Manufactured Housing: Moving Forward

John Ace Underwood

Factory-built housing to this day remains as one of the best kept housing secrets in America.

The truth is this: we have never built a better product that we do at this very moment. One just has to walk through any of the homes at a home show, be it a modular or HUD code home, and realize we don’t have a product problem. Wait until you see the homes in Louisville in January. Our homes look fantastic.

Second, our industry OWNS the words affordable housing. There is no debating home ownership is still a huge part of the American dream.

So why is it that as an industry, manufactured housing represents less than 8% of the new housing starts in America? Many would say that the public has a bias against our homes. Seemingly the general public thinks that our homes are built to a lower standard than conventional site-built homes, yet everyone in our industry knows this just isn’t true.

Others may say that manufactured housing attracts a lower class of buyer. As a consultant, I hear that a lot, and again, those who work in our industry know this to be false. People get turned down for credit and budget reasons in conventional site-built housing just like they do in our industry. In fact, I believe the manufactured housing industry has more lenient guidelines than do lenders for the site-built sector.

Perhaps it’s a customer experience issue. After 30+ years in this industry, I have come to realize is that we don’t have a PRODUCT problem, but we do have a COMMUNICATION problem.

Let’s analyze the typical buying process of our prospective buyers, and see what customer experience we offer, in stark contrast to conventional housing.

Starting with the internet, what does the conventional site-built home buyer experience vs a factory-built housing buyer? The site-built buyer finds website that looks like the future. They see beautiful homes, they have access to full 3D floor plans of ALL of their models, not just some. The photography is awesome. On the other hand, what do our buyers experience? Most of the websites are flat, lack luster, often featuring floor plans that look straight out of the 70’s, with home prices “Starting at only $19,900.”

When site-built customers arrive at a community model center, what do they see? Very well dressed sales agents, 5-8 models decorated to the nines, spectacularly clean, all lights on, music playing in the background and the smell of potpourri in the air. Our prospective buyers are all too often met by less than professional sales staff, sparsely decorated models that are cleaned every two weeks whether they need it or not.

Then we could get into the discrepancies in the sales process (or lack thereof), follow-up, and prospect management, etc., all contributing to a disheartening number of lost sales.

Here is the really good news, or should I say GREAT news. Those retailers who have recognized these differences and have moved to correct these disparities are growing exponentially.

For the retailers and community operators that level up their internet presence, marketing, and growing their web presence, sales are up and spaces get filled. In fact, those communities that really do it right, have almost no vacancies.

Those that utilize a contemporary sales process that speaks to a contemporary buyer instead of antiquated and outdated methods of manipulation are increasing their sales exponentially.

Those that have embraced technology to follow-up and keep up with their prospective buyers are having their best year ever.

So, what does the future hold for our industry? We have to do three things:

First, we have to continue our commitment to building our homes to the best quality we can at every price point.

Second, our customer experience throughout their entire purchasing process has to equate or surpass their experience if they were shopping for a conventional site-built home.

Third, we have to embrace technology to send a repetitive, positive message to every potential buyer as to who we are and what we are truly capable of. Then, and only then, the world will be our oyster.

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About John Ace Underwood

John Ace Underwood has a very successful 30-year career in the manufactured and modular housing industry. As a manager for a single lot retailer in the southeast, he managed up to 9 salespeople with sales typically over 45 homes per month. John has also served as Vice President for multi-lot manufactured housing retailer in the southwest.
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