2017-07-13 / Views

Why starter ‘cribs’ have lost appeal

Why aren’t there more trailers in Leelanau County?

Or at least more “tiny houses?”

The easy answer would be zoning restrictions or expensive land, but there’s more to it.

We ponder the question after publishing our “Cribs” Diversion section, which looked at everything from tiny houses to 8,000 square foot mansions as living quarters. We had the pleasure of touring a single-wide trailer that looked inviting from the road with its garden setting and was beautifully furnished.

Why aren’t there more such homes in Leelanau County?

We’ve come to the conclusion that the major reason smaller, affordable homes aren’t available has more to do with personal preference and lifestyle decisions than housing options available.

Because if a potential buyer qualifies for financing, hardworking people are in a position to buy an affordable lot in Leelanau County — yes, they do exist — and plop down a modular home, tiny house if allowed by zoning or even a “single wide.”

The reasons that doesn’t happen more frequently are subjective, and may start with a stigma that is still associated with “manufactured homes.”

The bottom line is that many people wouldn’t consider living in or buying a single-wide even though it would provide an economical advantage to renting.

John Newman, whose grandfather started Pine Grove Homes in Traverse City after returning from World War II, has a wealth of knowledge about the likes and dislikes of affordable home buyers. Leelanau County has no company specializing in the field.

Pine Grove expects to provide 12 new homes in Leelanau County in 2017 — about one-quarter of the company’s sales.

The firm would sell more homes, Newman said, without the stigma associated with their products.

“A lot of people, they look at a modular home as something their parents had ... they still see the single wide and double wide in a trailer park,” he said.

The prices are quite compelling, and the modern versions of modular homes are built in factories that adhere to state building codes and can be customized to the desires of buyers.

The starting price for a 1,165 square-foot, traditional home built in a factory is about $113,000. The price includes foundation, septic, well and driveway. You just need a flat lot that perks.

With $14,000 down, the mortgage comes to about $600 per month.

If a buyer was willing to look at a single-wide and the property did not have building restrictions, the total cost with lot improvements comes to less than $75,000.

We found 46 building sites in Leelanau County on the Traverse Area Association of Realtors website ranging in price from $12,000 to $25,000.

Yes, there is more to consider when delving into affordable housing prices including factors that can drive up prices.

But these are real options that potential younger buyers are avoiding in droves. Why?

Here’s where the market turns subjective.

The age group that in the past jumped into the starter home market watched their parents struggle under the housing collapse just nine years ago. Desires to marry and start a family — laying down roots in one community — are not as strong.

Many starter jobs don’t offer the upward mobility that gave past first-time buyers confidence to sign up for a mortgage.

And then there’s that stigma.

The affordable housing challenge in Leelanau County has been discussed in coffee shops and governmental board meetings for decades. Right now a county-wide housing task force with more than 20 residents is delving into the issue.

We hope the conversations take into account the concept that views on starter homes have changed.

Yes, we should do more to make affordable housing possible. In the end, though, providing low-cost apartments and rentals meets a bigger need in a market that already offers starter home options.

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