Modular Home Pricing Tips
Compare Apples to Apples
There are many different builders to choose from when building a modular home, and
sometimes the hardest thing to get out of a builder is a firm price. Even when you do get a
number, each builder has its own set of items that are included or not included in the price.
Even if you are looking for a “turn key” price, two builders may have a different opinion of what
that actually means.
The good thing about most modular home builders is they will generally let you decide how
much, if any of the labor or contracting you would like to do yourself, giving you a chance to
leverage any experience or contacts you have to save money on the project.
So what you really need to do is to have a checklist ready of everything that is involved in
completing your home. That way once you’ve found a couple builders/manufacturers you are
interested in you can go through your list and find out what is included so you can compare the
different builders on a level playing field. The list should include things like “Is the driveway
included in the price?”, “ does the house come equipped with gutters?” “ Does that price
include painting or just primer?”, etc.
How you can save big money and conserve resources when making
While working in the modular home industry I was always very impressed with the amount of
research potential customers had done, not just on the particular company that I was working
for, but on the industry as a whole.
The typical modular home buyer is very educated about current construction methods and
trends and has a good idea of what they wanted and often has a prepared list of questions
ready to ask when they visit a builder. Today's tip may help you save a thousand dollars or
more, as well as preserve the environment.
If you have already been through the process of poring over the all of the various options given
by many builders of custom modular homes you are aware that they are numerous and the
decision whether to choose options or upgrades can result in a very large variance in cost
depending on what you choose.
Some of the choices involve aesthetic items, such as cabinet style and color, paint color, etc.
Most modular builders also have structural and insulation options that affect the durability of the
house, what repairs may be needed years from now, and even the amount you pay for
electricity each month. Today's tip involves the framing technique used when building your home.
One thing that I noticed a lot of the most discriminating buyers asked about was whether the
framing was built on 24 or 16 inch centers. Most people considered 16 inch centers superior,
because obviously if the structure was reinforced every 16 inches instead of 24 the construction
would be sturdier and hold up better against the elements.
Most modular companies use 2 x 4s on 16 inch centers or 2 x 6s on 24 inch centers. An option
of 2 x 6s on 16 inch centers is generally offered for several hundred dollars extra. This is where
you need to be careful. Recent studies have shown that homes constructed with walls using
2 x 6s on 24 inch centers are still as structurally as sound as 2 x 4s on 16 inch centers.
However, when builders use 2 x 6s and continue to build on 16 inch centers it not only results in
higher costs for more lumber, but the extra wood also breaks up the space used for insulation
and makes the house less energy efficient than it would be if the builder had built on 24 inch
All this may seem a little complicated to the average buyer, but if you remember these two
things you should be ok:
1. A home built with 2 x 6 exterior walls is superior to one using 2 x 4s because of the ability to
use thicker insulation, resulting in lower electric bills.
2. It is not necessary to upgrade to framing on 16 inch centers - it will cost more and in fact
may make your home less energy-efficient.
Which work would you be willing to do yourself or contract out to save
Like I said earlier, generally with a modular home, the builder/dealer will let you do as much or
as little of the work on the house yourself. You can get a complete turnkey home, or at the other
end of the spectrum you can act as your own general contractor, or anything in between.
With a true complete turnkey home the builder completes everything necessary for you to drive
up to the home and start moving in. In the scenario where you act as your own general
contractor, the modular builder has the home delivered to your lot, sets it on the foundation
and leaves. You are responsible for all of the finishing work, either by hiring subcontractors or
completing it yourself.
Many people that build modular homes have some skill or contact that they can use to save
some money on the house and often times the builder is glad to take the money off of the price
to let the buyer complete those jobs. If you find the perfect home, but it looks like you will have
trouble fitting it into your budget, it is very useful to have some skills or contacts that can help
you do some of the work to bring the price down to what you can afford.
So for example, say you’ve found the perfect house plan, you like the builder and you’ve picked
out all the cabinets, molding, siding, etc. and you have a turnkey price for the whole project from
the builder that includes EVERYTHING for $250,000. The problem is you have a budget of
$225,000 based on what you have for a down payment plus the financing you qualify for.
In this situation there are a few ways to reduce your costs to get the house within your budget.
First, you want to tell your builder the situation and see what they can do to reduce the price.
(He may actually knock a couple thousand dollars off the price, but even the most desperate
of builders will not go down $25,000).
Next you should ask the builder to break down the costs of the finishing work that is involved in
the project to see if there is anything you could take care of yourself to save some money. Here
are some places I have found that a buyer can save some money:
Most modular homes come standard with white primer and there is a cost associated with the
paint colors you select for each of the rooms. By offering to paint the interior of the house
yourself you can save on the labor and maybe even shop around and find a good price on paint.
This is a great place to save money, especially with hardwood floors. The hardwood floors you
can get now at places like Home Depot and Lowe’s are easy enough to install that you may be
able to do it yourself with the help of family or friends. Even if you would prefer not to do it you
can generally find a good subcontractor to do it for you and save some money.
For example, if the builder tells you that the hardwood floor will cost you $9 per square foot
installed, you can probably shop around and find someone that can thousands of dollars if the
plan calls for hardwood floors throughout the house.
Clearing and Grading-
This one won’t apply to everyone, but if you have land that needs clearing and this was included
in the turnkey price of the house you want to consider arranging for the lot to be cleared yourself.
Many builders won’t even quote a turnkey price that includes clearing the land because the price
can vary depending on who is hired to do it. In fact, the price can vary from week to week from
the same company depending on how busy they are at the time.
If the builder included this in the price of the house you can find out how much was budgeted for
it and offer to shop around and do the clearing yourself. Most likely the builder will be glad to let
you take care of this since it is one less thing he has to worry about.
If you have your heart set on a certain floor plan that includes an upstairs and you are way off in
price you may want to consider finishing the upstairs yourself. Many modular plans come with
an unfinished “Bonus room” upstairs that you can opt to leave unfinished, but have the
manufacturer prepare it with a future plumbing package so it is not too difficult to finish off later
when you have the funds.
Other places to save –
Some other examples of jobs completed or subcontracted out by the buyer to save money
include HVAC installation (this can be a big money saver if you know someone in the business),
molding and trim, decks, tile and others.
If you would rather not go to the trouble of dealing with subcontractors or doing the physical
labor yourself, you can also make up the difference in price by changing some of the more
expensive options you chose for the house. The best advice I can give about this is to
consider which options you consider the most important in a house, but also consider your
What I mean by this is that you should try to think ahead a few years and consider how long you
plan to stay in the house. Many people who build a custom modular home build it on land that
has been handed down for several generations and they plan to stay there for many years in
their dream home.
If this is the case, when you think which options to change or eliminate to save money you will
probably want to eliminate options that are easy to add later once you get the money. For
example, if you need to save $2000 and you can either do it by putting in less expensive
appliances now and upgrading to the beautiful stainless steel refrigerator and stove you liked
later or leaving off the deck in the backyard, you’d probably want to go ahead and get the
appliances you really wanted and waiting a little while to add the deck once you had the money.
Some things that you should try to avoid leaving off or skimping on to save money are items that
result in savings on your energy bill. For example, it is not required that all houses come with
floor insulation. Although you may be able to save a thousand dollars or more by omitting this
you will pay higher utility bills for the life of the house, or until you install insulation.
In addition there are new programs springing up all over the country in which the local electric
company offers rebates to the builder or consumer for investing in energy saving items such as
certain energy-efficient water heaters and insulations.