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Michele Halosky Roles purchased a new manufactured home that came with incentives to place her home in a community in Annapolis, MD.

She accepted the deal only to discover six months after she placed her home in the recommended community that the community was being sold to developers. She has until Jan. 2005 to move her home or return it to the bank.

J. A. McKinnis of Beggs, OK purchased a manufactured home from a dealer that hired the foundation pouring company and the company to transport the home. The transporter dropped and severely damaged a section of the home creating problems with most of the homes structural elements including the ceiling, floors, walls and joists and the manufacturer has yet to repair the home or replace it.

Consumers Union, Yonkers, NY's 68-year old consumer advocacy organization says thousands of complaints like those from Roles and McKinnis may go unknown to potential manufactured home buyers who could use the information to make sound decisions about manufactured home purchases.

Knowing which companies consumers complain about most and which routinely respond to consumer complaints and which don't is the kind of information consumers need to make decisions about such a large purchase. And consumers armed with that kind of knowledge could also help keep manufacturers on their toes.

"The time has come to put relevant information about the performance of manufactured home manufacturers and dealers in the hands of consumers," said Kevin Jewell, policy associate for Consumers Union's Manufactured Housing Project.

"Housing is the largest investment most families will ever make. Buyers should be able to identify the companies with a history of complaints," Jewell said.

It's not just that the complaints go unanswered. Some uncorrected conditions can be hazardous to those who live in manufactured homes. And, often chosen for affordability, some manufactured housing comes with conditions that can be as financially devastating as a hurricane.

In a 2003 Consumers Union study, more than twice as many manufactured homes lost value as compared to conventional housing. While the lost value can be related to the fact that some home owners only rent the land beneath their house, poor construction and installation are also part of the problem.

Consumers Union says 38 states have agencies that regulate manufactured housing and they ought to compile complaint ratios and make the information available to the public, something that currently does not occur. The Union has developed a method for reporting complaint data to consumers by dividing the complaints received by a company by the number of homes sold by that manufacturer.

The system was used in a 2002 Consumers Union report "Paper Tiger Missing Dragon: Poor Service and Worse Enforcement Leave Manufactured Homeowners in the Lurch" on the largest manufactured home companies doing business in Texas.

"If a company has a disproportionate share of complaints compared to their volume of business, buyers should know that up front," Jewell said.

"If consumers have the opportunity to view the past experiences of other consumers, it is less likely that they'll repeat the same mistakes," he added.

That might also apply to manufacturers, installers and others involved with the transaction.

In a letter writing campaign to state regulators Consumers Union is asking them to:

  • Compile complaint ratios.
  • Make ratios easily available to consumers who request it by phone or mail.
  • Make ratios available for download from the agency's website.
"If manufactured housing is to work at all as a viable affordable housing option, at a very minimum consumers must come to the table armed with the information they need to make wise choices and protect their hard-earned money," Jewell said.

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