The time-honored phrase ''they don't make them like they used to'' is the rallying cry for manufactured home industry business owners and advocates as the structures prove to be more and more the choice of home buyers.
"It is not a trailer anymore," says Leonard Sanford, owner of Mid-State Homes of Orangeburg, one of the largest manufactured home businesses in the state. "They are well constructed. A manufactured home is built out of the same materials a stick house is built out of. Anything you want in one, you can get."
Sanford said manufactured homes come with 2-foot-by-6-foot walls, pitched roofs, plywood flooring, window panes and architectural shingles.
And you can get it for a lower cost than you would for a site-built, Sanford said.
"The market is not bad," he said, adding that the business tends to go through ups and downs every two years. "People are buying because they are affordable. Housing is so outrageous and out of the market. People can buy manufactured housing so much cheaper per square foot."
How much cheaper?
"If you are talking apples and apples, you are talking about $50 to $75 less per square foot," he said.
In 2000, the median value of manufactured housing in the city of Orangeburg was $31,000, according to the U.S. Census.
On average, a manufactured home cost about 30 percent less than a stick- or site-built home, Sanford said.
Overcoming an image problem
Columbia planning consultant Dan Vismor, who has completed studies for the city of Orangeburg, says challenges in light of the changing housing trends (manufactured homes increasing in proportion to site-built homes) mean municipalities will have to ensure housing safety and the ability to continue to provide city services efficiently.
Challenges also will be to raise enough funds to provide services as manufactured housing rarely generates sufficient financial resources to offset service costs.
The annual city tax bill for such a home valued at the average $31,000 would be about $97. That compares to a bill on the $76,000 median-price site-built home of $240. A $100,000 home has an annual tax bill of $316.
City officials note with police, garbage, fire and other city services, the taxes received would not cover the provision of city services.
Orangeburg Mayor Paul Miller declined commenting specifically on the city's stance regarding manufactured home placement, instead referring to the city's current zoning and building code as the guidelines being followed in the event of future zoning or planning requests.
Each request would be handled on an individual basis.
City Administrator John Yow says there have been few requests for building or moving additional manufactured homes, particularly mobile home parks, into the city. The issue is lack of space.
Other common concerns are the tendency for manufactured homes to depreciate over time.
Allen Hutto, attorney and local government affairs director of the Manufactured Housing Institute of South Carolina, says depreciation tends to be a ''misconception.''
The MHISC is a statewide, non-profit organization dedicated to creating a business environment beneficial to manufactured and modular homes.
"You can't compare today's home to what most people would think of," Hutto said. "They perform much better in storms than they used to. They are much safer and more attractive homes that are generally built to be compatible with site-built neighborhoods."
A South Carolina law passed last year requires manufactured homes with land to be treated as real property and not as personal property.
The law was passed in response to frustration that county officials were not treating manufactured home buyers equally in important areas such as favorable tax rates for homeowners.
A similar law also passed that allows real estate agents to sell used manufactured homes with land without obtaining an additional license from the S.C. Manufactured Housing Board.
"When these are assessed as real property, there is appreciation," Hutto said. "Most homes being sold now are generally multiple-section homes and a lot of them are being sold as part of the land."
According to the Orangeburg County assessor's office records going back six years, manufactured homes averaging 21 years old within the city limits have seen their appraised value decrease from $11,246 to $8,162.
The number of homes have declined during this same time period from 175 to 117 after reaching a high of 178 in 2000.
However, the numbers do not distinguish between older and newer manufactured homes or the latest regulations in the manufacturing housing industry.
In light of this, Vismor said most municipalities have zoned out ''carte blanch'' all manufactured or mobile homes as older ordinances have generally failed to consider differences in structures. He said strict regulations on mobile homes have often ''given the industry a bad name.''
"The manufacturing housing industry has a job ahead of selling itself," he said. "They have such a bad image to overcome."
In the interim, Vismor says it will be pertinent for both manufacturers and municipalities to ensure homes are built to standards and maintained as any residential structure.
Sanford said much of the fear of manufactured homes is lack of knowledge about how far long they have come.
"I hear people saying, 'I don't want a manufactured home in my neighborhood because it will give it a bad reputation. It is not the house, but the people living in them that gives an area a bad reputation."
Hutto says changes made in manufacturing housing should spell a bright future for the industry.
"We used to see a lot of towns zoned manufactured housing out, but now they are beginning to realize that was an affordable housing solution that was not owned by public entities," he said. "I think towns are opening back up to manufactured homes. Now homes are more compatible with site-built homes."
Changing regulations for changing product
Vismor says when his company lays out a zoning plan it distinguishes between a standard, single-wide manufactured (built before 1976) and a residentially designed manufactured home that is more compatible with site-built structures.
According to the MHI, the Manufactured Home Construction and Safety Standards (HUD code) enacted in 1976 established more stringent construction standards.
Current state law requires manufactured homes to be compatible with surrounding site-built homes by setting standards for roof pitch, external wall height, siding and roof materials.
Homes are required to be built by International Residential Code, the same code used for site-built homes.
The distinctions between structures have been well received by the manufactured housing community, Vismor said.
"We do promote that (manufactured homes) as an alternative to site-built homes with the contingency that if they are in residential zones, they be compatible and residentially designed," Vismor said, adding that he serves as a consultant leaving any decisions up to local governments.
CHRISTOPHER HUFF/T&D Daniel Brown, who lives near Elloree, says he would not trade life in his manufactured home. The house is built with 2-foot-by-6-foot exterior walls and 2-foot-by-4-foot interior walls. It is 2,200 square feet with four bedrooms and three baths. "It does not look like a mobile home."