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Manufactured housing starts to build a new reputation

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The historic negative image many people have of manufactured homes is a pink-and-white flat-roof metal box squeezed into a trailer park by the side of a highway next to a miniature golf course, says Dr. Thomas Nutt-Powell. ''Some of these dinosaurs still exist, quaint reminders of an earlier time, but they represent only a small portion of the 4 million manufactured homes that house American families,'' he's quick to add.

A slide presentation Dr. Nutt-Powell has prepared for public- and private-sector task forces and home builders shows that most of today's factory-built, multisection homes are indistinguishable from site-built conventional housing. Mobile homes often have porches, carports or garages, roof overhangs and eaves, decks and screened rooms, awnings, and either enameled aluminum, painted wood, or Masonite paneling. Inside they have a homey look, with spacious floor plans, fireplaces, cathedral ceilings, family and laundry rooms, and stereo sound systems.

''The MH [mobile home] effort is to do for housing what Henry Ford did for the automotive industry when he built the Model T,'' Dr. Nutt-Powell explains. ''Ford said he wanted to provide for not just the rich, but for all the rest, to have cars. He said instead of hand-fabricating cars where people were going to drive them, he would manufacture cars at a central point and distribute them. And that's exactly what's happening in the MH industry today.''

Built to conform to specifications of a 1976 Department of Housing and Urban Development code, today's mobile homes meet all housing industry design and materials standards and are fully insulated. A 1980 HUD report pointed out that required smoke detectors, fire-retardant materials, and safer electrical wiring have resulted in a remarkable safety record in the past decade.

Some 10,000 retail dealers nationwide advertise prices averaging $15,500 for single-section units and between $17,500 and $40,000 for multisections. Most manufactured homes come equipped with some furniture, major appliances, draperies, carpeting, and a choice of wallpaper or paneling, with luxury models selling for as much as $150,000.

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