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March 27, 2017

The Internet is Fixing What a Name Change Could Not

Empowered Buyers Are Forcing The Manufactured Home Industry to be Better

When I started in the San Antonio factory-built housing industry in 2012, one of the first lessons I was taught by my manager was to NEVER refer to the homes we carried as “mobile homes.” It was a forbidden label that gave customers an idea of old and poorly built shacks. The new term was “manufactured homes.” I vividly remember sales representatives arguing with potential buyers about the names of the homes. Should a customer make the dreadful mistake of referring to the product as a “mobile home” they would get a 15-minute history lesson on the dates and reasons why the name had changed.

So Why the Bad Wrap?

It is important to come to terms that at one point and time, mobile homes were poorly built. Although started in good faith to provide affordable housing for the flood of servicemen returning from WWII, manufacturers, and retailers quickly found ways to cut corners at the expense of the quality of their products. There were rare exceptions, but overall the industry ran wild with companies taking full advantage of their customer base.

Profit over quality is one thing, but when companies began to put profit above safety, that’s when the government was forced to step in to bring order to an industry in chaos. In 1976, the Federal Manufactured Home Construction and Safety Standards Act was passed. Commonly referred to as HUD Code, these new standards regulated design, construction, fire resistance, energy efficiency, and quality.

Why Didn’t Society Notice?

A simple name change was not going to alter the perceptions people had developed of the industry. They had these negative images, in part due to the fact that the companies that sold these homes would take complete advantage of people and would vanish once they had their money. They were so worried about filling their own pockets that they didn’t take time to make sure to inspect the customer’s land and double-check that they knew exactly what they were getting in their purchase. Company reviews weren’t available back then, so old “sales dogs,” with their box set dress shirt and tie, would say and do anything to get the sale. Oftentimes, this meant placing a mobile home on a poorly made foundation or none at all which would cause the home to shift in such a way that the walls would start to crack and things would inevitably fall apart.

The poor image that was a “mobile home” had nothing to do with quality past 1976, but rather the terrible customer service after the sale. Should you need the simplest of issues fixed, the company would completely turn against the customer and treat them like they were the problem. Even though the company made verbal promises to get the sale, they would make sure to point out later that none of that was in writing on the contract. For first-time home buyers who didn’t know to look for this stuff, it was devastating!

So What is the Solution?

Factory-built housing provides a fantastic solution to the affordable housing crisis that plagues this nation. How then, do we achieve mass acceptance of this idea – EDUCATION!

The industry needs to make a stand and focus on educating potential home buyers. To focus more on teaching folks the difference between a chattel and an FHA loan. To tackle some of the mobile home myths such as depreciation and the stigma behind the term,  “tornado” magnets.

If the majority of the customers who purchase these homes refer to them as mobile homes, then only by accepting that and showing that we as an industry can be better will we make a difference in how one perceives our industry.

The Name Doesn’t Matter

Call them mobile homes, trailer homes, or manufactured homes, it’s all the same thing. What is most important is that this industry IS in fact changing. Not because of a name switch but because the internet has empowered all of us to do our own research and come to our own conclusions. 

Companies that continue to make the mistake of underestimating the intelligence of their buyers will soon learn that the internet has turned the tables in the mobile home industry. The ability for customers to look at company reviews and go to websites such as Ripoff Report or Better Business Bureau has completely changed the game. Those sales centers that treat people with the honesty and respect they deserve, will thrive. 

First-time home buyers demand better in our industry and we at Braustin Homes are happy to answer the call!