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Modular homes catching on thanks to speed, affordability

While modular homes may be a viable solution on the Gulf Coast for quick, affordable housing to replace the large number of homes lost to Hurricane Katrina, they also have a place elsewhere in Mississippi due to affordability.

One builder of modular homes thinks they will soon be seen all over the state. “They’re already catching on, and we’re building them all over the place,” said Frank Pucylowski, a shareholder of Safeway Homes of Jackson. “They will be built more for the economic side in areas other than the Coast.”

He has been a conventional homebuilder for 24 years, involved with several companies. The best known is JFP & Company Inc. Now, this longtime builder is involved in modular housing projects.

“It’s a way to provide workforce housing at an affordable price, and it’s faster” he says.

Pucylowski sees modular housing as an ideal solution for first-time homebuyers, school teachers, firemen, policemen and retired people. He is pleased that the modular home tax decrease pushed by Gov. Haley Barbour was passed by the state legislature.

“Anything we can do to help people afford to buy housing is good,” he said, “everywhere, not just on the Coast.”

Marty Milstead, executive director of the Mississippi Homebuilders Association, agrees and describes Safeway Homes as a good Mississippi company. “Builders are either in one market or the other. Most don’t build both types of housing,” he said.

Safeway Homes are manufactured in a plant in Lexington, the only modular product made in the state, according to Pucylowski.

“These homes are approved for mounting on concrete slabs and can withstand 160 mile-per-hour winds, a category five hurricane,” he said. “They are energy star rated and efficient.”

He says a typical modular home has 1,440 square feet of space consisting of a family room, three bedrooms, two baths, and a laundry room. “There’s just one floor plan but homebuyers can change the exterior,” he said. “That helps keep down costs.”

However, he acknowledged that some companies will allow buyers to create a house plan. Choosing to do so will drive up the cost, losing that benefit of modular housing but maintaining the speed factor.

Gulfport residents Peggy and Skip Ryland, whose historic home was completely destroyed by the storm, learned that lesson when dealing with an out-of-state modular home builder. “They told us we could make changes and enlarge and customize the plan,” Peggy Ryland said, “but when the price swelled to over $400,000, we decided to go with a custom-built home.”

Price and speed aside, Milstead thinks modular homes may not necessarily be the wave of the future. “Most people want a custom look and want to be able to make changes on the job when it comes right down to it,” he said.

Still, no one group can re-establish all the housing needed on the Coast, Pucylowski says. “There’s such a large volume to be rebuilt and modular homes are a good, quality product,” he said. “They’re well built, and it’s a lot of house for the money.”

These homes, he says, are built in a pattern that’s perfectly square. “I’ve had flooring people tell me they’ve never seen houses so perfectly square,” he added.

With the standard floor plan (1,440 square feet), a modular home can be put in place on an existing slab in one day. The house is sealed so rain can’t damage it. Then it’s ready for painting and floor coverings to be installed. The houses come complete with cabinets, light fixtures, plumbing and crown molding.

Pucylowski says he and others in the modular home industry fight the confusion that modular homes are the same as manufactured, or mobile, homes. They also must contend with municipalities that mandate sizes for houses in certain areas. He cites Brandon and Madison as two examples.

“We fight that all the time,” he said, “and we’re trying to produce a quality house that’s affordable for all income levels.”

With a large number of South Mississippi residents needing homes, the Mississippi Manufactured Housing Association believes modular homes can be part of the solution.

Jennifer Hall, the association’s executive director, defines a modular home as one that is constructed of standard building materials built offsite in a factory setting. These homes are usually built to state and local building codes of the jurisdiction where they will be sited. Manufactured homes also are constructed of standard building materials and are built to national HUD codes.

Gulf Coast leader Anthony Topazi, CEO of Mississippi Power Company, is also on the bandwagon for modular homes. Providing adequate housing for the area must be done at a rate eight to 10 times greater than what is normally done in a year.

“If we’re not successful in producing housing at that rate, it will stall our overall recovery,” Topazi said. “We must ask, what role will modular construction play? It must play a key role because of the speed involved. We can’t build all the homes needed in the conventional way.”

Contact MBJ contributing Lynn Lofton at llofton656@aol.com.

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