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Are Mobile Homes a Bad Investment?

Mobile homes have come a long way since your grandparents’ time. The trailer homes of the 1950s have given way to the homes of today—and sometimes, you can hardly tell the difference between the two without a good, hard look.

Better-looking options at affordable prices are helping mobile homes make a bit of a comeback these days. 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 is this a good idea in the long run?

Nope!

Mobile homes are a terrible investment because they drop in value super fast—the same way your car loses value the second you drive it off the lot. Investing in a mobile home isn’t like investing in real estate. Why? Because the land the mobile home sits on is real estate, but the home is considered personal property.

Listen: We’re not saying mobile homes aren’t nice. 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 (seriously . . . how is that shack down the street still standing?). But that doesn’t make them good long-term investments.

Mobile vs. Manufactured vs. Modular

First, let’s define the terms we’ll be using—mobile, manufactured and modular. While these types of homes all exist in the same family of construction methods, there are some important differences between them.

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Let’s look at mobile homes, the grandpa of the family. When most people hear the term mobile home, they usually think of the classic, self-contained shoebox-shaped houses typically seen in trailer parks—the ones made popular in the mid-1900s. 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 the son of the mobile home—better educated with a fancy degree but basically the same as his dad. 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. Not only that but mobile homes also got a name change. Legally, they became “manufactured homes” (come get your diploma!).

But even with all the fancy, sophisticated additions and certificates, the manufactured home is still constructed on a moveable foundation (it’s still got Dad’s DNA).

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 Wow, a one-size-fits-all name from the government? Who would have guessed?

Like their pre-1976 parent, 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 (usually 500 to 1,200 square feet), depending on how much room you want.2 That’s potentially three shoebox-size trailers’ worth of space!

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 we’re not including in this category is modular homes. Here’s why:

A modular home is the sophisticated city cousin of the mobile home family—similar but different. It’s the only manufactured home that technically isn’t mobile. The pieces of the modular house are built in a factory, like its relatives, but then the pieces are attached to a permanent foundation at the home site and built to local building codes, just like stick-built homes. When it’s all done and ready to be moved into, you can barely tell the difference between it and a conventionally built home. This house isn’t going anywhere!

They all have one thing in common, though: Unlike conventional stick-built homes that are constructed entirely at the home’s final location, these homes are built in pieces off-site in a factory and carted over on trucks. That’s why they’re often referred to as “prefabricated.”

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 can look at your mobile home and think 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 $112,000 in November of 2021.3 Of course, the price varies with the size and look of the home:

 

Type

Avg. Cost

Avg. Living Space

Bedrooms

Bathrooms

Single-Wide

$76,400

400–1,400 sq. ft.4

1–2

1–2

Double-Wide

$139,900

1,100–2,400 sq. ft.5

2–3

26

If you’re looking for the stats on triple-wide homes, the Census Bureau doesn’t call out the numbers for them (womp womp). They were just lumped in with the total amount.

Buyers should keep in mind that costs and size regulations vary by state because these homes have to be transported. 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 (sorry, these things can’t float in the air). The nationwide average cost of a mobile home lot is $200 to $300 a month, but those prices will reflect the real estate costs of your state and city.7 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 amenities you may have access to, including things like electricity, trash pickup or even an on-site pool.

How Long Do Mobile Homes Last? 

According to HUD, mobile homes built today have a life expectancy of 30 to 55 years. And that estimate, by the way, is for mobile homes that were built using HUD’s current building codes and construction standards.8 So, if you’re in a mobile home that was built prior to 1976, your home’s life expectancy might be less.

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 stick-built homes, mobile homes are made out of wood and metal. But unlike standard homes, most aren’t built on a permanent foundation with framing that’s built to last. So, people who live in mobile homes are really vulnerable to natural disasters, including hurricanes, tornadoes, flooding and fires. In fact, a recent study found that the likelihood of a tornado-related death is 15 to 20 times higher in a mobile home than in traditional housing.9

Needless to say, a mobile home isn’t something you’re going to pass down to 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. From a financial standpoint, buying a mobile home is like buying a very large car that you sleep in. And we all know what happens to cars over time—they lose value.

Some like to argue that buying a mobile home is better than paying rent on an apartment or home. But let’s take a closer look. 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. It may look good from a tax perspective, but it’s bad news for your resale value.

In the end, a mobile home is a gamble, and the odds aren’t in your favor. It’s only fun to gamble when you can afford to lose the bet. You don’t want to get your whole family wrapped up in a bad long-term bet.

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.10 Meanwhile, mobile homes have taken after your car—losing value every year.

Now, it's true that certain types of mobile homes have increased in value. In fact, the average value of a mobile home went up from 2020 to 2021, according to the Census Bureau’s numbers.11 And that’s probably due to the crazy high overall home market going on right now. But the long-term history (we’re talking decades here) of the value of mobile homes still points down. When it does go up, it isn’t by much compared to conventional homes. And when the bubble bursts (which it always does), the mobile home will lose its value at a faster rate . . . and keep losing.

Another big key of real estate? Location! Buy a home in a part of town that’s on its way up. That way, you’ll buy at a lower price and can ride out any downturns in the market while your property value goes up.

Real estate is one of the biggest investments you’ll ever make. It can be a big moneymaker, but it’s really confusing (and risky) to navigate if you don’t have all the tools in your toolbox.

That’s why we recommend working with a real estate professional who’s the best in their field. Reach out to one of our trusted Endorsed Local Providers (ELPs) who can help you find what you’re looking for. Through our ELP program, you’ll get instant access to the right real estate professional for your family.

Ramsey Solutions

About the author

Ramsey Solutions

Ramsey Solutions has been committed to helping people regain control of their money, build wealth, grow their leadership skills, and enhance their lives through personal development since 1992. Millions of people have used our financial advice through 22 books (including 12 national bestsellers) published by Ramsey Press, as well as two syndicated radio shows and 10 podcasts, which have over 17 million weekly listeners. Learn More.

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