I remember "home economics" from high school, but since I didn't take any of the classes I never really learned what it was. I had vague impressions about cooking and bank account balancing. There is, in fact, quite a lot that goes into home-making. Along the way one learns about washing machine cycles, the difference between yeast and baking soda, how to stop the toilet from running, the many uses of phone books. But how the learning comes is unclear, and apparently pretty variable, as suggested by complaints I hear from the parents of college students. "She can't go grocery shopping without calling me!" "He's not sure how to hang his pictures." In the NC move our first test in home-making was the decision not to arrive and start building our house immediately, but instead to buy a house to put on the property. In other words, the MOBILE HOME DECISION.
The mobile home--or "manufactured home" as the industry prefers to call it--that we bought is a 14' x 70' 1995 Skyline 303 Limited Special. This is a single-wide, for mobile home neophytes out there. There's something amusing about shopping for a house by its dimensions. We ruled out double-wides right off, the additional expense and set-up challenges (e.g. bolting up the "marriage wall" between the two long-side units) weren't worth it. Single-wides are typically 14' wide, but length varies. Would 50' be enough? After walking one we determined it would not be. But 80' seemed excessive. Did we need central air conditioning (which, in the south, is a key distinction)? Having lived in northern New England for so long, we couldn't quite see it--a blindness for which we might pay in summer 2012. What shape did the thing need to be in? "Up to date" appliances, which seemed to mean tiny mobile-home sized dishwashers? "New" carpet? That one at least was easy, since we are inflexible carpet-haters. The less carpet the better, whatever its vintage.
Warren Buffett, among others, has a considerable stake, there's a manufactured home caucus in the U.S. House of Representatives, and about 20 million folks in the U.S. call a mobile home home. With a few strokes of pens and the exchange of $9500 we joined the ranks. That amounts to $9.70 per square foot--not bad when compared to the roughly $85 per square foot one might expect to pay for a new site-built house, or even the $36 per foot for a new single-wide. Unfortunately, much of our square footage was covered in cat-urine impregnated carpet, which I suppose matched the grease-coated kitchen and variegated smog-colored walls. Ed, his daughter Isabel, and I spent $1500 and around 250 person-hours cleaning from floor to ceiling, patching holes, ripping carpet, de-stinkifying corners, scraping grease, re-flooring, calking, painting, and so forth. All that labor begins to make a house a home, wheels or no wheels. Below are three images from one corner, to give a sense of the renovation. We were instructed to leave the towing tongue on, lest the house become "permanent" and the property tax rate jump accordingly. So the hitch sits at the house's west end.Manufactured homes are a big business.