How Much Did We Pay for Our House?

I talk a lot about how living in a park model on my parents' land saves us money, but I've never gone into detail about what we paid for our home and how we afforded it.

When we were in the market for a new living situation back in 2008, park models were a bit of a novelty. We actually had a few people suggest (some joking, some serious) that we should look into getting one. The problem was that the dealer closest to our home only carried luxury models, and those homes came with luxury prices. It didn't make sense to us to pay more than $60,000 for something that was less than 400 square feet. The tiny house movement has come a long way since then, and I regularly see even smaller homes for even bigger price tags today, but at the time we were straight out of college with student loans and minimal income, and we wanted something that we could more easily afford.

I spent a lot of time on Craigslist in those days looking at real estate and manufactured houses, and that is when I stumbled upon an ad for an RV resort just a little north of us that also sold park models. Their Craigslist ads advertised wholesale pricing on Fleetwood and Skyline homes, and while their offerings were not as high-end as the other dealer's, the RV resort's pricing was much more in line with what we were willing to pay.

I was pretty excited at the thought that we may have finally found the solution to our housing dilemma, and we made plans to go visit the resort and tour their lot models soon after.

Needless to say, we liked what we saw. The owner of the resort was extremely helpful and supportive of our plans, and all of the employees were wonderful to work with as well. There were only a few floor plans to choose from back in 2008, so we easily settled on a nice Skyline with a loft. The sales department gave us a few suggestions for arranging financing, and we began our search for a lender who was willing to work with us.

The first three banks and credit unions we approached turned us down. One bank wouldn't finance RVs for primary residences, only vacation homes. Our credit union treated them as single-wide manufactured homes, which they also refused to underwrite. Another credit union seemed to think they could help us, but they couldn't get past the fact that even though a park model is an RV, they couldn't find it listed in the NADA guide, which meant they wouldn't give us a loan either.

On our fourth attempt, we got lucky. US Bank was willing to work with us, and with my dad as a co-signer, we were assured that we would easily qualify for an RV loan. (In our early 20s, neither one of us had a long enough credit history to qualify on our own.) We were elated and so relieved. That wasn't the end of our financing issues, though. US Bank was used to underwriting RV loans for traditional RVs like motor homes and travel trailers. Part of the financing process required them to have a VIN number in order to approve the loan. Skyline had no VIN to give us because they would not assign one until the home was being constructed, and they wouldn't begin construction until they had been paid. Someone suggested that Skyline could give us a placeholder VIN that we could update later, but Skyline refused.

We spent several weeks going back and forth with the bank and with Skyline and the sales department at the RV resort, all to no avail. Finally I contacted Skyline personally and let them know that they were losing a sale due to their refusal to work with us to achieve financing, and Skyline forwarded my complaints to the RV resort. It was the owner of the RV resort himself who finally gave us a solution to move forward. He informed us that Skyline often gave him trouble because there was a dealer about an hour away whom the company preferred, and his RV resort was undercutting the other dealer's prices.

At his urging, we picked a Fleetwood model instead. 

Our Fleetwood

I was disappointed at the time because I was in love with the Skyline floor plan. It seemed different and unique, and the layout of the loft was more to our liking. However, that model was clearly out of reach, and we were not happy at all with our treatment by Skyline. The RV resort offered us a great deal on the Fleetwood, though, and in the end, Chris and I have both come to the point where we can say absolutely that we are glad we got the model we did. Having actually lived in a park model for years now, we realize that the layout of our home is better in a number of ways: the built-in entertainment center was on the wrong side of the living room in the Skyline, and the Fleetwood gave us the option for a dishwasher, which we would not have had with the other model. We also have a bigger dining area. The loft would have been better in the Skyline due to the stair placement and the less awkward shape, but that seems pretty trivial now.
The Skyline we almost bought.

My biggest regret about our floor plan is that we didn't even look into the possibility of a double loft. That would have been a simple way to add more square footage to our home, but at the the time it seemed like an unnecessary expense, and we were concerned that the loss of headroom in the bedroom would make it hard for Chris, who is quite tall, to get dressed. Since he nearly always changes in the bathroom now, it's become clear that this would not have been an issue, but what's done is done.

Once we went back to the bank with our new plans, we still had the issue of the VIN number to work out, but Fleetwood came through in a heartbeat and got us exactly what we needed to push our loan through and get our house built. Fleetwood was a breeze to work with, and I am happy that we gave them our business in the end.

Here is the lowdown on what our home cost*:

Base Price..........................35570
Welcome Home Package*.550

*These numbers are correct to the best of my knowledge based on the email and paper record I have.
**This add-on was a one-time visit by Fleetwood contractors to fix anything that broke and drywall that cracked during transport and to make sure all the appliances were hooked up properly, particularly our propane range.

Here is how we paid for it:

Down payment...................7147
Loan Origination Fee........400
US Bank Loan.................34000

The final loan terms were 15 years at 8.74%. We pay $343.01 monthly plus our insurance through Foremost, which is currently $58 per month. Our loan would mature in December 2023 except we have made some extra payments on it over the years, and we hope to have it completely paid off by 2019 or 2020. We currently owe just over $15,000. US Bank no longer finances park model RVs, which we found out when we tried to refinance our loan a number of years ago in order to reduce our interest rate and get my dad taken off the loan, so I know we got lucky to even find a lender at all.

We are blessed to not have to pay rent for a place to park as my parents generously share their land with us rent-free. Lot rental/purchase would add a not-insignificant amount to our monthly housing costs, and we are grateful that this is something about which we have never had to worry.

For comparison, at the time that we purchased our home, local rent was in the $400+ range for a studio apartment in a decent part of town. A one-bedroom was easily $500 or more, and lease rates have continued to rise, sometimes rapidly and without much warning, as several of our friends have attested.

Buying a park model with the goal of living in it long term has been a very financially beneficial move for us, and while our house is hardly an economic asset due to depreciation, the money that we have saved on housing alone is significant. Once we pay off our loan, that line on our budget will be money in the bank every month. Living small has given us margin in our lives to not be beholden to a large mortgage or ever-increasing rent, and it gives us security in the face of Chris's frequent health issues as well as the freedom to spend more time together as a family and less time trying to afford a more average lifestyle. It's certainly not for everyone, but it has worked out well for us.