For many retirees, life after work is all about downsizing, and with the exception of maybe a tiny house, scaling back to a mobile home is about as far down in size as most people can go. Mobile home living has long gotten a bad rap, but in recent years, the lifestyle has attracted new demographics, including younger and more affluent people as well as retirees who have the option of purchasing a traditional home.
But is a mobile home truly a realistic option that people should consider when planning for retirement? The answer, of course, depends on the retiree — but there’s certainly a lot to consider.
According to Move.org, “Many people are challenging the stereotype of the run-down, dangerous mobile home of the past and reimagining it as a clean, safe, and modern space in a futuristic community.”
The many potential benefits include:
- Homeownership without all the traditional expenses and headaches, including land maintenance and property taxes — plus, most lot rental fees include utilities like sewer, water and trash pickup.
- A typical mobile home costs about $88,200 — compared to the median home value of about $356,000 — with lot rents typically costing $200-$300 per month.
- Mobile parks have safety protocols, background checks and rules to keep them safe and community-oriented.
- Mobile homes are easier to customize and build with unique features that would be difficult to achieve in a traditional home.
- Another benefit for retirees is that most people who live in mobile homes are seniors and many communities are restricted to those 55 and older.
“Mobile homes are the true OG tiny homes,” said Eddie Martini, strategic real estate investment advisor at Real Estate Bees. “These have pioneered the concept of minimalist living and can be an excellent option for retirement, especially for those who will be reliant upon Social Security assistance for their primary income source. Long gone are the days when trailer living is only something that is a last resort. Many people are choosing to abandon the concept of traditional single-family residential homes and embracing the lower-cost living that tiny homes, mobile homes and trailer life can offer.”
The Reality Is Often Not So Rosy
According to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and the Census Bureau, 3.2 million American adults ages 60 and up live in mobile homes, as of February 2022. Since that age demographic represents the overwhelming majority of mobile home residents, it might seem a natural match for retirees looking to downsize.
But it’s important to note that mobile home owners tend to not only be older but older and struggling financially. Although a vast majority of seniors own their mobile homes outright, they’re no less likely to be burdened by housing costs than their counterparts who rent or own traditional homes. They also face higher levels of housing insecurity and often struggle to afford basic living expenses. They’re much more likely to be less educated and have lower incomes than traditional older homeowners, and they’re much more likely to live in remote areas outside the country’s 14 largest metropolitan areas.
During the pandemic, older people in mobile homes suffered higher rates of negative health and economic hardships.
For One Former Resident, the Cons Outweighed the Pros
E-book author Brian Shell of PassionHero.com recently moved out of a mobile home in Ypsilanti, Michigan, after 20 years. In that time, his lot rental doubled from $300 to $600.
“That’s a rate way above the rate of inflation,” Shell said. “Living on SSDI, that means their annual lot-rent increase was way above my SSDI COLA. My yearly spending power would decrease due to their yearly raises in rent. These increases hurt low-income people living on a fixed income such as Social Security.”
There were also frequent indignities and threats to his security. His home was burglarized twice, neighbors commonly flouted the rules with little intervention from management, and loud, discourteous and unsanitary conditions prevailed.
While Shell’s story is purely anecdotal, it represents many of the stereotypes that have defined mobile home parks in the popular imagination for generations.
The Traditional Trailer Park Is Hardly the Only Option
As modern retirees look for more affordable ways to achieve high-quality lifestyles, ultra-luxe mobile home communities have popped up in cities across the country. Complete with high-end amenities and built with premium materials, these luxury mobile homes are situated in wealthy, clean, safe and secure mobile home communities that are packed with activities. Individual units can cost much more than the median traditional home.
And there’s a whole lot of middle ground between the run-down, low-end trailer parks of old and the exclusive luxury mobile communities for the rich that are popping up today.
“Inflation and rising costs of living are not going anywhere,” said Or Michaelo, founder and CEO of Orbit Homes. “We are seeing more and more seniors looking to factory-built homes as a viable option when they are wanting to downsize and save on living costs, which is an important factor when depending on a fixed income like Social Security. Not only do these factory-built homes save money over traditional retirement and assisted-living communities, but park communities are excellent places to retire. The support one gets from living in a like-minded environment with the added bonus of shared amenities like pools, gyms and community events like bingo and movie night makes retirement a more communal and fun experience.”
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