A Snowbird’s Guide to Buying a Mobile Home (aka Manufactured Homes)

Buying a Mobile Home - Tips for Canadian Snowbirds

For many snowbirds, mobile homes – or as they are more often called now, manufactured homes – are an ideal option for their winter home in the sun across the southern U.S.

And while the name “mobile home” is a bit of a misnomer, as these homes become permanent once they are on a foundation and often have built-on additions, there are unique factors about buying and owning one that snowbirds need to consider.

Everything from financing a mobile home to owning or leasing the land it sits on can be different from regular real estate.

So, if you’re looking to buy a winter vacation property and considering a manufactured home as an option, here’s what you need to know.

Where do snowbirds buy manufactured homes?

The vast majority of manufactured homes purchased by snowbirds are located in communities or “parks” with other similar homes, which provides an instant sense of community.

In addition, these communities usually offer an abundance of facilities and amenities including swimming pools, a clubhouse, classes, community events, pickleball courts and more.

What is the ownership structure for a manufactured home?

Ownership structures for mobile homes can differ from traditional real estate ownership.

Specifically, while you will generally own the mobile home structure on your lot, you may or may not own the lot itself.

Some parks feature lots you can purchase, along with shares in the common property and amenities, while others only allow you to lease lots.

Your ownership preference will help determine which parks and communities are available to you.

It’s essential you research local deed restrictions and zoning laws before you delve into mobile home ownership. In addition, if you lease your lot, it’s important that you understand the terms of your agreement, including the terms for transferring the lease.

Buying a used vs. new manufactured home

Most snowbirds purchase used manufactured homes that are already on a lot with a foundation.

Alternatively, you can buy or lease a lot in a mobile home park, have a foundation built on it and purchase a brand new manufactured home from a factory. Depending on the size of your lot you can also add an “Arizona room” or enclosed addition. Before you purchase a new manufactured home, you will need to have land and a foundation to put the new house on, as the manufacturers do not sell the house with the land.

Manufacturers will often include delivery of your new home to your lot, depending on the distance from the factory. There can be other delivery expenses associated with a new manufactured home, for example, if you require an escort vehicle or multiple trucks.

Many snowbirds will use a real estate agent who specializes in manufactured homes to help them find a used mobile home - or a lot to lease/purchase in a mobile home park if they want to buy a new home.

You also have the option to approach the park directly to find used homes and available lots.

How big are manufactured homes?

Manufactured homes come in several sizes varying from Park models at about 400 sq. ft. all the way up to a large Double Wide model up to 1700 sq. feet. The homes are built in factories and have everything built-in, including kitchen, bathroom, living/dining area, bedroom, closets, etc.

How much do manufactured homes cost?

This can vary widely depending on whether new or used, size, location and how the home is equipped.  Prices of a manufactured home can range from about $45,000 to $250,000 USD (excluding the foundation) but most will be under $100,000.

The majority of manufactured homes are on a permanent foundation. This increases long-term viability and safety. Manufactured home foundations vary and some even include basements or crawl spaces, so the costs vary widely.

Can you finance the purchase of a manufactured home?

Manufactured homes are often seen as personal property, not real estate, so most banks and traditional mortgage lenders will not finance manufactured homes, but there are exceptions.

If you are able to secure a loan for a manufactured home, you may be required to have a better credit score, put down a larger down payment and pay a higher interest rate.

Manufactured homeowners have a better chance of getting financing and lower interest rates if they own their own land and have a good quality home built on a permanent foundation.

There are other ways Canadian snowbirds may be able to finance the purchase of a mobile home:

  • Mobile home manufacturers often have financing programs available and alternate lenders will sometimes offer financing too. 
  • Charles "Chuck" Carson, owner of Venture In Realty in Mesa, Arizona says there are other options he’s seeing with Canadian snowbirds: “A popular option with the Canadian folks I work with is to pull equity from their Canadian home in the form of a Home Equity Line of Credit to purchase here or simply a cash transaction using their savings.”

What are the ongoing expenses for manufactured home ownership?

  • Fees: You can expect to pay annual resort fees or Home Owners Association fees to cover all of the amenities and these can range from $2,000 to $6,000 USD annually. Fees can vary quite a bit so be sure to ask what all the fees are before choosing a location.
  • Utilities: If you are in a mobile home park, most utilities may be covered in your monthly fees. Make sure you ask about this beforehand.
  • Taxes: Taxes on manufactured homes vary by state but this is something you should look into before purchasing. In some states, you pay a licensing fee similar to a vehicle.
  • Insurance: You will need to insure your manufactured home against weather damage, replacement cost, theft, and contents. Annual insurance on a small manufactured home should run around $550 to $750 USD per year.

What should snowbirds look for in a mobile home park?

Snowbird Advisor spoke to Barbara Smith, a retired professor from Vancouver who owns a manufactured home in Mesa, Arizona to find out more about what mobile home parks offer residents.

What attracted you to this lifestyle?

WOW where do I begin… Mostly what attracted us to this resort was the incredible number of activities, clubs, and events available within the park. Primarily for us, it was a very active Pickleball club with 11 new courts and over 300 members offering organized daily play, tournaments, scrambles, lessons, etc…

There’s also an active golf club that organizes tee times at various Mesa area golf courses. I also enjoy Art in the Park which is a group of artists that get together weekly to enjoy a variety of mediums from acrylic and watercolour to multi-media art.

In addition, there are a variety of exercise classes offered throughout the day, including Aquasize lessons every hour through the morning at each of 2 outdoor Olympic-sized pools, stretch and tone sessions, Zumba, dance aerobics, line dancing, tai chi, yoga, reiki and a very active bike and hike club which visit various locations each week. Plus, there’s a full gym.

A few other activities offered continually throughout the season include:

  • live concert series (from classical to comedic to rock and roll)
  • health/wellness classes and seminars including speakers from local heritage organizations and/or universities on various topics
  • live music and dancing every Friday night
  • card and board games
  • craft clubs such as silversmithing, woodcarving, quilting, glass arts and pottery
  • book clubs, electronic club,
  • bocce ball
  • shuffleboard
  • lawn bowling & Croquet
  • billiards/pool, table tennis, ping pong
  • music clubs
  • travel club offering trips from one day to a week in and around Arizona
  • fun theme parties like the BC Party, Alberta Party, Saskatchewan Party and Montana Party