Saturday, December 5, 2020

Building Custom Modular Homes is Now the New Norm for East Coast Factories

How can too many choices be bad? When you go shopping for clothes or to a restaurant, especially a Greek restaurant, don’t you love all the choices?

Courtesy of Ritz-Craft Modular Homes

And don’t get me started on paint choices at Home Depot. Watching your spouse pick the perfect color for the bedroom is one of the most agonizing 30 minutes you will ever spend.

Our brains have been trained since childhood that more choices are better. For Boomers like myself, trying to decide what penny candy to buy as a child with a nickel in my pocket could take 10 minutes.

For those buyers that are fortunate enough to live in a suburban or rural area looking to build a new home the choice of style, floorplan and design can send your brain into a spin that can last years.

There are several ways to get a custom home built. They can hire an Architect to design your home and then find a custom home builder that will erect it stick by stick at their job site or they could go to a modular builder with their plans drawn on paper and have the builder and the modular factory design and build it.

The modular housing industry started off building homes that were quite easy to design and manufacture. Ranch and Cape Cod style homes similar to the homes built in Levittown were the rage for modular factories in the beginning.

One small modular factory with only 10 workstations could turn out almost 500 ranch homes one year back then. Other factories in PA were seeing as many as 50 modules a week leaving the production line. Life was great!

But something happened in the late ’60s that changed modular home construction, especially on the East Coast, that began making those production numbers harder to achieve.

The modular home industry began accepting custom home designs from their builder’s customers that were outside the factory produced plans showcased in the company’s Floor Plan books.

At first, it was just an occasional plan a month from the same builder, then it became a trickle of custom plan orders prompted by builder’s customers and promoted by factory management through their sales reps.


Two companies became known for doing extremely custom modular homes, Penn Lyon Homes and Haven Homes, both located in Central PA and unfortunately both are no longer in business, hit hard by the housing recession.

Moving forward to today the plan book provided by modular factories, especially on the East Coast of the US, are just suggestions of what you could build if you really wanted to get a home done quickly but that isn’t the case any longer.

Everybody wanting to build a new home wants what they want, not what someone tells them they should want. Too many websites like Pinterest and House Plan sites show nothing but custom homes.

When the modular home builder is presented with one of these plans I doubt any of them turn it down at the first meeting. I would bet that what they say is “I’ll send it over to my factory and get you a price.”

Backlogs in our industry are nothing new but most of those custom plans require longer lead times, special order trusses, windows, materials, etc and approvals which can add weeks if not months for it to get to the production line where it begins to slow down the line simply because it is a custom home and some of the special production work has never been done before.

If you are a custom modular home builder, you really need to let your customer know their special custom home will probably take a little longer than one of the factory's standard plans.

With backlogs now reaching up to 5-6 months, a couple of factories are no longer doing ceramic tile showers and baths as it takes extra time and slows down their lines. This puts the burden of installation back on the builder where, honestly, it should have been all along.

Three options are available to modular home factories presented with custom work by their builder's customers. A factory can go ‘all-in’ doing custom homes and CHARGE for it; put some of the custom work back onto the builders or curtail the scope of what they are willing to do.

Building “Everything for Every Builder” is now the norm but it doesn't have to paralyze your production.

Gary Fleisher, the Modcoach, publishes Modcoach News and Modular Home Coach blogs for the modular industry professional and Modcoach Connects for construction consultants

2 comments:

Bill Hart said...

If history is any indication ie the Eastern and Midwest "prefabbers" like leaders like National, Scholz and my Inland Homes struggled with the very same issues.

.and we.. all eventually lost to an alleged demanding marketplace and yes unskilled builder-dealers, It was then too too difficult to control those mostly topzies orders. We lost control to too much semi custom and too many options..Like Yogi said. It's dez ja vou all over again. Dont take my word for it, Its well documented. In fact I have a digitized copy of House and Home (the forerunner of Builder and Pro Builder magazine) that addressed the same problem.

Anonymous said...

Ritz-Crafts been able to keep a high level of production which in turn has allowed us to maintain reasonable backlogs. We are currently at 8-10 weeks. For any builder looking for quicker build times please feel free to reach out to us.

Thank you