Mobile homes have come a long way since your grandparents’ time. The trailer homes of the 1950s have given way to today’s mobile homes—and sometimes, you can hardly tell the difference between a modern mobile home and a traditional home without a good, hard look.
Better-looking options at affordable prices are helping mobile homes make a comeback these days—just like baggy jeans (no thanks), cash stuffing (yes please) and Nickelback (no comment). And thanks to the red-hot housing market in most areas, many people are considering saving money by downsizing to mobile homes. Sounds good, right? But here’s the problem: In the long run, it’s a terrible deal.
Mobile homes are an awful investment because they drop in value quickly. It’s less like buying real estate and more like buying a new car, which loses value the second you drive it off the lot.
Look, I’m not saying mobile homes aren’t nice or a good living option. There are some really snazzy-looking ones out there. Heck, some of the more modern manufactured homes might even be engineered better than some older “regular” homes. But that doesn’t make them good long-term investments.
Mobile vs. Manufactured vs. Modular
First, let’s define three key terms: mobile homes, manufactured homes and modular homes. While these types of homes all exist in the same family of construction methods, there are some important differences between them.
Mobile homes are the grandpa of the family. When most people hear the term mobile home, they usually think of those classic, self-contained, shoebox-shaped houses typically seen in trailer parks—made popular in the mid-20th century alongside Elvis and I Love Lucy. Depending on how they’re built, mobile homes can be transported either with a tow hitch and a truck (like a camping trailer) or on the back of a flatbed.
A manufactured home is basically a mobile home with a master’s degree. In 1974, mobile home standards changed a lot when the federal government passed the National Mobile Home Construction and Safety Act. Then, two years later, the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) rolled out the Manufactured Home Construction and Safety Standards.
From that point on, all mobile homes had to be built to meet universal standards and, just like Prince, they got a name change: manufactured homes.
But even with all the fancy, sophisticated additions and certificates, the manufactured home is still constructed on a moveable foundation.
If a mobile home made after 1976 is built to HUD’s standards (meaning all of them) and could potentially be moved, HUD now lumps it into the manufactured home label.1
Today’s manufactured homes come in three sizes: single-, double- and triple-wide. Just like the name sounds, you can build your manufactured home to double or triple the standard size (a single is usually 500 to 1,200 square feet), depending on how much room you want.2
For the sake of this article (and simplicity), we’ll use the term mobile home to talk about these types of homes. The only one I’m not including in this category is modular homes. Here’s why:
A modular home is like the sophisticated city-slicker cousin of the mobile home family—it’s reading The Wall Street Journal every morning while other mobile homes are watching reruns of The Price Is Right. It’s the only manufactured home that technically isn’t mobile.
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The pieces of a modular house are built off-site in a factory, like its relatives, but then the pieces are attached to a permanent foundation at the homesite and built to local building codes, just like traditional homes. That’s why they’re often referred to as prefabricated. When the assembly is all done and it’s ready to be moved into, you can barely tell the difference between it and a conventionally built home.
No matter what name they’re under, all mobile homes eventually lose value to some degree. It might not be fair, but perception is a big factor in the mobile home market.
If the average person sees your mobile home and thinks it came in on a truck, your home won’t go up in value.
How Much Do Mobile Homes Cost?
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the average price of a new mobile home was nearly $129,900 in May 2023.3 Of course, the price varies with the size and look of the home:
Avg. Living Space
500–1,200 sq. ft.
1,100–2,400 sq. ft.
If you’re looking for the stats on triple-wide homes, the Census Bureau doesn’t call out the numbers for them—they were just lumped in with the total amount.
Buyers should know that costs and size regulations vary by state because these homes have to be transported—just like that Chipotle barbacoa burrito you ordered from DoorDash when you could (and should) have picked it up yourself for free.
The price will also depend on personal customizations, like snazzy granite countertops, and add-ons, like a large front porch. There are also other costs on top of the home price to consider—like insurance, which will also vary depending on where your mobile home sits.
If you buy a mobile home, you’ll also need to either buy or rent land for it to sit on. It’s difficult to determine the average cost of renting a mobile home plot since those numbers aren’t reported in the same way as traditional real estate, so just know that the price will always reflect the local state and city real estate market.6 For example, if you live in a high-price state like California, you could be looking at something significantly above average than if you lived in, say, Indiana.
The lot price also depends on your access to amenities, including things like electricity, trash pickup or even an on-site pool.
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How Long Do Mobile Homes Last?
The typical life expectancy of a mobile homes built today is around 30–55 years.
Of course, just like a car, mobile homes can last longer if they’re well maintained. If you keep up general maintenance, choose your plot location wisely, and have it inspected every so often, you could outlast that 55-year mark.
Natural disasters can also cut down on a mobile home’s lifespan. Like standard homes, mobile homes are made out of wood and metal. But unlike standard homes, most aren’t built on a permanent foundation with framing built to last. So, people who live in mobile homes are vulnerable to natural disasters like hurricanes, tornadoes, flooding and fires.
And I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but you’re 15 to 20 times more likely to be killed during a tornado in a mobile home than a traditional one, according to the National Weather Service.7 Yeesh.
Needless to say, a mobile home isn’t something you’re going to pass down through your family for generations.
Should I Invest in a Mobile Home?
If you’re smart, you won’t look at a mobile home as an investment because they lose value over time. From a financial standpoint, buying a mobile home is like buying a very large (and expensive) car that you sleep in. And unless you’re planning to hop on the #VanLife trend (hey, you do you), that’s not a great idea.
Some like to argue that buying a mobile home is better than paying rent on an apartment or home. There’s a problem with that logic, though. When you pay, say, $1,200 a month in rent, that’s all you’re losing. But when you buy a mobile home, you’re still losing money every day because it can depreciate so quickly.
How quickly do mobile homes depreciate? History says a $150,000 double-wide mobile home will depreciate by more than $50,000 in just five years (a third of the original value!). That’s not an investment, folks—that’s a money pit. And you didn’t need me to tell you that a money pit shouldn’t have a place in your investment strategy.
Now, you may run into some people who try to convince you that mobile homes go up in value, and they’ll even have stats to back it up. But those stats are misleading. Why? Because most of them, like those reported by the Federal Housing Finance Agency, are based on the value of manufactured homes titled as real property, which means they’re permanently attached to the land.8 In those cases, the value of the land is going up, not value of the manufactured home.
Good Investing Alternatives to a Mobile Home
If you’re looking at investing in real estate, there are much better opportunities out there than mobile homes, and that’s because of one magical word: appreciation.
Despite the ups and downs of the real estate market, most properties increase in value over time. In fact, home values have been rising pretty much nonstop for nearly a decade now. Meanwhile, as we just saw, mobile homes have taken after your car—losing value every year.
Instead of investing in a mobile home, put your money toward a better investment. Here are my two favorites:
- Buying a traditional house: If you’re debt-free with a full emergency fund, saving up a strong down payment to buy a traditional house is a great investment. When our team at Ramsey talked to over 10,000 millionaires for The National Study of Millionaires, most of them had a paid-for house as part of their portfolio.
- Investing in mutual funds: The best way to do this is to put money in a tax-advantaged retirement account, like a 401(k) or Roth IRA, and invest that money in mutual funds with a long track record of solid growth. I recommend investing 15% of your income here once you’re debt-free with an emergency fund of 3–6 months of expenses.
If you do choose to invest in real estate, you shouldn’t do it alone. It’s one of the biggest investments you’ll ever make and, though it can be a big moneymaker, it can also be really confusing (and risky) to navigate if you don’t have someone in your corner.
That’s why I recommend working with a real estate professional who’s the best in their field. Connect with one of our RamseyTrusted agents who can help you find what you’re looking for. Through the RamseyTrusted program, you’ll get instant access to the right real estate professional for your family.