1,200-square-foot trailer that she bought 17 years ago for $46,000, including the cost of land—says she feels boxed in. Her mobile-home community won’t allow single-wide homes or older used models as replacements. And every home must have a carport. She’s willing to give up such upgrades as the higher-end countertops, but that probably won’t be enough. Between her Social Security check and income from her job at Ace Hardware Corp., she earns only about $23,000 a year. “I just want a home that’s equal to what I had,” she says. “My home was a beauty.”


“I get that higher-end countertops and kitchen islands are where the better margins are, but that’s also going to put homes out of reach for a lot of buyers,” says Doug Ryan, director of affordable homeownership at the Washington nonprofit Prosperity Now. “The storm is revealing a whole lot of problems in the low-cost housing market.”

Meanwhile, as we note frequently, while the cost of manufactured homes has surged, the pay for the bottom fifth of American wage earners has been somewhat stagnant for nearly two decades now. Even after a modest uptick recently, the bottom 20% of households have seen their income fall 9% since 2000, in real terms.

But, as low-income households have found it increasingly difficult to rebuild after devastating hurricanes, the surge in manufacturing home pricing has been a boon for billionaire Warren Buffett who made a big financial bet on the largest manufactured housing builder, Clayton Homes, back in 2003.

The industry, led by Warren Buffett’s Clayton Homes Inc., is peddling such pricey interior-designer touches as breakfast bars and his-and-her bathroom sinks. These extras, plus manufacturers’ increased costs for labor and materials, have pushed average prices for new double-wides up more than 20 percent in five years, putting them out of reach for many of the newly homeless.


Phil Lee, the 74-year-old founder of LeeCorp, has been riding a wave of retiring baby boomers who want affordable luxury. Driving a reporter in his black BMW SUV through Bayside Estates in Fort Myers Beach, where many of the fanciest homes he sells are installed, Lee points out units with pitched roofs that look almost indistinguishable from conventional homes, facing canals with boats tied outside. Their owners, former dentists, doctors, executives, and others, spent upwards of $150,000 to buy aging units just to clear the way for something more luxurious. On a palm-lined street flanked by ranks of 1970s-era trailers, Lee sees profit. “There’s no end to replacing these homes,” he says. “You get a hurricane in there and it really accelerates things.”


Terms such as “mobile home” or “trailer” are now verboten in an industry striving to break free of its downscale origins. Buffett’s Clayton Homes, which produces almost half of all new manufactured housing in the U.S. and competes with such companies as Cavco Industries Inc. and Champion Home Builders Inc., still builds lower-priced units, but there’s barely a sign of them on its website, which is mostly devoted to high-price models. The 2,000-square-foot Bordeaux features a separate tub and shower, a computer station, and a mud room, with prices starting at $121,000 and ranging as high as $238,000, not including delivery and installation costs. Clayton declined to comment.

Of course, while mobile homes are becoming increasingly cost-prohibitive for low-income families in Florida and Texas, Silicon Valley's future tech billionaires can't seem to get enough of them.


nope-1004 Akzed Tue, 11/21/2017 - 18:39 Permalink

Classic asset bubble as a result of cheap lending, low standards, and rock bottom interest rates.The big lie is that valuing money at nothing (0%) is good for you, because you can borrow cheaply.  Witness above how good that is going.  The truth is low interest rates suck the life out of the average worker.  Wages stagnate and the time component to your labour is removed, because borrowing is so cheap it glosses over the inequities in production and innovation.  This just proves how BROKE and insolvent the big fed member banks are.F'n Fed needs to be shot and pissed on. 

In reply to by Akzed

lil dirtball Bes Tue, 11/21/2017 - 21:38 Permalink

> and Trump ain't doing one

> fucking thing to change it

Ha ha! I laugh at your continued misplaced loyalty to a system that fucks you every day that you wake up. You will wake up and engage it again tomorrow - and get fucked again.

Ha ha, sulking ZHombie! Ha ha!

In reply to by Bes

Offthebeach Five Star Tue, 11/21/2017 - 19:23 Permalink

Style aside, a new 1960's house, today, is an illegal house.  In spite of nail guns, adhesives, PEX plumbing, and other efficiencies,  they have not dropped the cost of houses because of insane building codes that basically want you to live in a bunker, cost managed and gold plated as if the Pentagon specd it.BTW, if you dont mind getting dirty, dusty, cut every now and then, you can have a totally remodeled house for ...$20-50k.  We used to fix our own houses, put our own additions on, add bathrooms, paint, heck even mow our lawns.  Now?...

In reply to by Five Star

Paul Kersey Juggernaut x2 Tue, 11/21/2017 - 18:53 Permalink

There may be granite on the counter tops, but now, even in upper end stick-built homes, they are putting vinyl on the floors. Five years ago, you couldn't sell a house with vinyl floors. Today, they call it Luxury Vinyl Plank (LVP), but it's still just vinyl that's supposed to look like hardwood floors. A couple of years ago, they started showing it on HGTV house flip shows, and now the buyers accept it as "luxury". PT Barnum has got to be laughing from the grave.

In reply to by Juggernaut x2

lincolnsteffens amadeus39 Tue, 11/21/2017 - 23:02 Permalink

Nothing worth doing is easy. Installing new hardwood tongue and groove flooring is technically easy but it does require labor. They used to use cut nails hammered in one at a time and then "set" below the top of the tongue. Then someone came up with a mechanical nailing device that had to be struck hard with a heavy mallet. Now you can use electric or pneumatic nailers that you just pull the trigger once for each nail. OK so you have to cut a few pieces. No reason you can't just use a hand saw the old fashioned way.People should stop being such wimps and learn how to do things for themselves. When you have completed an improvement to your own home you will feel better about yourself. Look it up on the internet!

In reply to by amadeus39

Not My Real Name totenkopf88 Tue, 11/21/2017 - 19:13 Permalink

Agree. I was going to refloor my carpeted stairs with hardwood, but after looking at the vinyl "wood" option, it made little financial sense to go with the real thing. Especially since it is extremely hard to tell the difference -- and it's even tougher to tell the difference on stairs since the stair bull noses are real wood anyway. The latest technology is truly amazing.

In reply to by totenkopf88

canisdirus amadeus39 Tue, 11/21/2017 - 21:35 Permalink

It may look similar, but it is worse in most every way except maintenance. Sanding and re-finishing is a pain, but you can't get the feeling of actual wood without using real wood.

I've seen houses where they replaced practically every floor with the stuff except a few spots with real wood and the difference was stark. The stuff is made for HGTV flip shows - it's Potemkin hardwood flooring.

In reply to by amadeus39

No Time for Fishing finametrics Tue, 11/21/2017 - 18:59 Permalink

Lower rates and mortgage interest deduction do nothing to make homes more affordable. People buy homes based off how much they can afford a month. Any given neighborhood is priced for homeowners at a given income level. Interest rates go down home price goes up to keep the note the same and vis versa. Eliminiate the mortgage interest deduction and the monthly expense of that will drop home prices by a comparable amount (that effect will generally not be seen in neighborhoods where income is low enough that deductions are not itemized). 

In reply to by finametrics

AGuy Juggernaut x2 Tue, 11/21/2017 - 20:19 Permalink

"The way I read it is that people buy these in FL with the understanding that eventually a hurricane will destroy them anyway so they are basically disposable homes. These Baby Boomers can't die off fast enough."

Be careful what you wish for: Their replacements: Millenials buy Tiny homes or live in used motor homes. Both are much worse that single wides.

In reply to by Juggernaut x2

besnook Tue, 11/21/2017 - 19:10 Permalink

the irony nowadays is the trailer is built as well if not better than the new stick built home so it is a bit of a bargain compared to the cost of a similar stick built home.

itstippy Tue, 11/21/2017 - 19:13 Permalink

"Goff—who just wants to replace the wrecked 1,200-square-foot trailer that she bought 17 years ago for $46,000, including the cost of land—says she feels boxed in. Her mobile-home community won’t allow single-wide homes or older used models as replacements. And every home must have a carport. She’s willing to give up such upgrades as the higher-end countertops, but that probably won’t be enough. Between her Social Security check and income from her job at Ace Hardware Corp., she earns only about $23,000 a year. “I just want a home that’s equal to what I had,” she says. “My home was a beauty.”Had Ms. Goff insured her home for what it was currently worth, she could now replace it with a similar home.  This is why you insure your stuff that you can't afford to replace if it's wrecked and can't live without.  Had her home burned down, instead of being destroyed by a hurricane, she'd be in the same position (fucked).This nice lady figured that since she owned the home outright, and thus wasn't required by a mortgage company to insure it for replacement value, she could cut corners on her home insurance.  She took a risk.  It bit her in the ass.  That happens.No one is going to sell her and install a brand new 1,200-square-foot "beautiful" trailer with a carport for $46,000.