If you’re an older adult looking for a new housing option, chances are you’ve heard of senior mobile home parks. These communities offer low-cost home ownership, amenities and the benefit of living among people your age.
But before you make a purchase, there are a number of pros and cons to consider. And even those in the mobile home industry note that this option isn’t for every senior.
The basics of senior mobile homes
When you live in a mobile home community, you typically own the manufactured home, but “rent the patch of dirt underneath it,” said Tim Sheahan, president of the National Manufactured Home Owners Association.
These homes usually cost less than a traditional house, but are comparable in size, ranging anywhere from 400 square feet to 1,600 square feet. Rental costs for the land can run from $300 a month to up to $2,000 in pricier areas like California, where Sheahan lives. This is still lower than the cost of assisted living, which runs anywhere from $2,500 to nearly $7,000 on average (although typically assisted living community fees include meals, housekeeping and numerous amenities and social activities).
You may be able to find a few mobile home communities that are meant for people ages 62 and older, but most cater to those over 55. This is the biggest draw for many who chose to live in these communities, said Sage Singleton, a senior living specialist with Medicare Health Plans, a Medicare plan review website that assists seniors searching for Medicare insurance options.
“Seniors prefer the peace, solitude and familiarity of living near people in their same age range,” he said. “Everyone is at the same stage of life, going through similar perks and struggles … it’s a great way to meet new friends in a comfortable and safe environment.”
Many of these communities are gated and even those that aren’t have a greater sense of security, safety and privacy, Sheahan said.
They’re not actually mobile
Mobile homes (also known as manufactured homes if built after 1976) are called that because they are built in one place and moved to another. You shouldn’t plan for these homes to be replaced once you’re settled in a community, Sheahan said.
“There are very few places to relocate to,” he said. “Most don’t allow older homes to be moved on-site and they are building almost no new communities in most parts of the country.”
Dollars and cents
Sheahan said the major concern with senior mobile home parks in recent years is that ownership has moved from “mom and pop” management to corporate groups. And for most of the corporate owners, the main goal is to maximize profits.
In an apartment or even an assisted living facility, the goal of the operators is to keep the customers happy so they will stay there and earn money. But at a mobile home community, the customer is essentially captive once they have moved in. Some companies take advantage of this, Sheahan said.
“They can raise the rent, which raises their income and property values,” he said. “If it gets high enough, they can economically evict homeowners from their own homes.”
Some ways to avoid having rents raised too high over time are to live in a community owned by a nonprofit group or where the homeowner owns the land (though the latter is uncommon). It’s also a good idea to have an attorney look over any lease before signing.
“Seniors are generally too trusting of what property managers have told them,” about the lease and its conditions, Sheahan said.
For the travelers
If you are a “snowbird” — someone who moves from colder climates to warmer ones in the winter — a mobile home community can be a perfect option for either your first or second home. The ownership costs are relatively low and most community managers take care of yard and maintenance work.
“You are not leaving your home unattended to grow unruly during long travels,” Singleton noted.
Amenities of senior mobile homes
Another benefit of senior mobile home communities are the amenities. The communities are often located in choice spaces – near lakes, rivers or golf courses – providing convenient opportunities for outdoor activities.
Aside from location, many senior mobile home communities have amenities such as communal spaces, pools, exercise facilities, spas or shuffleboard courts. Because seniors may not want, or be able to travel, some communities host events and gatherings like bingo, potluck meals, dances and social clubs to bring the entertainment to residents.
One drawback of these communities is their lack of on-site healthcare services, said Steve Carr, chief sales officer at Centers Health Care, which offers a range of post-acute care services in the Northeastern United States.
People often look to downsize at a time in their life when they need increasingly frequent medical care. When you are thinking of costs, remember to add in potential medical costs to the mortgage, utilities, land rent and upkeep. Your calculations may show that it’s just as reasonable to consider a continuing care retirement community (CCRC), where skilled nursing care is offered, or an assisted living community that has a nurse on call if not on staff and helps arrange transportation to doctor’s appointments.
“For people with major healthcare issues, it is hard to get the help needed in any type of residential setting,” Carr said. “That care is almost irreplaceable when it comes to having social and medical needs managed.”
Do your due diligence
If you’re considering moving into a manufactured home, a good place to start is to talk with senior advocacy services in your state, county or city. These organizations should have extensive networks in your area and will know the bad actors in your community, Sheahan said.
You can also talk to the homeowners’ association (HOA) in the community you are considering to find out more detailed information. Questions to ask include:
- How much have rents increased in recent years?
- What are the terms on the lease?
- How well are the properties maintained?
- If the land is bought and you have to move, will you be compensated in any way for the dislocation?
Finally, Sheahan recommends talking to staff from the housing department of the city where the mobile home community is located. They can tell you if there are rent stabilization ordinances that keep owners from hiking up the rent. City staff can also tell you if a community is protected by zoning laws that discourage developers from buying the land for commercial use.
Though there are a lot of potential pitfalls to moving into a senior mobile home park, Sheahan said moving to one can be a solid option for many seniors.
“They are a great way to live out the twilight years of their lives with a strong social network and tight-nit communities,” he said. “They can enable them to live in those homes longer than they would otherwise … and they have an added safety net they might not have in a traditional home.”