Gayla Massey and her husband Wardell Potts Jr. never had a need for a lawnmower until they moved to rural Lavaca County.
As of February, the couple joined a little known community of homeowners whose houses were built in a factory and then delivered to them like much-awaited packages in the mail.
After living much of her adult life in California and returning to Texas only recently, Massey said she never would have thought she would consider a manufactured or prefabricated home. Now that she’s in one, she said it’s perfect for rural Lavaca County.
A manufactured home is like any other dwelling but built to a specific Department of Housing and Urban Development code. It is built in a manufacturing plant and transported in one or more sections on a permanent chassis, rather than being built onsite like other houses. This is separate and commonly confused with modular homes, which are built according to local building codes, and mobile homes which have no federal definition.
Many manufactured homes and their communities are found just outside city limits and in other rural areas. Some are built inside city limits but must meet their given city’s building permit requirements. Victoria actually allows manufactured homes to be built inside most of its city limits.
Hurricane Harvey impacted real estate and dwellings along the Texas coast for years to come.
Rob Ripperda, Texas Manufactured Homes Association vice president of operations, said shops in counties affected by Harvey saw a huge uptick in sales after the storm came and passed.
In Victoria County, the average home sales per month for 2017 through 2019 grew from 7.8 per month to 10.5 and 11.25, according to the TMHA. The per-month average for 2020 is still pending.
This steady growth since Harvey has also been met by another macro event — the coronavirus.
Dylan Lanier, Palm Harbor Homes general manager, said he was accustomed to his office phone ringing every minute before the pandemic. When shutdowns and economic activity halted almost immediately in March and April, Lanier said he was averaging one business call a day.
When the economy began to reactivate in the Crossroads, Lanier said that started one of the busiest streaks he has seen in his career with Palm Harbor.
The demand has surpassed supply nationwide, creating what Lanier said is “our biggest backlog we’ve ever had in the history of our company.”
The ability to acquire all necessary parts of a manufactured home has been a struggle, which has caused the unprecedented backlog — much like the automobile or ammunition industries that have struggled to find enough supply. The assembly line process that manufactured homes are built on has even had to pull many units aside when one component is out of stock, like windows, therefore creating multiple homes that are nearly complete but not ready to code.
More access to these homes has also shocked Lanier.
Before the pandemic, about 20 to 30% of applicants for a new manufactured home would qualify. He said now, only about 20 to 30% are denied, flipping the available market for qualified customers so that many more people interested in a home are able to buy one. Lanier said this also comes as lending requirements haven’t changed significantly.
Massey and Potts are among many area customers Lanier said he has witnessed who are moving full-time rather than seeing these homes as a ranch house for the weekends. They “view it as home base.”
Another factor for the couple was the speed at which they could set up a home on rural property near Ezzell.
Massey said she considered a custom-built home initially but wanted to have somewhere to live on the property faster than the time it would take to build a house. Because of this, the quick turnaround between signing for the manufactured home and spending their first night was a large draw to the house built in a factory.
“We feel that it’s spacious enough and when you walk in,” she said, “you don’t even think about it being a prefab house.”