Ready Made: Manufactured homes, pre-fab villages and modular dwellings build interest with value prices and scores of extras

An archway frames the view of the dining room and family room in this manufactured home at Sangaree Homes near Summerville. Manufactured and modular constructon are showing signs of a rebound in the Charleston area (Photo by Laura Olsen/Olsen Imagery).

Robert Calhoun remembers the days when Sunrise Mobile Home Park was in the country, so much so that a line was strung to Rivers Avenue just for phone service.

He bought the park at 1004 Red Bank Road in Goose Creek in the early 1970s. Over that time, civilization grew up around the park, which itself expanded from 102 lots to 325 manufactured houses today.

Calhoun, 72, says he's proud of the park's legacy: He preserved all but three of the property's 115 live oaks, opened a community swimming pool and added a gated section.

In recent years, Sunrise Mobile Home Park has benefited from an upswing in the local housing market - although most of its business derives from existing tenants.

"We survive probably a lot better than a lot of businesses," Calhoun says. "The folks that are here, they can't afford to move on and up," he says.

Calhoun says he doesn't expect mobile home parks to completely fade away, although escalating land costs have enticed some owners to sell.

"I've been doing this for almost 40 years," he says. "I've found out it doesn't matter how tough the economy, you've got to have a place to sleep."

Greater Charleston's improving financial picture has ratcheted up business for folks in the manufactured housing industry and has reestablished factory-built construction as a popular housing source for lower income residents as well as a reliable starting point for frothier custom-built residences.

Across the pricing spectrum, shoppers are willing to pay extra. That includes installing fancy kitchens, fireplaces and sunrooms in manufactured homes.

"Most of the people are looking for the nicer (manufactured) homes that have the same features new homes have in them," says Les Dyches, owner of Sangaree Homes on North Main Street outside Summerville and a 30-year industry pro.

Those options include all-wood cabinets, smooth top ranges, deluxe windows and heavy crown molding, he says. Yet buyers can secure the spiffed-up manufactured houses for "about half" the price of a traditional house built on site, Dyches says.

A sizable segment of residents desire perks such as clubhouses, pools and parks, which draws them to manufactured housing neighborhoods.

"We are really picking up in sales," says Shirley Shamblin, manager of close-to-150 home Southern Palms off Jamison Road in Ladson. "This time of year, we have northern people come down, tired of the (cold) weather," she says. Local people also discover the gated, 55-and-above manufactured housing village, which she calls "our little secret."

Southern Palms advertises manufactured homes for sale on its website. They start at $88,000 and with add-ons such as screen-in porches and sunrooms can cost $120,000-$130,000, she says.

Jensen Communities, founded in the 1920s, owns Southern Palms along with a host of manufactured housing properties on the East Coast. Attractions consist of a large clubhouse with fitness room, an outdoor pool, lake and a putting green. Residents bike and walk, too.

"It's been a nice addition, the outdoor pool," Shamblin says. "People like that; they congregate (there) all the time."

In a similar vein, modular construction has started to regain popularity after the late 2000s housing slump. Custom home builders seek to lock in material and labor costs on higher-end structures that can reach the middle six figures by relying on climate-controlled plants to build basic frames and roof skeletons and install many interior fixtures.

Alicia Kinard, owner of Artistic Design and Construction in Charleston, says her company used to provide the final touches on a host of upper end modular homes. Then the housing market cycled to where building from scratch proved most cost-effective. Now, the pendulum is switching back, she says.

"We have recently signed on with modular (manufacturers)," she says. The companies include Liverpool, Pa.-based Excel Homes and Ritz-Craft Custom Homes, which has its Southeastern regional center in Hamlet, N.C.

"They are building in areas that don't pay the same labor costs as in Charleston," Kinard says. The costs of everything from plywood to petroleum-based products are going up. By working with modular contractors, the materials costs can be fixed at the start of construction. Factory-built homes tend to be constructed quicker than site-framed homes, which are subject to weather delays.

The custom builder acknowledges that modular home construction doesn't work for everybody, and there are limitations in size, length and design - modular residences are box-shaped with few angles.

But the structurally sound houses can be time- and money-savers for some people.

"One thing that's happening, because I'm affiliated with the factories, they are sending customers to us," she says.

Industry professionals agree that factory-built housing will remain popular with at least a portion of the home-shopping public.

Calhoun, meanwhile, says affordable housing ventures such as Sunrise Mobile Home Park can still provide a service in today's world. The community's pool, for instance, "is a big blast for the kids." Families that are well off can take vacations out of state or in exotic places. "These folks here, they don't get to go anywhere," Calhoun says. "The kids grow up; they remember hanging around the (Sunrise) swimming pool."

Reach Jim Parker at 937-5542 or