Mobile -- home living -- a soluton to homeowner cares, but it has its own peculiar problems
Newport Beach, Calif.
Lorraine and Dick Southerland recently moved from a 13-room house to a two-bedroom mobile home. They still have their organ and a fireplace, and because no cats or dogs are allowed, they have a pet tortoise.
The couple have moved to Bayside Village, a plush waterfront mobile-community in this resort area.
Crystal Horn, a great-grandmother who models in fashion shows at the nearby Sheraton Inn, also lives in Bayside, and she likes the security she feels about leaving her home to travel. She has a corner lot by the clubhouse, and everyone who walks by says, "Hi, Crystal."
For Jim Potter, a Hollywood script writer, it's the recreational facilities and the "small town" feeling that are appealing. But he says about the mobile home lifestyle, "You have to like living close to other people."
These people, like an estimated 75 percent of those who choose mobile-home living, are in the "50-plus generation" and active. Most mobile-home communities are, in fact, for "adults only," and the lifestyle particularly attracts those who want to streamline their lives now that their children are grown.
"It's a myth that these 'empty nesters' are slowing down and becoming sedate, " says Hal Huffer of the De Anza Corporation, which owns Bayside Village and 11 other mobile- home complexes across the country. "They are just changing lifestyles, replenishing. We find the people who live in our communities want to explore recreational possibilities they didn't have in their old neighborhoods. Instead of spending time and money keeping up a house, they want to pursue other things."
For those who have lived in their own houses, there is an attraction in still having a freestanding home. Dorothy Goosens, a real estate broker, finds her mobile home in Bayside "more acceptable to me than a condiminium house I like having my own walls."
An estimated 10 million people lived in mobile homes in the US, and this style of living is not confined to the retirement areas of the Sunbelt. Pools, tennis courts, boat docks, golf courses, swank clubhouses, and tight security have upgraded the image of mobile homes in urban areas of the North, as well, in the last few years. One mobile park in a Chicago suburb even has its own lake for ice skating.
Bayside Village is one of the oldest luxury parks around (It was started 20 years ago), and the homes differ from newer ones in that most have add-ons, called cabanas, that have cement foundations and are fixed in place. Some even have roofdecks.A California state law now forbids building permanent and add-ons , and newer communities use expandable- width trailers instead to expand floorspace, which can be as much as 1,500 square feet.
The units start at about $50,000 and go to $90,000 for a bayfront, compared with houses here that start at around $250,000 for a simple "summer house" up to park, including lease, utilities, and fees, run from $200 to around $400, compared with $600 to $700 for the same floor space in an apartment complex across the road.
One resident, however, pointed out that the long, narrow shape of the older trailers (11-12 feet wide) makes it difficult to figure out pleasing room arrangements. Another owner says the homes are so close together that when his neighbor's phone rings, he runs to answer his.
Mrs. Goosens says, "It's a trailer and getting old, particularly the stove and pipes and things. It's easy to restore them, but nothing is standard. We can't get a new sink to fit the piping system."
Some of the mobile homes in resort areas such as Bayside Village are second homes. Mario Tartaglia and his wife have owned their mobile home for 10 years, but they only moved down from Los Angeles permanently 18 months ago.
Cap Blackburn, a real estate broker and developer, says, "You get to that stage when you're ready to slide into something with minimal upkeep. I was used to having swimming pools and things that broke all the time. Nothing here breaks, so I buy plants to putter with."
Mr. Tartaglia particularly likes "the built- in sense of friendliness. If anyone is ill or needs help, everyone comes to his aid. There's a good esprit de corps." Groups get together for tennis and golf, he says, and 32 residents went to Europe together last year.
Most of the people know each other, and there seems to be a sense of security in that. There is a gatehouse also. One resident points out, "If a strange car drove up and took a TV out of a trailer, we'd all say, 'Hey, wait a minute.'" Single women feel safe about walking at night, and the community is quiet after 9 p.m.
Some mobile-home dwellers have one area in which they don't feel secure, however: the lease to the land on which their home sits.* Although De Anza Corporation gives five- year leases, some parks may rent on a month-to-month basis.
In California, about 12 mobile-home parks are being considered for change of land use, and the owners are required t give a one- year notice to residents. The trailers can be moved, but the problem is where. Most older parks are full, and new parks usually set standards that would exclude most old trailers.
According to Ed Evans, president of the Western Mobile Home owners Association, "The problem is grossly overstated. It's not happening wholesale, and the process of land- use change is painfully slow." He encourages park owners to work with local governments to get variances to add spaces.
Nevertheless, the fear is there for many tenants. One alternative already tried successfully in Big Bear, Calif., is to let the residents buy their land and run the facilities as a condominium.
Another area of confusion is taxation. In most states, mobile homes are taxed by the departments of motor vehicles through license fees rather than property taxes. In fact, the trailers still have license plates, tires, and turn signals.
This could seem to save the owner money, but may actually cost him more. Because he doesn't own his land, his property taxes generally would not be excessive. Also, under the present system, he is ineligible for senior, VA, and other tax credits. When he sells his mobile home, he must charge the new buyer state sales tax.
In California, a new law will tax mobile homes manufactured after July 1980 as houses, says Mr. Evans.
Mrs. goosens and her husband are among those concerned about the equity of their home because they don't own the land. "But to me," she says, "living here is an enjoyable thing -- it's living for today."