Manufactured Housing Resources George Porter


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Robert J. Henry
Home Installation Manager Fleetwood Enterprises, Inc.

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Where are We Going?

By George Porter

Where are we going is a good question, but when are we going to get there might be even better. What the future holds for the industry is nothing but an intuitive guess, but it will have to be different from what we have done in the past. At least most people think so, but not everyone. Lots of people I have talked to say most of our troubles started when we left out roots and tried to become "mainstream" housing. They say we build too much house, that the homes require too much on-site work and cost way more than "basic shelter" has to. Why did we start to compete with "real houses?" When we were building simple homes in the 60's and 70's we sold a bunch of them except when the gas crunch happened and that sort of crippled everything for a while. Back when our homes were cheap we didn't have the financing troubles we have now. I have actually had people say to me that it was better back then when the customer didn't expect so much. People bought an inexpensive home and they usually got more than they expected in value and comfort. Now they are buying a home that takes a much larger share of their income and they want to compare it to what they "think" a home costing twice as much out to be. Truth is that our homes today, in many cases, are better than most homes costing three times as much. The value is there if the home is properly completed.

There are others that say that we should be competing with "bricks and sticks". They have the zoning and financing and that is where we need to be. Anything less is unfair and discriminatory! Sometimes I think we lose sight of exactly what we are and we have done a less than adequate job of portraying ourselves. We are a building process using a federal building code. We are not necessarily a "lifestyle." We just build homes and we seem to forget that we can build almost any kind of home we want to. Big, little, expensive or inexpensive, it doesn't matter. If we want granite countertops and total tape and texture homes we can have them. But, if we want to build a structure that will do little more than take a family off the street we can do that too.

I keep thinking back to the Ford Thunderbird and how it changed over the years. When it started it was a small sports car and it stayed that way for three or four years. It was selling like crazy and was clearly something that the public wanted. Then it got a little bigger each year after that with more and more options until it was a four-door luxury car like the Lincoln. Then they changed it again to be a more affordable as a mid-priced two-door car. Ford stopped making both the "T" Bird and its half brother the Cougar a few years ago and then they brought the Cougar back as a sporty small car. In the last year the Thunderbird has returned as a luxury sports car with the little round window just like they had in the very first models thirty years ago.

The point being, Ford thought if people liked their product that they would like it more if it had more, they "morphed" it into something that they could not sell much of apparently. While I do not see ourselves doing exactly this with our homes, returning to our roots is an option that seems to be overlooked by most. People don't mind small homes, just look at the success of the travel trailer industry lately. It is the best it has ever been.

On the other hand we have done pretty well in places with some real showcase homes Maybe we need all the products we can get in these troublesome times? Maybe we need to invent up as well as down? We can have products that compete with conventional housing as well as perhaps carve ourselves out a new market by inventing ourselves all over again. People still need housing, just like in the 60's and 70's. Can you imagine how much better we could build one of those types of homes now with the materials and production techniques we have today?

What ever happened to the popularity of single section home? If we built them and developed a place for them in the housing of the nation, what would be our competition? Clearly conventional housing is the competition for multi-section homes but what would an eight to nine hundred square foot single section compete with except an apartment. If memory serves me correctly that is what I used to sell against for twenty years, buy a home for less than rent and have equity, what a deal

If such a small home existed and was properly installed with the care a good home deserves, it would be a great benefit to the people who don't need a full size home, but don't want to collect rent receipts either. There are very few really nice "little" homes around today and no one I know is trying to promote them. In Canada they call them "mother-in-law homes" and they have found a place in the housing stock for them. They are usually located some where near the main family home and the grandparents have a place of their own.

We may have somewhat moved away from our own special niche in the marketplace, the place where nobody could do what we did better. We made affordable small homes and built an industry around them. In addition to the big beautiful homes we make today I think we need to offer the product that established the industry as well. If you look at housing on a global scale, most of the world considers eight hundred square feet a big home. And, it is a pretty big world. It is a void that needs filling and with the creativity this industry has shown in the past I am sure we can do it if we try. It sure beats waiting for something good to happen!