Prefab, But Make It Luxury: Modular Homes Can Be High End
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Prefab, But Make It Luxury: Modular Homes Can Be High End

More homeowners embrace prefabricated properties.

By ROBYN A. FRIEDMAN
Fri, Sep 17, 2021 11:27amGrey Clock 4 min

Ty Sharp, a 26-year-old software consultant from Aspen, Colo., is building a 267sqm holiday home in Ventura, Calif. The four-bedroom, four-bathroom custom home, for which he’s paying approx. $2.34 million, will have an open-concept floor plan, a chef’s kitchen, engineered hardwood floors and a master bedroom with a private patio and soaking tub.

But if you visit the quarter-acre site, which has views of the Pacific Ocean, you’ll find only a foundation despite the fact that the home is slated for completion within two months. That is because Mr. Sharp’s new house, a prefabricated modular home, is being manufactured in a factory two hours away.

The term “prefab home” may conjure up images of a double-wide mobile home. But that is a misconception, experts say.

One of the modules of Ty Sharp’s home is fabricated in the Dvele factory in Loma Linda, Calif. The house will be built with a total of four modules, which will be assembled at the homesite in Ventura, Calif. PHOTO: DVELE

“A mobile home is a manufactured home, but built to a lower standard. Modular homes are also manufactured in a factory environment, so that confuses people,” said Kurt Goodjohn, co-founder and chief executive officer of Dvele, a San Diego-based luxury prefab-home manufacturer that is building Mr. Sharp’s home.

Joseph Tanney, a founder of Resolution 4 Architecture in New York City, who has been designing modular homes since 2002, said today’s modular homes can be very high end. A seven-bedroom, nine-bathroom modular home that Mr. Tanney designed in Bridgehampton, N.Y., and which was completed in 2018, has a pool, pool house, decking, geothermal- and solar-power systems and a green roof. It sold in Sept. 2020 for its full asking price: approx. $6.435 million.

The modules for modular homes are created in a factory, then delivered to the homesite via truck. There, they are placed on the foundation by a crane and assembled like Lego blocks. The foundation and site-preparation work takes place concurrently with the factory’s fabrication of the modular blocks. That speeds up the construction process, especially because some modular manufacturers ship the modules with all cabinets in place, appliances installed, lighting complete and toilets hanging off the walls.

“Houses still need to get finished when they arrive on-site, so even though we’re doing 50% to 80% of the work off-site, you still have to connect everything,” said Brian Abramson, co-founder and chief executive officer of Method Homes, a Seattle-based manufacturer of prefab homes. Mr. Abramson said that a high-end custom 4,000- to 6,000-square-foot, traditional stick-built home takes 16 to 18 months to complete, but a modular home of similar size would take less than a year. A typical 4,000-square-foot house would be composed of eight modules, Mr. Abramson said.

Demand for luxury modular homes, which was already strong, has increased due to the pandemic, developers say. Mr. Abramson, for example, who declined to provide specific sales data, said that Method’s sales for 2020 were up 50% from 2019 sales. He’s built a new factory to accommodate the increased demand.

An advantage of modular construction over traditional construction is that modular manufacturers control the entire fabrication process. Speed is another.

Mr. Sharp, who is purchasing the vacation home with his 28-year-old brother, Ian Sharp, said “It’s a lot quicker than the normal construction process because they can separate the building from the site work and do both at the same time.”

Mr. Sharp, who is a software consultant for home builders, said that his own experience in the industry has shown that while his home will take only about six months to complete, a comparable custom-built home would take 12 to 18 months.

By automating much of the fabrication process, Mr. Goodjohn said that modular construction is more insulated from labor challenges than stick-built construction.

“Modular is a manufacturing process, not a product per se,” said Mr. Goodjohn. “You can train people to do a specific role in the process without the need for skilled labor to make decisions on the fly.”

A module for a custom home in Jackson, Wyo., built by Method Homes is installed by a crane. The Grand Tetons are in the background. PHOTO: METHOD HOMES

Here is what to consider if you’re interested in purchasing a modular home:

Your site might not be suitable. Mr. Tanney, of Resolution 4 Architecture, says modules must comply with size and weight regulations for transport on highways and roads. This could affect the ability of the modules to reach your site.

You may not be able to make design changes once fabrication starts. All design decisions are made by a buyer before production, according to Mr. Abramson, of Method Homes. Once the factory starts to build your modules, you can’t make changes. That helps keep production on schedule.

Build in the cost of the build. Mr. Abramson said the cost of a module ranges from $250 to $350 a square foot, including all interior finishes such as cabinets, counters, appliances, tile, hardwood flooring and fixtures. That price doesn’t include siding, roofing, decks, on-site connections, HVAC, transportation of the modules and installation. These additional costs are about 60-120% of the modular cost, he said. You’ll also need to pay for the land, and the foundation and site work needed before construction.



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How much income is required to service a mortgage? It depends on where you live

New research suggests spending 40 percent of household income on loan repayments is the new normal

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Requiring more than 30 percent of household income to service a home loan has long been considered the benchmark for ‘housing stress’. Yet research shows it is becoming the new normal. The 2024 ANZ CoreLogic Housing Affordability Report reveals home loans on only 17 percent of homes are ‘serviceable’ if serviceability is limited to 30 percent of the median national household income.

Based on 40 percent of household income, just 37 percent of properties would be serviceable on a mortgage covering 80 percent of the purchase price. ANZ CoreLogic suggest 40 may be the new 30 when it comes to home loan serviceability. “Looking ahead, there is little prospect for the mortgage serviceability indicator to move back into the 30 percent range any time soon,” says the report.

“This is because the cash rate is not expected to be cut until late 2024, and home values have continued to rise, even amid relatively high interest rate settings.” ANZ CoreLogic estimate that home loan rates would have to fall to about 4.7 percent to bring serviceability under 40 percent.

CoreLogic has broken down the actual household income required to service a home loan on a 6.27 percent interest rate for an 80 percent loan based on current median house and unit values in each capital city. As expected, affordability is worst in the most expensive property market, Sydney.

Sydney

Sydney’s median house price is $1,414,229 and the median unit price is $839,344.

Based on 40 percent serviceability, households need a total income of $211,456 to afford a home loan for a house and $125,499 for a unit. The city’s actual median household income is $120,554.

Melbourne

Melbourne’s median house price is $935,049 and the median apartment price is $612,906.

Based on 40 percent serviceability, households need a total income of $139,809 to afford a home loan for a house and $91,642 for a unit. The city’s actual median household income is $110,324.

Brisbane

Brisbane’s median house price is $909,988 and the median unit price is $587,793.

Based on 40 percent serviceability, households need a total income of $136,062 to afford a home loan for a house and $87,887 for a unit. The city’s actual median household income is $107,243.

Adelaide

Adelaide’s median house price is $785,971 and the median apartment price is $504,799.

Based on 40 percent serviceability, households need a total income of $117,519 to afford a home loan for a house and $75,478 for a unit. The city’s actual median household income is $89,806.

Perth

Perth’s median house price is $735,276 and the median unit price is $495,360.

Based on 40 percent serviceability, households need a total income of $109,939 to afford a home loan for a house and $74,066 for a unit. The city’s actual median household income is $108,057.

Hobart

Hobart’s median house price is $692,951 and the median apartment price is $522,258.

Based on 40 percent serviceability, households need a total income of $103,610 to afford a home loan for a house and $78,088 for a unit. The city’s actual median household income is $89,515.

Darwin

Darwin’s median house price is $573,498 and the median unit price is $367,716.

Based on 40 percent serviceability, households need a total income of $85,750 to afford a home loan for a house and $54,981 for a unit. The city’s actual median household income is $126,193.

Canberra

Canberra’s median house price is $964,136 and the median apartment price is $585,057.

Based on 40 percent serviceability, households need a total income of $144,158 to afford a home loan for a house and $87,478 for a unit. The city’s actual median household income is $137,760.

 

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