I have a confession to make.
I have been far more judgey about houses than I’d like to admit, and it’s time to eat humble pie. I grew up with opinions about mobile homes and now I have one and I’m not sure how to be proud of it.
I’m a Gen-Xer and mobile homes were gaining in popularity during my childhood – but mostly among the retirement age or in slightly shading trailer parts. My grandparents owned a narrow single wide on the shores of Potholes Reservoir the middle of bum-f**k nowhere. My memories of time spent there are saturated with the smells of bacon grease and cigarette smoke, and the sounds of bugs frying on the bug zapper and Dolly Parton on the radio. It was pretty much what most people envision a mobile as – basic, with a long, narrow, dark hallway on one side, a bedroom and bath on the other side, a master bedroom in the back and a living room and kitchen in the front. The doors felt thin, it was trimmed in plastic, and when the potato trucks rumbled by on the highway out back, the entire house shuddered with the noise and vibration.
It didn’t feel like a “real” house, and I never wanted to live in one. I was very conscious of my families place in the social and economic hierarchy and a mobile smacked of poverty and old people.
But here we were – 40 some odd years later and an updated mobile on acreage was what we could afford in a market that saw prices rise by over 30% in the nine months we’d been looking. (And, yes, it is ironic that now I am indeed approaching senior-citizenship!)
When we first saw pictures of Forest House online, it was everything awful about mobiles. She was shabby and moss-covered with skirting hanging off and faded paint that was probably the same stuff put on at the factory in ’83. The inside was paneled in wood EVERYWHERE and nearly the entire house – including the bathrooms- was carpeted in dark rust pile. It was dark, dated and depressing. I was sure it was a tear down, but at a listing price of $320k with 5 acres, it was well under what undeveloped land was going for.
We went to see it a couple hours after it was listed, and it was ours a week later. But we kept we bought a mobile a secret.
In the first few days of ownership, we spent a lot of time researching whether we should update the mobile or have it hauled away. We looked at a dozen new mobiles and picked out two we loved. We researched pre-fab kits and contractor packages and went ’round and ’round about building. But we still came back the fact that we actually liked this poor sad mobile that would become our Forest House and wanted her to have a chance at life again.
- Floor plan was close to perfect
- 5 skylights
- Metal roof
- 2×6 construction on exterior walls is better than 2×4 in traditional stick-built
- Excellent insulation
- 5 acres
- Under the house was dry
- 1724 square feet
- Forest needs little attention
- A well & septic
- Room to build an ADU for my parents
- Space for a garden
- 30 minutes to Everett for work
- Fully fully fenced
- New double oven and dishwasher
- Solid when Fionn jumped around
- Real wood doors
- Wood paneled EVERYTHING
- Yucky carpet and old linoleum
- Interior is dark
- Lighting problems
- Skirting was a mess
- Siding needs replacing
- No garage
- Everything needs updating
- Feels remote, fire/aid would take time
- Need to clear brush and liberate the “foundation” from overgrowth
- Several trees are dangerously close to house & need to come down
- Small critters inside & big critters outside
- Interior walls are 1×3
- Thin/no sheetrock on interior walls
- Signs of previous roof leaks
- Plastic trim (WTAF is with that?)
In the end it came down to two things: money and health/eco-consciousness.
Since we could do the work ourselves, even if we spent $100k or more on a remodel, we’d still spend less then our budget, and our home on 5 acres would be exactly what we wanted. We could easily do all the required work, and would bring it up to a stick-build standard with better interior framing and sheetrock. We hadn’t seen a single home, no matter how high the price, that we wouldn’t have wanted to make changes to.
There was also the fact that it was genuinely still serviceable. We’d rather recycle if something is still usable and Neil is an avid Offer Up geek, so fixing a house was well within our values. But there were also health concerns – Neil and I were alarmed at the posted warnings regarding formaldehyde dangers in the new mobiles we looked at. Since both of us have autoimmune issues, we are careful about exposure to anything that could further challenge our bodies. In nearly every house we looked at – especially new mobiles – the off-gassing of everything from carpets to paint to cupboards was often eye-watering. By remodeling, we were in control of what products are used.
There is one other awkward problem though.
Both Neil and I remain a little ashamed of telling people we bought a mobile AND are remodeling it. Just yesterday, Neil said he was embarrassed to have anyone see the state she is in – and that she is a mobile.
Our glaring house-ism about mobile homes isn’t unusual – a search online pulled up plenty about how people judge you based on your house, and lots of comments about being embarrassed about living in one. And though a mobile might be forgivable if it’s nice, most people think that dumping money into making one “nice” is the proverbial putting lipstick on a pig.
Telling our city friends we bought a house to fix up would normally earn congratulations and excitement. But we anticipate a different response for buying a mobile – especially when we follow with “we’re doing a total to-the-studs remodel.” That vibe is going to be somewhere between someone having farted and telling an awkward joke at the dinner table. Owning a mobile is somehow less.
We haven’t yet had those conversations, and even for those in the know, we’ve carefully chosen the photos to share. We are protective of her, and defensive about our choice to live within our means and our values. So, please forgive our caution for now.
Forest House might be a hot mess right now, but who hasn’t had a moment – or a decade – where you weren’t really quite up to par?