Homes on the Range


Thanks to a law passed in California in the late 1980s to restrict local zoning ordinances, manufactured-housing companies along the West Coast are taking the art of prefab architecture to new heights. Today some 1.1 million Californians live in manufactured homes that look as good as, or better than, the Joneses' conventional stick-built home across the street.

In 1989, the California legislature prohibited local governments from banning manufactured homes on any land in the state already zoned for single-family housing. Since then, manufactured-housing companies have worked hard to build a new public image of the prefabricated home: not a dingy, ramshackle trailer home but a spanking new two- or three-bedroom house with oak cabinets, rock fireplace, and cathedral ceilings.

With conventional homes and condominiums priced out of the reach of many California families, these upscale manufactured-housing companies are welcome newcomers to the housing market. A manufactured home can cost half as much as a conventional home. Nine percent of single-family homes in the state are now manufactured, and new manufactured-home owners provided the industry with $556 million in revenue in 1990.

Unlike trailer homes and the older prefab houses, the new manufactured homes make just one move—from the factory to the new owner's property, where assembly of the house is completed and the building is permanently affixed to a poured-concrete foundation.

From then on, the homes blend right in. Craig Fleming, vice president of Silvercrest Manufactured Housing Inc., told the Los Angeles Times: "When people come to our factories and see our models, they're pretty surprised and impressed."