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Best prefab homes 2019: buying guide and builder selection


Prefab homes are a relatively affordable way to acquire a brand new home without dealing with long construction delays. In this article we cover everything you need to know about prefabricated homes, including pros and cons, prefab home prices, and more. We also list some of the best prefab homes for sale and prefab home builders.

What’s the best prefab home?

When you’re ready to look for a new home, you generally have two options – buy or build. Your choices are unlimited with either option, but if you decide to build, you may want to consider prefabricated housing.

All prefabricated homes are partially or fully built in a climate-controlled factory before being shipped to the job site. This makes it possible to accelerate production and reduce costs.

The best prefab homes can clock in at under 1,000 square feet or be roomy enough to hold several generations. There is a floor plan and style for everyone. Whether you want a modern prefab home or a tiny house with a traditional vibe, you’ll surely find your dream home.

Types of prefab homes

Prefabricated homes fall into different categories as it’s a broad term that encompasses more than one style of structure.

Manufactured homes

The most popular style of home today outside of stick-built houses are manufactured homes. These homes are built to stricter standards than mobile homes, and it can be difficult to distinguish a modern manufactured home from a traditional one. Decks, garages, and basements are all options with this style.

Modular homes

While still built entirely in a factory, modular construction homes are pieced together on location whereas a manufactured home is ready to roll. More work will need to go into these homes, but you have a wider range of styles and sizes to choose from.

You can go for multi-story modular abodes and simple structures that are cheaper than a stick-built home. If you are interested in this style, be sure to check out our guide to the best modular homes.

Panelized homes

An interesting alternative to modular and manufactured homes is a panelized system. In most cases, the shell is built at a factory before being finished on the job site by contractors, just like a stick-built home.

Panelized homes are built to code and include floors, walls, and trusses at a minimum. SIP or Structural Insulated Panels are also a form of panelized housing, but quite different from a design standpoint.

Shipping container homes

Prefab shipping container homes are the oddball of the prefab world as the containers are manufactured, but the interior design varies wildly from one manufacturer to the next. They can be joined together like a modular home, but aren’t as comfortable or accessible.

On the flip side, most can withstand the forces of nature that would take down stick-built and manufactured homes.

Tiny homes

These miniature homes are stylish and popular enough to have TV shows made about their diminutive designs. A tiny home is pre-built but considerably smaller than your average American home.

Many tiny prefab homes are under 400 square feet, and while they are an acquired taste, they can be roomy enough for some surprising amenities.

Kit houses

Before the rise of the World Wide Web, you could actually buy anything from a catalog, including dresses, firearms, and even houses. Kit homes are essentially stick-built houses that are broken down and shipped to your doorstep where you or a contractor will assemble it.

DesignHaus container house

A shipping container home in Michigan.
Source: Designhaus

Tumbleweed tiny house

The interior of a tiny home.
Source: Tumbleweed

What are the pros and cons of prefab homes?

Buying a prefabricated home is enticing, but you can end up with an expensive problem on your hands if you don't understand the pros and cons of prefab homes. While some issues can arise from a particular style of home, the areas we’re going to discuss cover prefab homes as a whole.

What are the benefits of prefab homes?

  • Lower prices – One of the perks of going prefab is the price. While the cost of a prefab home largely depends on its size, many modular and panelized home builders can produce a home cheaper than a stick-built home builder. Tiny homes, container houses, and kit homes are considerably cheaper as well.
  • Quicker construction process – It can take 7 months to well over a year to build a stick-built home, but the process is generally much quicker with prefab structures. Construction as a whole is a major advantage considering materials don’t sit out in the rain, and there’s no waste from the job.
  • Energy efficiency – Modern prefab homes tend to use greener products than traditional stick-built homes. Many designs are geared towards energy efficiency, so it’s not uncommon to see solar panels and rainwater systems come into play whereas amenities like tankless water heaters are standard with many builders.
  • Financing – Some manufacturers offer their own financing, something you won’t get from a local contractor. This gives you more options, and possibly even a better rate too, depending on your situation. Contrary to popular belief, financing isn’t usually an issue with any prefab home that sits on a solid foundation.

Potential problems with prefabs

  • Customization – You will find wilder designs and more eco-friendly abodes if you choose a modular home, but they can’t measure up to a stick-built home when it comes to the overall degree of customization. Unless you’re building a custom home from scratch, there are always limitations, most of which are tied to our next con.
  • Transportation – As prefabrication homes are built in a factory, they have to be shipped, which is costly and limits the size of container and modular homes. Logistics can sink your project quickly if your builder is located on the West Coast, and you reside in Maine.
  • Property cost – There are a few expenses that can creep up on you when you purchase a modular home, including the property itself. The land could cost as much as your home depending on where you build, and you’ll have to account for zoning restrictions, taxes, and utility hookups as well.
  • Resale value – Certain types of prefab homes don’t sell as quickly as a traditional home, although we feel style is a major contributing factor in that regard. Homeowners are slowly coming around to prefab building techniques, although there’s a reason many listings of prefab homes for sale get dusty on home buying sites.

Buying guide: how to find the best prefab home

Once you understand the different types of structures available from prefab builders along with the pros and cons their homes offer, it’s time to get serious.

Finding the best prefab home involves careful planning and considerable thought. While it’s not something you should rush through, our guide will help speed things up by letting you know which areas you should focus on.

The lay of the land

Depending on the location of your property, you may run into an issue with building permits. Certain types of structures aren’t allowed in the suburbs, and your neighbors may have an issue if you try and put a $10,000 solar kit house down on a street full of old Victorian-style homes.

A contractor can help alter the lay of the land, but you’re on your own with the neighbors. Building permits and zoning requirements differ around the world, and in the United States, it all depends on where you live.

Before you become too enamored with a specific style or type of prefabricated home, you’ll need to check with the city or county and see what’s allowed for your area. It’s also important to keep additions or expansions in mind, as you could have a hard time adding onto your home later.

Plus, you’ll want to take a look at the area around your home and the ground where the foundation will be built (unless it’s a mobile or tiny home). Getting a soil sample should be a top priority, and you need to think about access as well. If a path needs to be cleared for builders to get to the site, it can be a costly and lengthy endeavor.

Utility access can also cause issues, especially in rural areas, where generators are the main power source. Do you want fiber internet or a large basement for storage? Septic stems, storage, and utilities are all critical components of the project that shouldn’t be overlooked.

The prefab building process

It doesn’t matter whether you plan on buying an 800-square-foot tiny home or a large multi-story modular structure; the process largely remains the same when you decide to purchase a prefab construction home. The first thing you need to do is lock down financing whether it’s a bank loan, through a builder, or from your savings account.

Once you have an idea of your budget and choose a contractor, you will work with their team of architects, designers, and engineers to find the perfect design. Obviously, if you’re buying a tiny home or kit house, the process will be different.

Site preparation usually takes place after you’ve settled on a design and received financial approval. You can expect the building process to take between 2 to 6 months if you’re building a small to average-size home.

Keep in mind, that’s just the build time, however, and doesn’t include shipping or how long it will take contractors to “stitch” things together on the job site. Landscaping and other factors come into play as well. You may not be able to move into your new prefab home for close to a year.

Prefab home prices

Pricing a prefab home can be a little tricky due to the number of variables involved, including material prices.

The best way to get an idea of a prefab home’s price is to first think about how large of a home you want to build.

Bigger isn’t always better if you’re on a budget, especially considering the average size of American homes has doubled since the 60s. There are millions of older homes under 2,000 square feet, but most modern homes and new constructions are typically at least 2,500 square feet or larger.

Are prefab homes cheaper?

Well, that all depends on the size and style of home you want to buy, but yes, prefab houses can be cheaper. You can pick up a container home on Amazon for under $40,000, which is a lot cheaper than any stick-built dwelling. Alternatively, you can also buy a mini-mansion with a dozen modules if you have a million to spare.

Modular building prices are different from what a panelized manufacturer would charge, but most companies will give you a rough estimate per square foot. For manufactured, modular, and panelized homes, you can expect to pay $200,000 to $600,000, excluding the cost of land.

Tiny and container prefab homes are cheaper. We’ve seen tiny homes for around $10k while an affordable container home can run around $30,000.

The best prefab home builders

If you’re seriously considering a prefabricated structure for your property, there are hundreds of builders willing to take your money and ship a house to your lot. Finding the best prefab home builder can be a hassle, however, which is why we’ve whipped up this quick list featuring a few of the best builders around.

1. Clever Homes

With close to two decades in business, Clever Homes has been around longer than many modular builders. They are also unique considering they don’t just specialize in one style of home, as they are open to building any floor plans that you can dream up.

Clever Homes uses modular and panelized building techniques in their structures. They can design a net-zero energy home from scratch or build a multi-module home with decks and a two-car garage.

Need an 8,500 square foot house in the hills with 7 bedrooms? They can do that or build a multi-family apartment complex, unlike any real estate you’ve ever seen. You’ll find dozens of stunning designs on Clever’s site, but there are no floor plans to peruse. That’s because of their design process, as they realize everyone has different needs and tastes.

Your project will start with a feasibility analysis which takes you from design to final cost and covers every aspect of the job, including permits. On average, you can expect a prefab house from Clever Homes to run $400 – $500 per square foot. While that’s higher than a stick-built home, it includes the “total” cost for everything from shipping to landscaping.

The company builds and ships to any state in the U.S. and will consider international projects if they are feasible logistically.

Clever Homes modular and panelized

Modular homes and panelized homes from Clever Homes.
Source: Clever Homes

2. Pacific Modern Homes

Panelized homes aren’t new on the building scene, and you’ve probably walked through a panelized house and never knew it. Out of all the prefab styles, it’s one of the closest to site-built homes when it comes to style, and Pacific Modern Homes Inc delivers some of the finest panelized structures around.

PMHI’s homes are broken down by size and style. They have everything from single-story homes and granny flats to 3,500 square foot two-story prefab houses. While there aren’t any cutting edge designs in their current catalog, there are over 25 single-story floor plans and over 40 designs in all.

The company can also design your panelized home from the ground up as well. One advantage of Pacific Modern Homes is their high quality building system. It’s one of the easier platforms to work with thanks to a computerized inventory system and the fact windows are pre-installed.

This cuts down on the build time, and their trusses are designed to accommodate solar panels if you want to go green in the future. There’s a lot to like about PMHI, from their owner-builder financing program to their cozy little granny flats. Prices start at around $27,000 for a single-story home of around 600 square feet and top out at around $173,500 for a six-bedroom home with a three-car garage.

The package price is only around 25% – 35% of the total build price, so remember to keep the finishing costs, permits, and land in mind as well.

Pacific Modern Homes modern prefab houses

Pacific Modern Homes Inc.’s Maywood panelized kit home.
Source: PMHI

3. Allwood

Looking for a small prefab guest house or a granny flat that can fit comfortably in your backyard? Allwood Outlet has a selection of prefab home kits and cabins with affordable price points. That includes homeowners that need something small and simple, along with consumers that require multiple bedrooms.

Most of the prefabricated homes in Allwood’s lineup are under 1,000 square feet, aside from Eagle Vista and Eagle Point. Their larger homes resemble small cabins or cottages, but several of their tiny homes have a more modern vibe. There are around 30 floor plans in all, and most fall under the tiny, small and medium-sized categories aside from their Eagle lineup.

As these are prefab home kits, you’re getting a barebones unit with only the floors, walls, ceiling, trusses, windows and doors. They won’t help you set up your home – they only build and ship it. If you want insulation or Alexa integration, that’s something you’ll need to bring a local contractor in for or handle yourself. In addition to tiny homes and unfinished cabins, Allwood sells a wide range of goods like planters, decking, and gazebos.

Their affordable prefab homes ship for free throughout the contiguous 48 states, and they can provide you with financing through Lightstream. Prices range from $3,600 to over $50,000 depending on the style and size.

Allwood prefab guest house and granny flats

A few prefab guest houses and granny flats from Allwood.
Source: Allwood

4. Custom Container Living

Container homes can be an acquired taste as they typically don’t resemble a traditional home. They are among the most affordable styles of prefabricated housing, however, and Custom Container Living can provide you with a turnkey solution that will have you situated in short order.

Custom Container Living has homes in two basic sizes with 8’ x 20’ and 8’ x 40’ shipping containers. The latter has a variant with 9.5’ ceilings, while the standard height for their basic units is 8.6’. The company has close to 30 floor plans, but as each home is custom-built, you can use them as a starting point if you have something special in mind.

The largest plans come in at 16’ or 20’ wide like the Double Duo which has two bedrooms, a living room, kitchen, and bathroom. They also have plenty of small prefab homes including ones built for camping or hunting with features like a garage or bunk beds.

What you actually get inside each unit varies, so you’ll want to check the floor plans before you get too excited about the prices. Prefab shipping container homes from Custom Container Living run between $25,000 to over $100,000, so they definitely have a price point for everyone.

That includes consumers that want an affordable prefab home to use as a guest house along with people that prefer the container home lifestyle. They will also ship anywhere in the United States, but the charge is hefty if you live towards either coast.

Custom Container Living prefab container home

Custom Container Homes offers many different floor plans.
Source: Custom Container Living

5. Unity Homes

When you want a prefab house that blends in with the neighbors, Unity Homes is one of the best choices. While they don’t have any prefab homes under 100k, they have a stunning collection of modern prefab homes that serve as a starting point for your project.

Unity has five designs in their arsenal with Tradd, Värm, Xyla, Zum, and Nano. The names may sound odd, but each one has a traditional style, so you’re dealing with bungalows and capes and cottages instead of boxes or tiny prefab homes. Each home style has multiple floor plans as well, along with additions like screened-in porches and garages.

One interesting feature from Unity is the way they sell their homes. You can buy a Whole House package if you live within their delivery and build radius, or opt for a Tempo package if the distance is too great. The Shell package is also an option as it just provides you with the basics like walls, floors, and windows, so you’ll need to supply the labor yourself.

Unity may not have any cheap prefab homes for sale, but a few of the Shell and Tempo packages come in under $100,000. Obviously, a more complex floor plan will raise the cost, but the Whole House prices on their homes range from $140,000 to over $350,000.

Designs from Method Homes

Unity Homes offers more traditional prefab home designs.
Source: Method Homes

Prefabricated homes FAQ

Is it hard to get a prefab home financed?

Not unless you’re buying a tiny home or a kit house. If you are buying a home that will sit on a permanent foundation, it’s much easier to get approved, although many builders provide financing options as well.

What size home qualifies as a Tiny Home?

Typically anything under 400 square feet. There are no strict rules with tiny homes in regards to their style or size – it’s simply a marketing term.

Can I finish some of the work myself or can family members work on a project?

While that depends on the contractor, we’ve found that many builders are willing to work with you. It’s something you’ll want to cover before the project begins, however.

Do you need planning permission for a prefab house?

Yes, you will generally need to acquire a building permit and ensure that your home follows the right building codes. Some home builders can take care of this for you, but in some cases you’ll have to manage the procedure yourself.

About this author

Ludivine Cherdo

Ludivine is Aniwaa’s Head of Content. Based in Troyes, France, she oversees the content strategy and ensures the content published meets the company’s strict editorial standards. Ludivine obtained her Bachelor’s from the ESC Troyes business school where she studied business administration with a special focus on Digital Marketing. She made the most of her gift for languages by completing part of her studies abroad, gaining valuable work experience in content production and branding along the way. She first joined Aniwaa in 2017 as an intern.