Seeing a modular home go up can seem almost magical -- the construction site equivalent of pulling a rabbit out of a hat.
"It's amazing," says Jerry Cibulski, a Realtor with Century 21 Albertson Realty. "The foundation goes in the ground, and the next day a house is on it."
Nice trick, but what kind of rabbit do you get?
Often, a quick, well-built one, according to people like Toni-Ann Warren, a contractor based in the Hamptons who bought a modular home four years ago.
"I love it," she says of the 4,400-square-foot home she plunked down on the site of her former, torn-down 1,000-square-foot home in Hampton Bays. She and her contractor husband, Paul, finished the interior themselves. They haven't forgotten the sight of their new castle, purchased from Future Surroundings, a custom modular home builder in Southampton, arriving on a parade of six flatbed trucks.
"It was amazing to see it coming down the road," she says. "In two days, the house was completely put together and roofed. It was fabulous."
A modular -- which is a factory-built home -- is a permanent residence equal in quality to, or maybe even better than, traditional on-site "stick-built" homes that dominate the housing market, says Thayer Long, executive vice president of the Manufactured Housing Institute, a national trade association based in Washington, D.C.
"These homes are built in a controlled environment on a higher technical level than on-site homes," he says. "In these homes, a right angle is a right angle. You can't build around error in a factory."
On-site contractors say they have an advantage working with homeowners during the construction process since it allows them to change plans or details according to the buyers' needs.
"I tell customers, if you want to put the basement on the roof, we can do it for you," said Len Axinn, a partner with Island Estates Homes, a longtime area home building firm. Plus, they can adapt plans along the way to meet the homebuyers' needs, he adds.
Modular homes on Long Island are found mainly in Suffolk County, primarily because of the availability of land, real estate agents say. Those who see them generally come away impressed, says Lorraine Miller with Coldwell Banker Trading Places.
"I must have heard this 10 times," the agent says of the home she is selling in Flanders. "They say, 'I can't believe this is a modular.' "
Modulars are designed to accommodate add-ons, although modifying them ad hoc might be challenging because of their tight engineering, says Steve Graboski, a partner with Custom Modular Homes of Long Island, an upscale modular home builder based in Southampton.
"Really, the only disadvantage of a modular is the misperception of the consumer," he says. "But as far as anyone who wants to build a house and walk in and occupy it, it's perfect."
HOW THEY'RE BUILT
Modular homes, which make up 2 to 3 percent of the nation's housing market, are prefabricated structures prepared indoors, which protects materials from weather damage. They may or may not have a finished interior. Most can be assembled in as little as a day using a crane and a specialized team that arrives with the house.
A concrete foundation or basement is required. Advocates say, since they are assembled with screws and glue for transport, they are stronger than nail-built houses. The Manufactured Housing Institute's spokesman Long says they are generally 10 to 20 percent cheaper because building materials are purchased in bulk and there is little waste. Resale values are comparable to traditional homes, he says. Some builders now provide green models designed to reduce energy costs, like Clayton Homes' "i-house."
MAKING IT HAPPEN
Anyone interested in modular homes can contact either a local builder who specializes in this work or locate one through a modular home manufacturer.
The builder first sits down with the buyer to pick out a house plan, which can be anything from a simple, single-family dwelling to a mansion. Afterward, the buyers adapt it to their particular needs.
"Some plans give you the basics and others offer a ton of options," says James Gherardi, founder of Sound Builders Inc., a modular home building firm based in East Hampton. Yes, they're flexible, too, he insists. "You can get anything up to a completely customized home."
Afterward, plans go to the factory while the foundation is prepared. A few months later, the home is delivered and assembled. Each home is manufactured to comply with all state and local building codes, Gherardi says.
WHAT IT COSTS
Prices vary widely, depending on the cost of the land, its location and requested extras, says Rob Ebbets, vice president of marketing at Excel Homes, a Pennsylvania-based manufacturer and one of the largest modular home builders in the East. Its designs include everything from a basic bungalow at around $100,000 to 10,000-square-foot homes for more than $1 million.
The local builder -- the person dealing directly with the home buyer -- normally includes his labor costs in this price. The homes arrive with plumbing and electrical work intact, kitchens and bathrooms completed and usually lack only a bit of drywall work. "Basically, everything's done," Ebbets says.
MODULAR HOMES FOR SALE
Location. 112 Pine Ave.
Listing history. On the market two months with no price changes
What's for sale. A postmodern beach house with three bedrooms and three baths on a half-acre peninsula, it has mahogany decks, a great room, a den and study and a gourmet kitchen. There are two guest bedrooms and a second-floor master bedroom with a balcony. The house has water views of Flanders Bay from all windows and is Energy Star rated.
Listng agent. Lorraine Miller, Coldwell Banker Trading Places, 631-728-8070 or 631-872-4117
Location. 1325 Old Shipyard Lane
Listing history. The home went on the market last month and there have been no price changes.
What's for sale. A contemporary house with three bedrooms and 2½ baths close to the Founders Landing park and beach. The home has a large, open floor plan that includes a living room, a kitchen and a dining room. The master bedroom has a deck, and the house has a walkout basement.
Listing agent. Jerry Cibulski, Century 21 Albertson Realty, 631-765-3800 or 631-404-2507
Location. 22 Box Tree Rd.
Listing history. On the market since August, originally priced at $1.195 million
What's for sale. A postmodern home with four bedrooms and three baths, it has a formal dining room, a great room, a master bedroom and a guest suite. Upstairs are two large bedrooms. Outside is an expansive deck and pool. Above the garage is unfinished loft space. The home has a finished basement.
Listing agents. Eileen Brod, First Hampton International Realty, 917-453-9662
Location. 3 Whipple St.
Listing history. On the market for a 18 months, with four price changes
What's for sale. This house, with five bedrooms and 2½ bathrooms, sits on a half-acre lot near Three Mile Harbor. It has a finished basement and an in-ground pool. This is a short sale with conditions subject to bank approval.
Listing agent. John Brady, Prudential Douglas Elliman Real Estate, 631-329-9400 or 631-294-4216
Location. 1407-257 Middle Rd.
Listing history. On the market since June with two price changes
What's for sale. A ranch with two bedrooms and two baths, the house has a formal dining room with a gourmet kitchen and cherry cabinets. The master bedroom has a Jacuzzi. Also, the home has a sunroom, a full basement and an outdoor deck overlooking a backyard pond. It's on leased land in a gated retirement community with access to a clubhouse and pool. Monthly maintenance fee is $475.
Listing agent. Christine Schaeffler, SeaBreeze Realty Inc., 631-654-8571 or 516-835-1198
MANUFACTURERS OF MOD
Here are several modular home manufacturers:
*Westchester Modular Homes Inc., westchestermodular.com.
*Excel Homes, excelhomes.com.
*All American Homes, allamericanhomes.com.
*Clayton Homes, claytonhomes.com.
*Champion Homes, championhomes.com.