Mobile homes are housing units built in factories, rather than on site, and then taken to the place where they will be occupied, usually by being carried by tractor-trailers over public highways. They are usually much less expensive than site-built homes, and are often associated with rural areas and high-density developments sometimes referred to as trailer parks.
Although the name "mobile" implies that these houses will move around, they usually are placed in one location - often a rented lot - and left there for the life of the structure.
The two major forms of mobile homes are single-wides and double-wides. "Single-wides" are sixteen feet or less in width and can be towed to their site as a single unit, whereas "double-wides" are twenty-four feet or more wide and are towed to their site in two separate units. Triple-wides, although rarer, are also manufactured.
Mobile homes are not self-propelled vehicles containing housekeeping space inside them: Such vehicles are more properly referred to as motor homes or RVs.
The original focus of this form of housing was its mobility, and units were initially marketed primarily to persons whose lifestyle was necessarily mobile, such as construction workers. However, largely beginning in the 1950's, mobile homes began to be marketed primarily as an inexpensive form of housing designed to be set up and left in a location for long periods of time or even permanently installed with a masonry foundation. Many persons who could not afford a traditional site-built home or did not desire to commit to spending a relatively large sum of money for housing began to see mobile homes as a viable alternative for long-term housing needs, and the units were often marketed as an alternative to apartment rental.
However, the tendency of the units of this era to depreciate rapidly in resale value made loans using them as collateral far riskier than traditional home loans, and terms were generally limited to less, often far less, than the thirty year term typical of the general home-loan market, and interest rates were generally higher, often considerably so. In other words, mobile home loans resembled in many ways motor vehicle loans far more than traditional home mortgages.
This combination of factors has led most jurisdictions to restrict even further by zoning regulations the areas in which mobile homes can be placed, as well the number and density of mobile homes permissible on any given site. Often other restrictions, particularly minimum size requirements, limitations on exterior colors and finishes, and foundation mandates were enacted as well. There are many jurisdictions that do not allow any future mobile homes, and others have strongly limited or forbidden entirely all single-wide models, which tend to depreciate more rapidly in value than modern double-wide models.
Most zoning restrictions applying to mobile homes have been found not to be applicable or only partially to modular homes, often after considerable litigation on the topic by affected jurisdictions and by plaintiffs failing to ascertain the difference. Most modern modular homes, once fully assembled, are indistinguishable from site-built homes, as their roofs are usually transported as separate units, making the telltale mobile home roofline unnecessary. The market for modular homes is likely to grow in the future as the legal differentations between the two becomes more codified.
The traditional mobile home industry would seem to have a bright future as well, as the demand for housing continues to grow, the price of housing continues to increase rapidly , and the quality and features lead to greater acceptance by a growing segment of the marketplace. Additionally, insurers and lenders are now more likely to treat the higher-end double wide, more as they would a traditional home with regard to coverages and lending practices.