Buying a mobile home can be an intimidating task for many new investors, but it doesn’t have to be. This type of investment can actually be easier than you think. Ready to dive into this unique type of real estate? Start with this mobile home inspection checklist.
One quick caveat: Going through this list doesn’t preclude hiring a reputable inspector—ideally one with extensive familiarity with mobile or manufactured properties. No matter how thorough you are, there’s a chance you’ll miss something important if you’re relying on your eyes only.
1. Water Damage
Water is a natural enemy of mobile homes. During a mobile home inspection, always check under every exterior window, as well as on the entire interior perimeter of a mobile home. Overflowing gutters, a leaking roof, or holes in the siding may lead to moisture entering the mobile home and problems/mold in the wall cavities.
Worried you’ll miss something? Don’t be—you don’t need to be a roofing pro to make sure the mobile home is leak-free. Leaky roofs manifest themselves in noticeable ways. Start by simply checking for water stains on the ceiling, which can indicate whether the roof is structurally sound.
Many mobile homes have rolled metal roofs that can crack and rust over time. Oftentimes, mobile homeowners will roof their home with a shingle or steel roof for added visual appeal and water protection. However, this doesn’t guarantee a leak-free roof, so make sure to thoroughly check for water.
Pro tip: Push hard on every exterior wall when walking through a potential mobile home investment. The wall should be very sturdy and not feel loose due to wood rot.
2. Floors and Foundation
A mobile home’s foundation varies from area to area and home to home. Local mobile home movers may follow current local codes—or they may not. Some areas allow for your investment mobile home to sit atop a pier and beam foundation, while others allow concrete block supports atop crushed rock. Still others allow for additional foundation options.
Generally, though, mobile homes do not sit on a traditional foundation, unlike stick-built homes. This means that the bottom side of the home isn’t shielded from the elements. You might see soft spots on the floors—they’re one of the most common mobile home faults. Don’t panic. Soft spots can be remedied quickly and easily. A soft spot is just a piece of the subfloor that has rotted over time for any number of reasons, including appliance leaks, window or roof leaks, or faulty plumbing.
Ensure that you get a good look underneath the mobile home itself. If you notice pooling water or suspect a leak, there could be unseen damage to the interior. If the bottom insulation of the home is torn and the skirting is not properly maintained, it can cause a host of other issues, like pest and moisture problems.
Additionally, if the foundation is not sturdy enough, situated correctly, or on a concrete slab (permanent foundation), a mobile home’s support may sink slowly into the earth over time. Soft ground or wet weather can speed up the sinking.
In most cases, this is not a deal-breaker when purchasing a used mobile home. Raising a mobile home is a common task that may need to be performed every now and again, depending on the location. An experienced mobile home handyman or mobile home mover will be able to raise/level a mobile home in the matter of a few hours or days with the right tools.
3. Vapor Barrier
A mobile home’s vapor barrier functions as the first line of defense from the elements beneath the home. Most mobile homes don’t sit on a foundation, so a vapor barrier is affixed to the underside of the home, keeping out moisture home. This vapor barrier may be a dark blue or black color, and should stretch along the entire underside of the manufactured home.
Inspect the vapor barrier to be sure that there are no signs of sagging, rips, or delamination. If there is evidence of any of these issues, there could be potential damage or mold issues on the wood subfloor above. These issues can likely be remedied by stapling a new moisture barrier to the bottom of the trailer.
4. Air Conditioning Units
Mobile home air conditioning units can also be a costly repair. To truly know how the AC is running, you’ll have to test it. But the general appearance of the unit can gauge its remaining usable life. Start by noting the date of the furnace and air conditioning unit—old units may need to be replaced.
Some mobile homes were not manufactured to have air conditioners, so it should be a big red flag if you see window air conditioner units. If you see window units, you can assume you will be spending a good chunk of money up front to pay for an AC system.
Be aware when a homeowner has multiple cooling systems for their home. Swamp coolers, window AC units, central HVAC systems, and fans all cool down a home’s interior temperature. If a seller has more than one source of air conditioning, then it is highly likely that one of these systems does not work properly.
Pro tip: Unless you are able to verify repairs needed, do not simply trust/believe what a seller tells you about a non-functional appliance. If you cannot physically test this appliance or system, then you must assume it is broken and will need a good deal of money to be replaced or fixed.
5. Doors and Windows
Investigate doors and windows for improper seals. Any area of the home exposed to the exterior is at risk for moisture intrusion. When you close an exterior door, look to see if any visible daylight peeks through. If you can see light, chances are that you will have to replace the seals.
Some mobile homes tend to have only single-pane windows, so be sure that the functionality of the windows checks out and that everything can close and lock properly.
Make sure the doors and windows close properly, too, during your mobile home inspection. In sinking mobile homes, the main front and back doors may not line up or close correctly.
Electrical and plumbing inspections are best left to the professionals, but there are a few simple checks that can ensure you’re not buying a total lemon. Pick up a receptacle tester—available from most retail stores for less than $10. You can plug the device into the wall outlet and check the functionality of the wiring. The testers help determine the probability of incorrect outlet wiring for an outlet.
Aside from checking the outlets directly, you can research local electrical codes to ensure that your breaker panels are in compliance and that you have the correct types of outlets in the appropriate locations. Remember, it’s common for mobile homeowners to make their own electrical repairs. You may see electrical outlets that do not work, extension cords running across the home, wires hanging from ceiling electrical outlets, and other obviously “amateur-style” repair jobs—all of which are red flags.
Pro tip: Remember that it is often wise to hire a professional electrician when dealing with repairs.
Typically, you’ll want to hire a pro to check the septic on a mobile home, too. However, you really only need to have the septic inspected if you are purchasing a mobile that will stay on the property.
A septic inspection typically includes a sewer scope, which involves a small camera being fed through the plumbing. This gives you a good view of not only the septic lines but also the tank. Note that if the home is located within city limits, there is a high chance that you will be connected to city sewer lines. This doesn’t negate the need to check the lines, however.
Pay Attention to Pride of Ownership
Amateur repairs—or a lack of repairs—and deferred maintenance are typically the result of a “low pride of ownership.” Sometimes this lack of maintenance is on purpose, and sometimes it is due to accidental neglect. Some mobile homeowners may not have the financial resources to make these repairs, and others may have the money but are simply too lazy or do not care about their property. You can spot these common problems during a mobile home inspection.
Pro tip: A seller’s pride of ownership may help you in negotiations. Typically, a seller with a low pride of ownership will be less emotionally attached to their property. They may sell at a reduced price compared to a homeowner who has taken care of and loved their property.
None of these repair issues are a deal-breaker by themselves. In fact, many of these issues will overlap in a number of mobile homes you look at for investment purposes. If you walk through every inch of the potential investment property with a powerful flashlight to look and test for leaks, you’ll know exactly what you are purchasing.
What else should investors purchasing mobile homes look out for? Have you ever overlooked a major item that needed replacing?