Manufactured homes are changing the face of certain neighborhoods in Minot's valley as homeowners look to replace demolished houses quickly and affordably after last year's flood.
The City of Minot has seen an increase in requests for manufactured homes in the flood zone, which require special permits to be located among traditional housing. Occasionally, the permit requests raise the concern of nearby residents, who worry about property values. Some neighbors have raised concerns about the look of ranch-styled manufactured homes when set among existing two-story structures with older architecture.
In some cases, the stigma of a mobile home still hangs over the manufactured housing industry. However, managers of Minot dealerships say the mobile home as people have known it is a thing of the past.
"They have evolved just like everything else," said Tom Ripplinger, local manager of Iseman Homes. "It's a more complex housing structure that we have today. The manufactured home is built at a factory, but it is built with really all the same materials as a site-built house."
The traditional mobile home began making its way out the door in 1976 when the federal government set more stringent housing standards, added Barb Kruse, local manager of Dreamland Homes in Minot.
Tom Erie, manager of Minot's Liechty Homes office, is president of the North Dakota Manufactured Housing Association. He said manufactured homes in parks still are considered mobile homes, which are taxed and financed differently from real property. However, manufactured homes can be treated as real estate if the homeowner owns the land and places the homes permanently on concrete piers.
Local companies report interest in manufactured homes has been growing in popularity for some time in the region's rural area, where contractors are more difficult to find and more expensive site-built homes aren't financially practical.
Interest picked up even more in recent years with the need for housing and shortage of contractors in the oil patch. Within Minot, there has been previous interest in modular homes, but sales of manufactured homes didn't take off until after last summer's flood.
Many of the houses destroyed in the flood were older, smaller, more affordable homes, and owners looked to manufactured homes as a less expensive option, suited to the smaller lot with a shorter wait time for moving in. Entry can be obtained sometimes in as little as a month, although six to eight weeks is more common and some waits may be longer, depending upon the home.
Both manufactured homes and modular homes, which are built in factories but to different building codes, are less expensive because the factories can buy materials in bulk and perform construction rapidly in assembly-line fashion. The houses are inspected for quality throughout the construction process, Ripplinger said.
Many manufacturers allow buyers to custom design their manufactured homes. They can be built two-story or split level.
The style, whether plain or elaborate, depends on how much a homeowner wants to spend. The more choices in design and customization, the more the cost.
Modular homes, also factory built, are more expensive because local building codes are followed and because the set-up process is more involved.
Today's manufactured homes are built on steel frames and anchored on concrete piers, unlike the old mobile homes that were put on blocks and were vulnerable to ground movement. The state inspects the homes to certify that they are properly anchored, fitted and sealed on their foundations.
"They aren't mobile anymore. They are three times as heavy because of the heavier construction," Ripplinger said.
Dealers also argue that manufactured homes don't depreciate a neighborhood but appreciate in value along with the site-built homes.
Kevin Ternes, Minot city assessor, has seen the appreciation even prior to the recent economic activity that has raised values.
The question is not whether they will appreciate into the future but how much, Ternes said. Whether they appreciate at the same pace as site-built houses is too early to tell, he said.
Most manufactured homes in Minot are going into older neighborhoods, Ternes said. The manufactured homes, which may be larger and are more modern, start at a value comparable to the existing homes so should not be detrimental to property values, he said.
Kruse said people who walk through the model manufactured homes get a reality check if they are expecting to see a "mobile home." There has been a significant difference particularly in the last several years, she said. Homes now often come with high-quality carpet, nicer appliances, real wood in the woodwork and greater pitch to the roof.
"They have stepped up to the plate and made them look more residential," Kruse said of the manufacturers.
Manufacturers exist around the country but the hub is in Indiana. Homes in this area commonly come from there or Nebraska, Idaho, Minnesota or South Dakota.
Minot City Council members have been approving the permits despite having mixed response to placing manufactured homes in the flood zone. Some council members have called the homes a short-term solution with a long-term consequence, while others welcome the homes when the alternative is abandoned houses and lots.
Ripplinger said replacing aging housing stock with the energy efficiency and modern features of well-built manufactured homes can be a good thing.
"It's an opportunity for us to upgrade to a new community with the newer houses," Ripplinger said. "It's not going to be the same. But then change is probably for the better."