Even with lower interest rates, home ownership is beyond the reach of many Canadians. Low-income or single-income families may not be able to qualify for a mortgage large enough to pay for a traditional home.

Those seeking retirement housing are often discouraged because there may not be enough left to live on once they sell their city house and buy a home in the country. Yet, another group would love to own recreational property, but has been squeezed out by rising prices in cottage country. Mobile homes offer an often-overlooked affordable housing solution for a variety of Canadian home buyers.

Although mobile homes are a less common type of housing, they are found in every province and territory in Canada, with British Columbia and Alberta accounting for half of these homes. According to Statistics Canada, about 1 percent of the total private dwellings in Canada -- that's 100,000 units in the 1996 Census -- were mobile homes. Figures for the 2001 Census will be available later next year and are expected to reveal a rise in the number of mobile homes.

Since municipal by-laws in urban centres place stringent construction restrictions on housing, it is not surprising that over half (57 percent) of mobile homes are located in rural Canada with another 22 percent found in towns and small cities with populations under 30,000.

In rural areas, mobile homes are used as low-cost, low-maintenance retirement housing, easily-installed homes on farms and cost-effective housing on country lots. In smaller urban areas, mobile homes have provided fast-response housing during boom times. For example, more than 70 percent of mobiles in the Yukon are in small towns.

The federal government defines a mobile home as a single dwelling, designed and constructed to be transported on its own chassis and capable of being moved to a new location on short notice. It may be placed temporarily on a foundation such as blocks, posts or a prepared pad. When a mobile home is placed on a permanent foundation, it is considered to be a single detached dwelling and may be eligible for government housing and finance programs, including the federal Canada Customs and Revenue Agency's RRSP-based Home Buyers Plan.

The Affordability Factor

  • Mobile homes are cheaper to build than "stick built" or conventional housing, and often smaller, so purchase prices are dramatically lower. The average cost in 1995 was less than one-third that of a single-detached house.
  • Carrying costs, that is, payments for electricity, oil, gas or other fuels, mortgage payments, property taxes, water/sewage costs and other municipal services, are generally lower for mobile homes. Although only 8 percent of single detached owner-occupied households have monthly carrying costs of less than $200, 34 percent of mobile dwellers benefit from low monthly expenses. Alternatively, while 27 percent of single detached homeowners spent $1,000 or more each month on shelter costs, only 5 percent of mobile owners faced costs in this range.
  • Mobile homes may be installed on leased land to further lower purchasing costs.

And The Downside Is...

Other than the obvious "it's not a traditional house" argument, mobile homes usually do not appreciate in value the way traditional real estate does. This is largely due to the fact that materials used in mobile home construction are less durable than those used in conventional homes. This is turn may also mean a mobile needs more maintenance.

As with cars and other consumer goods, mobile home models go out of style and may not hold their value. Be sure to find out what's in and which features hold value if you are shopping for a new unit or negotiating the purchase of an existing one.

There is no denying it, for many Canadians home is a mobile...or could be.

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