Disclosures. Among the most common requests we get from home shoppers is a variation on this question. How do you recommend we determine which company or location to buy from? Because the responsibility for due diligence is with the buyer, this article is being provided as a public service.
This column will be the first in a periodic series of articles on MHLivingNews that will help serious buyers begin to answer the question – how does a buyer decide who to do business with? – with practical how to tips.
First, let’s state the obvious. Most home shopping today is being done online. Clearly, the internet is a great resource. But you may need to dig deeper than a first or second search result to discover the facts that you need.
There are thousands of manufactured home (MH) retail locations. There are some 44,000 manufactured home land lease communities, according to a two year count conducted by the owners of MHUniv. There are also MH developments, scattered lots, and property already in the family as options for possible sites for a manufactured home.
Where does a serious shopper begin in their decision-making process?
Before we dive into the first in our tips series, if this is your first visit to MHLivingNews, you may want to start with a different article and some videos.
For the first time guest, the article linked below is a kind of a hub, which leads readers and viewers to some of the most common questions, concerns, and answers from actual home owners, and experts on manufactured home living.
One More Qualifier, Disclosure Before We Get Started…
As an important point, when MHLivingNews or our sister site, MHProNews does an interview with any home owner, or expert, we do not compensate them, nor any experts that we interview.
There’s so much misinformation online, we knew that there was a need for solid, factual information.
Therefore, we use numerous third-party research and reports, in addition to experiences from homeowners and experts.
For example, the federal GAO and a HUD-commissioned, university level research both make it clear that manufactured homes are by far the most cost-effective forms of new housing. The reports are dry, technical, but are linked below for those ready for that kind of reading.
The GAO report includes the graphic shown, which is for many the key point.
HUD commissioned research also proves that manufactured homes can appreciate side by side with conventional housing.
Again, this HUD commissioned data by university researchers is dry, and technical reading. But for those who like or want that, here you go – at this link here.
So the points above are that we not only know the industry, but MHLivingNews has laid out research and interviews that the public can rely upon.
That said, there are now those who are trying to mimic our video interviews. It’s America, stuff happens.
Our tip? Ask them face to face, where those on camera compensated or given some kind of benefit for saying what they did? Because in every one of our videos, we can say without hesitation, that we’ve compensated no one for doing a video interview.
No one in the history of this industry has provided more than MHLivingNews to serious shoppers in:
- third-party research,
- studies by universities,
- insurance organizations and companies,
- non-profit groups, and
- others that have objectively studied manufactured homes.
When people do their home work, they are routinely impressed by what they find in terms of quality, durability, energy efficiency, and value.
For example, U.S. Census Bureau statistics state that manufactured homes are about half the cost of standard on site construction. So if you started reading on MHLivingNews with this article, we recommend you read others first. Then, come back and read this column.
One more disclaimer. While others are hiring marketing companies to create slick pieces, they may have as little as zero personal experience in manufactured home living. Our publication’s parent company’s managing members have lived and owned all kinds of housing, including manufactured homes. The host of the Inside MH Road Show has over a quarter of a century experience in this industry, and has owned several manufactured homes.
As L. A. “Tony” Kovach has said from experience, “You cook, clean, eat, live, and love the same in a manufactured home as you would in other kinds of housing.” ©
We’ll put our experts, insights, and advice up against anyone in the industry, or their marketing agents.
With that backdrop and disclaimers in mind, if you’ve already done your initial research, reading, and viewing, and have decided to start shopping retailers and communities, then this article is right for you.
Let’s get started…
1) General Confidence. Because of federal law and third-party research, you can have good general confidence in shopping for a manufactured home. Three links below will give you more details.
That said, while you can have general confidence in the Manufactured Home industry, you still need to carefully check who you do business with.
As in any profession, there are people of different experience, skills, and levels of honesty (or a lack of it).
Buying a home is obviously a big decision.
As with any kind of housing choice, use good judgment, get feedback from others, and do your own homework.
Some of the same things you’d do before buying a conventional house from a builder or agency apply to manufactured home related decisions.
Don’t let this list scare you off. Start early, so that you don’t have time pressures.
2) As you prepare to narrow down your search, check the Better Business Bureau Rating (BBB) of a company and/or location you may be interested in.
While not perfect, the BBB provides a generally reliable sense of what a specific company or location’s track-record is with customers.
As an FYI, when we at MHLivingNews do video interviews with professionals associated with specific companies, they’re checked for their BBB rating. Some examples of operations we’ve interviewed are shown below.
At this point in time, we think it’s safe to say that all those we’ve done video interviews with were A or A+ rated by the BBB at the time the interviews were done. The screen captures of BBB ratings above were done today, and were good at the time we made our trips to do interviews. But again, time passes, things might change, you may be reading this a year from the date its published…so double check, and follow these common sense tips to do your own home work.
3) Reviews by consumers. Online ratings and complaints by consumers can be useful, but they can also be ‘gamed’ by competitors, or others.
Consider the source of comments carefully, to see if they appear to be genuine.
Don’t hesitate to ask the seller – face to face – about any questions or concerns you have. Asking the right questions until you are satisfied is your best way to decide who you will do business with!
Don’t be fooled by thousands of social media likes, that can be manipulated by hiring people – often off shore, in low wage countries – to give a faked like or comment.
If in doubt, ask for references from sellers of customers they sold homes to; again, do so face to face. Watch their body language and reactions to such direct questions.
In a community, it can be easier doing your satisfaction research. Just drive through the property, stop, and ask a few people you see at random how they like living there. Size them up for sincerity, and you’ll have insights you may never find online.
4) Red Flags. New sales people will naturally not have the same level of experience as someone who has been in the industry for several years. Everyone starts sometime. The only way to get experience is with time.
If someone is over promising, that’s often a warning sign. Clarify anything they say, because it is easier to clear an issue up before you buy, than afterward.
Get promises in writing.
If taking to a manager doesn’t give you more comfort than a rookie sales person, consider moving on to a business or location that is treating you with the proper courtesy, honesty, and respect.
Ongoing high-pressure should be a warning sign.
But note that there’s a difference between someone that wants to earn your business, and high pressure. When we go shopping, we want that company to ask for our business too, so asking for your business is not the same as pressuring you. Common sense, the other tips, and your good gut instincts will be a useful guide.
5) Timing on Custom-Ordered Homes. Lead times for ordering a manufactured home from a production center – the factory – can commonly be several weeks. A year ago, depending on the company, the lead time was often 4 to 8 weeks.
Today, with FEMA ordering thousands of homes, plus surging demand for manufactured homes by home buyers, lead times from the production center can easily be 12 to 16 weeks, or in some cases, even longer.
No sales person wants to lose a customer over a time related issue. So, this might be among the better test questions.
Does a promised delivery date sound too quick? If so, then call the factory directly, and ask them to give you their current lead time.
Document everything. Get and write down the name of the person(s) you speak to, the date and time, what they are telling you. Keep in mind that once a home is shipped to the retailer or community, an installation still has to be scheduled.
One more point about FEMA. Federal law allows the government to force a factory to produce a home for them ahead of retail customers. It is very possible to have a sales person honestly tell you X, and a surge of orders from FEMA can cause a change in that delivery date.
Plan ahead. A model home in inventory is always going to be faster than a custom ordered home. Just as a site builder can experience delays, that can happen with manufactured homes too.
You want a retailer to be fair and honest with you, but you as a buyer have to be just as fair and honest with them.
All things being equal, multi-millionaire entertainer Kid Rock, who bought a manufactured home, said he did so in part because it was fast.
The couple in the story linked above said something similar, how much faster it is was for them ordering their home than building a conventional house.
6) Know the Company, Its Track Record, and the History of the Operation You’re Considering
According to Mahany Law, which is investigating allegations of fraud and other problems in Berkshire Hathaway (BH) owned companies, Clayton Homes operates under over a dozen different name brands. Why?
One answer may be that given their mega-billionaire backer, after 14 years, they now dominate the market. So, they clearly want to appear to be separate locations – thus several company names instead of just one – a strategy some businesses have used so that if one location doesn’t sell you, another one might.
As BH is the largest parent company in the industry, and with the two largest industry lenders, perhaps it’s no surprise that Clayton, Vanderbilt Mortgage, and 21st Mortgage have more complaints. So, factor that into your discernment process that most of their customers are likely happy, or they would be going out of business.
At the same time, consider the volume of complaints, federal investigations reported, fines, and what the first link below says is an investigation into a possible class action lawsuit.
Quoting from the Campaign for Accountability (CfA), the link below, “CfA Executive Director Daniel Stevens said…“Berkshire Hathaway’s genial chairman Warren Buffett, is frequently lauded for his concern for working class Americans. Yet a company he owns may be victimizing some of our most vulnerable citizens. Americans should know whether Clayton Homes is getting a pass from the government because of Mr. Buffett’s involvement.”
The same page noted that, “several members of Congress, including Reps. Maxine Waters (D-CA), Keith Ellison (D-MN), Emanuel Cleaver (D-MO), and Mike Capuano (D-MA) asked both the CFPB and the Department of Justice to investigate.” The two major parties often throw rocks at each other. But when Democrats are investigating the company owned by a prominent Democratic backer – namely, Warren Buffett – doesn’t that bear added scrutiny?
Note too, in fairness, that suits and legal complaints can get settled.
So, if time has elapsed since this column was first published, do a search for any:
- pending complaints,
- law suits,
- settlements, etc.
As a footnote to Berkshire Hathaway (BH), Clayton Homes, VMF and 21st companies, sources inside and outside of the industry say that the Manufactured Housing Institute (MHI) is dominated by Clayton Homes, Vanderbilt Mortgage (VMF) and 21st Mortgage Corp.
MHI, per those sources, thus allegedly tends to lean toward Berkshire Hathaway owned companies in their policies, lobbying, and promotions. MHI has done social media, videos, and ‘advertorials’ that may look to be genuine stories, but they are not. So, what about their video interviews? Are they more of an advertisement, under the guise of an interview?
MHI has been analyzed and critiqued by our sister publication, MHProNews.com, and others as is reflected in two of those comments, above. Again, do your homework. There are happy customers with Clayton – see a story that we did, linked here – and there are good companies that are members of the MHI association.
But as is noted in the two Clayton and MHI related links above, Berkshire Hathaway/Clayton Homes/VMF/21s continues to be dogged by allegations – like those noted or linked in this column – plus others too.
In fairness to Clayton, MHI, et al, we’ve done analysis/fact checks in the past when some of the allegations against them seemed unfair.
At the same time, we must note that as allegations continue to mount, MHI has taken a policy of not providing substantive replies to our inquiries.
Shoppers and researchers must consider and ask: why there is an apparent lack of transparency at MHI?
While there are many good companies and people that are members of MHI, there’s also a call for reforming that organization by industry members. At some point, MHI members must ask themselves if they want to be associated with an organization that has not, for example, publicly denounced racism when that is what several law makers have alleged about their biggest member.
In the 21st century, denouncing racism seems like a no-brainer, doesn’t it? By contrast, post-Charlottesville, MHLivingNews took a strong stand on the issue of condemning all racism, as is linked below.
Do your homework.
Closing on the Positive
Let’s close on a positive. Unlike conventional housing, there’s a process established by law to safeguard the interests of the quality, safety, and construction for the buyers of HUD Code Manufactured Homes. See a report on federal research on that, which we linked above, and once more are providing here for your ease of access and reading.
Whichever companies you are considering, see if they are the right fit for you, or if someone else in your target market might make as good or a better fit for your needs?
The montage video below, taken from several locations over time, may provide you with a important insights. Manufactured homes can be a good fit for millionaires, billionaires, the middle class, working class, and retires. We’ve interviewed millionaires to retirees, people of a wide range of backgrounds and income, who love their manufactured homes.
It will be your home. So do what you need to in order to feel good about your decision. “We Provide, You Decide.” © (Manufactured home shopping tips, analysis, disclosures, and links to other MHLivingNews articles).
(Images credits are as shown, are by MHLivingNews and/or MHProNews, and when from third parties, ae provided under fair use guidelines.)
Soheyla is a co-founder and managing member of LifeStyle Factory Homes, LLC, parent company to MHLivingNews and MHProNews. She’s lived in a what most would describe as mansion, in several types of conventional housing, and in manufactured homes. A third-party, mainsream media report on MHLivingNews’ founders – a story that was not commissioned by our parent company or subsidiaries – is linked here.