For some homebuilders, modular is the way to go

09/09/2010 12:00 AM |

Nina Dower shoots a video of the modular house being put in place last month on a waterfront lot in Flanders. Ms. Dower’s husband, Roy, had the home built as an investment.

It took Roy Dower nearly nine years of cutting through red tape until he got permission to build a home on his family property in Flanders. Putting the house up took only one day.

Mr. Dower, who summers in Baiting Hollow, decided to build a modular house on his Pine Avenue investment property. Nearly a decade of trying to secure building permits went by until, at last, one Wednesday in August, four prefabricated components were trucked in from the Simplex Homes warehouse in Scranton, Pa. A crane lifted them and set them on the house’s foundation, which was already in place and secured by what’s known as a marriage wall.

By the end of the day they were in place on wood pilings that had been waiting for them on the sandy waterfront property overlooking Flanders Bay.

Modular home builders say that off-site building offers a slew of benefits — including what they say is sturdier construction, faster installation, easier climate control and what might be the most attractive factor of all, cheaper prices.

“From the day you order your house, in 8 weeks I have it on your property,” said Richard Saetta, a Southold contractor who builds modular homes from Wading River to Orient. Mr. Saetta, who estimates he has built about 35 modular homes on the North Fork, said though new construction has slowed to a snails pace in the down economy, inquiries on modular homes have increased.

“You build your house; you put in it what you want,” he said. “It’s cheaper to build and it’s much faster.”

In Mr. Dower’s case, the exterior siding, granite countertops and other fixtures will be installed on-site. “But any or all of it can be done at the factory,” said Anthony Posillico, the Westbury-based contractor building Mr. Dower’s home.

Mr. Posillico noted that construction wages are lower in Pennsylvania than in New York and the assembly line method preferred in modular factories leads to cheaper and more efficient construction.

And visually, there is no difference between a modular home or one that is “stick-built,” that is, constructed on-site the traditional way.

When it’s completed, Mr. Dower’s 2,100-square-foot home will have two stories, three bedrooms and three bathrooms, and will be heavily insulated.

“It’s Energy Star rated,” he said.

Mr. Dower noted that building the home off-site was better for the environmentally sensitive property because crews would be working there for a shorter period of time.

About half of Mr. Posillico’s business involves modular homes, including the August Acres subdivision in Greenport, he said.

Ms. Fetzko and her husband, John, were so eager to take up residence in their modular home in Mattituck they moved in Friday just as Hurricane Earl’s effects were about to be felt on the East End.

The couple owned a small home on their Sigsbee Road property but wanted to demolish it and build something bigger for their family. After researching various building options they decided modular was the way to go, the number one reason being the cost. They hired Turn-Key Modular Homes, a Southampton-based modular homes franchise, to do the work.

“There really were no negatives,” Ms. Fetzko said.

Still, a half-dozen North Fork real estate agents said they had never sold a modular home.

“It’s a very small percentage of the market, if at all,” said licensed real estate agent Paul Loeb. Mr. Loeb, who works for Lloyd’s Realty Corp., has been an agent for the past four years.

The savings accrued by building a modular home decline when property costs are factored in, Mr. Loeb speculated. For instance, both Mr. Dower and Ms. Fetzko owned their properties before deciding to build modular home.

“Land sales haven’t reduced that much,” Mr. Loeb added.

Though modular homes have been being built for more than 40 years, modular builders say there is a perception that they are nothing more than mobile homes or trailers.

That didn’t deter Mary Fetzko from going pre-fab. Her original house was demolished on March 24 and the modular building was installed on May 11. The family was settled into their home by Labor Day.

The Fetzkos’ 2,700-square-foot home was customized to their needs. Ms. Fetzko said some of the interior walls were removed so her husband, who is deaf, can see their baby from across the house. “You can customize it as much or as little as you want,” she said.

She says there is no way to tell that her home was built off-site and that she couldn’t wait to move in.

“We’re ecstatic,” Ms. Fetzko said. “Which is why we’re moving in a hurricane.”

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