In the US, 42 states still use a certificate of title for manufactured homes, just like they do for cars. The biggest problem with mobile home titles as that each state handles mobile home titles a bit differently so there’s no one-size-fits-all remedy. In addition, there are many different buying and selling scenarios for mobile homes so things can get real messy real fast.
There are different titling procedures for each scenario and every state handles them their own way. Did you inherit a mobile home in a park? Are you buying a mobile home but the seller doesn’t have a title? Do you want to sell your mobile home but can’t find the title? We’ll cover all these situations and more.
In this article, you’ll learn where mobile homes are titled in your state, how to correct errors for mobile home titles and the terminology used in the process.
Mobile and Manufactured Home Defined
Mobile and Manufactured homes are built on a steel chassis in a factory and delivered to the home site.
A mobile home is a factory-built home constructed before July 1976 when the HUD code took effect. A manufactured home is a factory-built house built after the HUD code and meets national minimum regulations.
The most popular mobile homes are single wides and double wides but triple wides are gaining interest. The age and size of a mobile home will determine how many states classify and title your home.
Mobile homes can be set up on a lot, with wheels still attached, but you can also install the home permanently on your owned land. There are benefits to permanently installing a mobile home such as tax and appreciation. We’ll cover that below.
(For simplicity’s sake, going forward we’ll use the term mobile home.)
Mobile Home Titles:
Certificate of Origin, Manufacturer’s Statement of Origin
A mobile home title is also called a certificate of origin or a manufacturers statement of origin. Since the early days before mobile homes, titles were used as an instrument to prove both ownership and that all taxes and fees were paid.
A title shows a ton of information: the serial number, the builder and the factory where it was built, and who inspected it.
Since titles act as a certificate of ownership in most states they must be submitted or registered whenever the home has been bought or sold. Every new owner submits the signed title and pays the fees so it can be updated in the state’s database.
Titles also act as proof that a fee has been paid to the state so that the home can be transported via public highways. One certificate is required for each separate unit of the home. Therefore, a double wide will have 2 titles, a triple wide 3.
State Agency Responsible for Mobile Home Titling
In the majority of states, the Department of Motor Vehicles will be the agency you need to deal with regarding mobile home titles.
Oregon is a state that doesn’t use titles through the DMV for mobile homes. They’ve released a very informative booklet called Manufactured Home Ownership Document Transaction Guide.
A simple Google search with you state and the words ‘mobile home title’ will help you locate the agency that handles mobile home titles.
Personal Property or Real Property?
In most cases, a new manufactured home always starts as personal property or chattel. Chattel simply means any privately-owned property that isn’t real estate. Boats, cars, campers are all considered to be chattel.
- 75% of all mobile and manufactured homes in the US are classified as personal property even if the homeowner owns the land.
A manufactured home is not is almost always titled as personal property when it is purchased new.
If you own the land that a mobile home is on but it isn’t permanently installed it will remain classified as chattel. The advantage of a personal property classification is usually lower taxes.
Mobile homes classified as a personal property has many disadvantages. The biggest disadvantage is that chattel lending has higher interest rates and shorter loan terms. The second disadvantage, and most problematic, is lackluster appreciation rates. Manufactured homes not attached to property rarely gain value well.
Real Property Classification
A mobile or manufactured home can be reclassified as real estate or real property. To do this, the home must be permanently installed on privately owned land. A very few states will allow mobile homes to be classified as real property if they are permanently installed on land with long-term leases.
When the home is permanently attached the owner will file for a Certificate of Retirement (or equivalent) and a real estate deed is then issued for the whole property.
The Uniform Mobile Housing Act (UMHA) outlines a nationwide system that could help homeowners convert their homes into real property. This system could help brand new manufactured homes get classified as real property as soon as it’s permanently installed on the homeowner’s land – skipping the personal property classification completely. Anything that will help increase the real property classification is worth attention.
A few notes:
- Only 25% of manufactured homes are classified as real property in the US.
- 75% of all manufactured homes are on land owned by the homeowner.
- Land owned by manufactured homeowners is (on average) twice the size of a site-built homeowner.
To have your chattel home reclassified as real property you will need to follow your state’s process, usually, that starts with a ‘Certificate of Location’ with the county and pay the associated fees.
Retiring a Mobile Home Title to Become Real Property
To get a mobile home classified as real property many states require the owner to retire the title. For example, Florida has one of the more complex mobile home title retirement systems. Once the title is retired and the warranty deed issued, future transfers will occur with deeds instead of the old title applications (source).
Mobile Home Titles shares the rules and process:
- the mobile home and land are properly titled into the same names
- the home is permanently affixed to the land
- the home is legally declared real property with valid RP stickers issued
- The Manufacturers Statement of Origin can no longer be retired but must be titled first
- the mobile home and land must be in the same names and home permanently affixed to the land before the mobile home title can be retired
- all mobile homes must have valid RP stickers before they can be retired.
- Most counties in FL need to see that the mobile home is included in the legal description on a deed where the land and home have been sold together as a package.
It’s even more complicated to severe a manufactured home from a real property deed. The state of VA published a full list of the steps required.
VIN: Vehicle Identification Number
Each manufactured home has a Vehicle Identification Number, just like your cars and trucks. For a double or triple wide, the VIN will be the same number with an A, B, or C added to the end to represent each section.
If you have an older mobile home, the VIN will likely be on a decal or sticker, or stamped, under the front steel cross-member of the chassis or tongue.
In newer homes, it will be the easiest way to find your VIN is on a white sheet of paper with a map of the US. These papers are glued to walls of a master closet, the back of a kitchen cabinet door, or in the laundry room.
Updating a Title is Important
Many legal and tax issues have occurred because a buyer failed to register the title into their name through the state agency (usually the Department of Motor Vehicles).
A may buyer think just having the title on hand, without registering it into the state’s database, means they completely own the home. This is not true in many states. Until the title has been issued into the new owner’s name, the home is ‘technically’ still the sellers.
Ordering a Duplicate Title
If you buy an older mobile home and the current owner doesn’t have the title, you will need to have the seller order a duplicate title.
In some states, it’s very easy to file for a duplicate title on a mobile home. In others, it’s a multi-step process that could cost a couple hundred dollars.
As an example, applying for a new certificate of ownership in West Virginia requires the following information:
- Ownership documents such as loan contract, insurance policy, and personal property tax receipts for the last five years
- A VIN Verification (DMV-1-B) completed and signed by a law enforcement officer
- A completed Certificate of Title for a Motor Vehicle
- A completed Owner and Purchasing Affidavit
- $15.00 title fee
Common and Not-so-Common Titling Issues for Mobile Homes
You can hire mobile home title service companies that can help clear up any legal issues. They’ve seen every possible scenario. One company shares some of the most memorable mobile home title issues:
- the mobile home title may have never been transferred and could still be in the name of the third owner back
- the home could still be in the deceased mother’s name
- the title could still be in the name of the bank that foreclosed on it six years ago
- or in the ex-husband’s name who has been in jail for 9 years
- property issues, sales tax, or back mobile home taxes due
- the seller may be an investor or a bank that owns multiple mobile home properties has the wrong title
Do Not Buy a Mobile Home Without a Title
If you are buying a mobile home with no title, stop. Do not continue with the process until a legal title or certificate of ownership is visible and valid.
You need a valid title for two reasons: to make sure the seller is listed as the owner of the home and to make extra sure there are no liens or holds attached to the title/mobile home.
Do not close on the transaction until you have the correct title in hand.
WV’s web page has the following in bold lettering:
No person may transfer, purchase, or sell a mobile home, house trailer, or manufactured home without a certificate of title.
That shows just how important a title is when buying a mobile home.
The owner of record must be available to transfer ownership, so you, your realtor, or the closing attorney have to track them down so they can sign the title over to you.
The owner or seller will contact the DMV or state agency in charge of mobile home titles and file for a lost or duplicate title request. In order to get a replacement title, the owner will need to prove ownership and that all taxes are paid. This can be a tricky endeavor and all kinds of issues can arise.
How to Change the Name on a Title
For a simple name change on a valid title you just need to give the state agency the information they need and pay a fee. Some states will require a ton of paperwork.
Wrong Name on the Title
If you want to buy a mobile home but the name is wrong on the title there is a two-part process to get it corrected. Basically, there are two title transactions that need to happen in this scenario but you’re only involved in one.
First, you have to find the true owner listed on the title and have them sign the title over to the person selling the home to you. In some states, they will hand that over to the state, pay the necessary fees and have a new title printed. The seller will sign the new title over to you. You’ll then repeat the process with the DMV or titling agent in your state to have a new title printed with your name as the owner.
Fortunately, many states allow all the three parties to sign the same certificate of title and some have started electronic lien and title services.
There are times when a home has been sold but the paperwork was not “official”; in those cases, a paper Bill of Sale is NOT sufficient to prove ownership; the original owner must be a party to the transaction.
If a seller doesn’t have the legal title to the mobile home you must insist they get one. A bill of sale will not suffice as proof of ownership in most states. Yes, it may work in many situations but it will not work for most state titling.
Did You Inherit a Mobile Home?
If you inherited a mobile home that has been paid off you need to get the title put in your name as soon as possible. The estate executor can sign the title over to you. You can also file for Power of Attorney and handle the legalities from that angle.
If the home is still being paid on, you will need to pay the home off and have the title put in your name or contact that lender. Hiring an attorney will be your best move in most inheritance situations.
Make Sure it’s the Right Title
Make sure there is a valid title. If there isn’t a valid title you must insist the seller goes to the DMV or state agency to get one. Do not buy a home without a valid title.
You must ensure it’s the right title. Check for the data plate mentioned above in a closet or cabinet and see that the numbers on the home match the numbers on the title.
Make Sure there are No Liens
If the title is valid and the numbers on the home match the title, go to your state agency and use the numbers on it to make sure there are no back taxes, liens, or holds attached to the home. In most states, you will need to do this in person.
Unidentifiable Mobile Home
If you can’t find the data plate or serial number you may have to spend some money to get a valid title.
Some states, like Florida, has a support agency that will inspect the home to look for identifying information and establishing documentation to help back a title application.
Otherwise, you will need to contact the state agency that handles titles (see below) and see what the protocol is for unidentifiable mobile homes.
What if there are Liens on a Mobile Home Title
The only good news about dealing with liens and titles is that the paperwork is easy to find because they likely aren’t in the seller’s possession. When a lien is attached to a mobile home title it is recorded diligently.
The bad news is that there is money owed on the home and the title can’t be transferred to you until those liens are settled.
If the seller is using the proceeds from the sale to pay off that lien, then it’s a pretty standard transaction and you can get a clear title once the debt is paid (the closing attorney pays that directly to the lender on your behalf).
If there are other liens or judgments on the title, the seller has to pay those off before you can get the title.
Rent-to-Own, Title Searches, and Liens
Be very careful with all rent-to-own situations.
One of our readers told a heartbreaking story about their rent-to-own experience. They had purchased a small property in NC with a permanently installed single wide on a rent to own contract. The property was valued at $58,000 and they paid 10% down. They had an accountant friend look over the paperwork, the title was present and valid, and a quick title search was done at the county courthouse.
She thought she had done everything right but two years later they received a letter from a bank in Georgia telling them they had to vacate the property. They lost the property because the seller had used the property as collateral to buy another property in SC. When they failed to make the payments the property in NC was forfeited.
These situations happen far more than most realize and it’s especially easy with mobile homes.
If you are thinking of buying a mobile home through a private sale you need to hire an attorney or agent that is well-versed in the process. There are so many things that can go wrong. It really is worth the added expense.
State Guides to Buying and Titling Mobile Homes
We’ve published several articles that detail all the most important information you would need to buy a mobile home in that state. Click here to see our state guides to buying a mobile home.
Mobile Home Titling Could Use Some Changes
Mobile home titles, property classifications, and VINs are frustrating obstacles faced by buyers and sellers. It’s as frustrating as painting vinyl walls!
Titles are complicated because we’re using a system made for automobiles. In the beginning, when mobile homes and trailers were towed by personal automobiles, it made sense to use a titling system but it doesn’t make sense anymore. Our homes are not cars. One
If you have any tips or advice for navigating the titling process in your state please let us know in the comments below.
As always, thank you for reading Mobile Home Living!