View of a small manufactured home with a covered porch and vinyl siding

For active adults considering a manufactured home, it may be helpful to first fully understand what a manufactured home is.

While there are many misconceptions about manufactured homes, they can be a great option for active adults looking to buy a second home. They can also be good for retirees who want a less expensive alternative to a new on-site construction home.

What's a manufactured home?

When people think of manufactured or pre-fabrication homes, they often think of mobile homes. Today, mobile homes aren't often moved from their location, but they were originally designed to be transported. Mobile homes became more popular in the 1970s, and the U.S. government developed standards and regulations for these types of homes. These standards include durability and safety measures, including what materials can be used in the home’s construction. 

The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) now defines a manufactured home as “a structure that is transportable in one or more sections.” This basic definition means that any home that's built in a factory rather than on-site is considered a manufactured home. However, it's also a home that's permanent and connected to water and sewer facilities. Technically, a mobile home is a manufactured home that existed before HUD’s 1976 definition and name change.

Manufactured vs. Modular vs. Mobile

While many manufactured homes are referred to as mobile homes, the definition provided by HUD doesn't mean that all prefabricated homes are manufactured homes. A prefabricated home is any home where parts or sections of the home have been manufactured off-site, but a manufactured home must meet the regulations HUD defines.

The most traditional manufactured home usually comes in a single wide or double wide size, which is either 1,350 or 2,700 square feet. Because these homes remain in one place, they're considered manufactured homes, not mobile homes.

Manufactured homes are built in a factory. Unlike a site-built home, the factory is climate controlled and protected from the elements. At the factory, almost all of the stages of construction happen, from flooring to doors and windows to the exterior. This almost-complete house is then wrapped in plastic and transported in sections to the property, where final construction takes place. A local contractor will put the pieces on a permanent foundation and attach the home to electric, water, and sewer connections.

A modular home is also built in a factory. It doesn't have to conform to HUD’s national code, but they do have to conform to codes for the state, region, or town where final construction will take place.

Is there a standard manufactured home?

The simple answer is no. Although manufactured homes generally come in standard sizes, this doesn't mean they look standard. Many manufactured homes can be customized, just like a home built on-site. Often, homebuyers can choose different floor plans and layouts, customize interior features like countertops, and add additional porches and garages.

These choices also make a difference in the cost of manufactured homes. However, manufactured homes are usually less expensive than site-built homes. Homeowners also avoid paying real estate taxes, since manufactured homes are considered personal property, like a vehicle. This difference between manufactured homes and site-built homes can also mean the home doesn't gain value like a traditional home.

Where are manufactured homes sold?

Active adults considering a manufactured home have many options across the country. (Some communities allow residents to purchase land and build their own home on the lot, including a manufactured home.) In Florida, Plantation Oaks at Ormond Beach began offering new manufactured homes to residents 55 and over in 2018. The models ranged from 1,200 to 2,400 square feet with two to three bedrooms—standard sizes for manufactured homes.

In Arizona, Apache Villa and Meridian Manor both offer manufactured homes for resale. They also feature homes with more compact living space on a single floor.

Park Encinitas outside San Deigo, California also offers manufactured homes on a resale basis. The small community includes 155 single-family homes, all under 1,500 square feet. However, residents may spend more time at the outdoor pool, beach, and communal spaces than their homes.