Las Vegas, Nevada - A veritable Who's Who in the world of factory-built housing converged on Caesar's Palace last week for the 2016 National Congress & Expo for Manufactured and Modular Housing -- and industry leaders were placing their bets on new opportunities to grow the industry.
With seniors downsizing, single-parent households on the rise and Millennials becoming the single largest consumer group, the demographics are ripe for manufactured housing, said Dick Ernst, a 45-year industry veteran who moderated a key session on "Where do we go from here?"
More than 700 MH professionals packed the room to hear a panel of CEOs representing leading brands like Clayton, Cavco, and Champion Homes share their vision of the future of manufactured and modular housing.
Among the revelations:
- The U.S. needs 1.3 million to 1.4 million new housing starts each year to keep up with a growing population.
- First-time home buyers account for 55 percent of new mortgages.
These numbers bode especially well for the entry level market "that brought us to the dance," said Kevin Clayton, who heads Clayton Homes.
This market must continue to be served, he said, but manufacturers are also exploring ways to meet the needs and wants of a broader spectrum of consumers who are just beginning to discover the MH lifestyle.
Price, image, aesthetics and marketing strategies figured prominently in the discussion, which drew one of the largest session audiences in years.
With traditional builders targeting $300,000 for many conventional houses, manufactured housing needs to focus on homes that total $150,000 to $175,000 for the "all-in" cost.
Energy savings and architectural appeal have to be part of that effort, said Clayton, noting that his company has made enhanced exteriors a priority this year.
Today's eye-popping manufactured home interiors are a full 10 years ahead of the traditional exterior with its low roof lines and vinyl skirting, said Clayton.
"Now that the interior is nailed, we need to destroy that trailer image," created by the outdated exteriors, said Don Westphal, who designs and develops manufactured home communities.
Champion CEO Keith Anderson said that "value engineering" allowed for steeper roof lines, more porches and other items that could bring additional curb appeal without a lot more cost.
Manufacturers also have responded with regional architecture, like Cavco's Santa Fe adobe-style homes that are popular in the Southwest, and innovations like Clayton's sleek, green iHouse design, which has been well-received by the younger generation.
Champion Homes has focused on reaching out to Millennials, said CEO Keith Anderson.
To this end, Champion has been using new websites, social media, MHVillage and its own employee base in that demographic, seeing a 500 percent rise in website hits and leads in just the last six months, he said.
The industry is ready, willing and able to meet the needs of every demographic and price point, but when it comes down to it, most buyers are looking for a clean, affordable place to live and raise their families, said Gary McDaniels, whose Yes! Communities focus on creating family-focused developments.
"Once they experience our home, the misconceptions go away," McDaniels said.
For more on what industry leaders had to say about the future of factory-built housing, see "Where do we go from here?" on MHProNews here
Photo caption: Champion Home Builders interior, lower left, Cavco Chairman and CEO, Joe Stegmayer standing in a Cavco model home's kitchen, on the right. Cavco Santa Fe style home top left, features solar panels. Collage photos from MHLivingNews.com
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L. A. "Tony" Kovach, Publisher
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