A Second Chance at Home Ownership – How One Family Weathered the Housing Collapse

Our new contributor, Pam Willis, writes how her family weathered the economic collapse. Choosing to buy a manufactured home on several beautiful acres has allowed them a second chance at home ownership.

The housing crash affected millions of families in the US. By the end of 2010, almost a quarter of all homeowners with a mortgage (23.1%) owed more than their homes were worth.

Those lucky enough to own their homes outright were still affected. To weather the storm of the economic collapse and massive residential investment loss, employers began cutting costs and reducing their workforce (The U.S. Housing Bubble and Bust: Impacts on Employment). 

Meet Karen and Jim

Karen and Jim now live in Central, WI. Karen is my sister and Jim is her husband. Like millions of other Americans, they took a hard hit during the recession and housing market crash in 2008. Jim was a carpenter and like so many others in the building trades, he lost his job early in that cycle.

Karen was still working, but with only one income, they eventually lost their home.

Out Of The Darkness

After losing their home, Karen and Jim rented a one bedroom apartment in southeast Wisconsin for 5 years, all the while saving as much money as possible. In 2014, they began looking for an affordable property in central Wisconsin (near me).

They longed for some acreage out in the country.

A Second Chance at Home Ownership

In November 2014, with a Wisconsin winter on its way, they found their dream property; 20 acres of mixed woodland and prairie, complete with a late-19th Century stone foundation, post and beam barn.

second chance at homeownership - 20 acres w manufactured home in WI

The 1989 single wide (14’ X 70’) manufactured home, however, was in rough shape. Like so many ‘seasonal’ mobile homes in the area, this one had been used as a deer hunter’s base camp.  The home was filthy.

The property was in foreclosure but the price was right and Jim, the carpenter, saw potential in the neglected home.

1989 single wide sitting on 20 acres in Wisconsin - how one family survived the housing collapse - second chance at homeownership

First Things First

The manufactured home had vinyl skirting but no insulation behind that skirting. With Wisconsin’s sub-zero winter temperatures looming, insulating that skirting was first on the list. Using 1 1/2 inch Owens Corning Closed Cell Insulation Board, Jim and I insulated under the house.

Learn more about Owens Corning Closed Cell Insulation Board here.

Ooo, Ooo, That Smell

There’d been an obvious water leak somewhere in the bathroom. Water had migrated along the south wall of the house and the floors were sagging. There was also some sagging under a couple of leaking windows.

Learn how to replace flooring in a mobile home here.

The riser from the shower valve to the shower head had come loose (it had never been glued properly), and water had been spraying behind the wall when anyone showered. Fortunately, the house was vacant and the water to the house had been turned off and there was no evidence of any significant mold damage.

Learn about plumbing in a manufactured home here.

The house was absolutely stuffed with old furniture that had taken on a very unpleasant odor, as had the wall to wall carpeting. Once we got all of the furniture and the carpeting out and into the dumpster, the smell improved significantly.

And Now, A Nice Solid Floor to Walk On

As sections of wet and damaged subfloor were removed and replaced, damaged sections of fiberglass insulation were taken away as well.

Karen and I used a fair amount of bleach to clean those areas before they were closed up again with the new subfloor. There was also a big hole right in the middle of the living room (as depicted by the taped square in the photo).

1989 single wide manufactured home before remodel and update - how one family weathered the housing collapse_

I have visions of rowdy deer hunters, rough-housing after a day out in the woods and someone getting body slammed into the floor!

A Rustic North Woods Vibe

Karen and Jim were looking for a rustic North Woods type vibe for the home and chose a laminate hickory plank floor with nail holes.

The floor was from Lowe’s Allen Roth collection of laminate flooring.

Learn about flooring options for mobile homes here. 

My husband and I had used this same flooring (in a different pattern/color) in our own single wide the year before and had recommended it. The product is reasonably priced, easy to work with, and looks great. Additionally, it comes with the foam already attached to the back of each plank. Most floating floor systems require placement of foam underlayment between the subfloor and the laminate floor. If you have to purchase rolls of this foam separately it will add significantly to the cost of the project.

Having the foam already attached saves time and money. The Allen Roth flooring also does NOT have the excessive formaldehyde in the product, which as recently seen in the news, was making people sick when they used certain laminate and vinyl flooring products.

A Few Tips for Installing Floating Floors

Leave the unopened boxes of planks in the area where they are to be installed for about 48 hours before beginning your installation.  This gives the planks time to adjust to temperatures and humidity in your home.

  • Buy the Installation Tools; pull bar and tapping block.  Just believe me, it will make your life easier.  You’ll have less waste and fewer cuss words!
  • Open 3 or 4 boxes of planks at a time.  The grain patterns vary and then repeat.  If you place two planks with the same pattern next to, or in very close proximity to one another, it doesn’t look right. Having several boxes open at a time allows you to choose from a wider variety of grain patterns as you lay out the floor. 
  • Use A Light Touch; when tapping the planks into place, don’t pound too hard. Smacking the planks too aggressively will cause chipping and/or curling edges.

A Little Extra Pantry Space

Professional mobile home kitchen remodeling is an expensive proposition and just wasn’t within the budget. After a good cleaning, it was perfectly serviceable. Jim did, however, solve some storage issues by making this great pantry cabinet.

You can see their flooring choice in this photo

custom built furniture for manufactured home remodel in Wisconsin - how one family weathered and survived the economic and housing collapse_

manufactured home remodel in Wisconsin - how one family weathered and survived the economic and housing collapse_

See all the great mobile home kitchens featured on Mobile Home Living here.

Total Bathroom Remodel

Due to the leaking problem in the shower plumbing wall; the wall had to be opened and the pipes replaced. My husband, a retired plumber, put in new pex pipe and replaced the shower valve.

Bathroom before:

bathroom before manufactured home remodel and update - how one family weathered the economic collapse with style_

Because Karen’s elderly mother would be living with them, they chose a Sterling low threshold shower and added grab bars.

Bathroom after:

bathroom after manufactured home remodel and update - how one family weathered the economic collapse with style_

They also replaced the toilet with a taller “Comfort Height” toilet.  Jim made the vanity cabinet to fit the new sink. He made the cabinet so that the toilet paper holder would fit into the corner of the unit, saving some space in the cramped quarters.

Karen likes the color violet.  She had some odds and ends of leftover latex paint and mixed this lovely color herself. Turned out great, and she didn’t have to buy that extra gallon.

Window Replacement 

Other smaller improvements have been made as the budget allows.  The windows though had to go.  The original single pane, aluminum clad windows were replaced with double glazed, lo E, argon filled replacement windows before winter sent temperatures plummeting.

Learn more about energy performance ratings for windows, doors, and skylights here. 

A Second Chance at Home Ownership

With the smelly old furniture and carpet removed, the skirting insulated, floors and bathroom replaced, and a lot of cleaning and scrubbing, Karen and Jim were ready to move in.

They got a second chance at homeownership by putting a bit of TLC into a neglected but affordable mobile home.

They also got their dream ‘place in the country’ to boot!

Life is Good.

Do you have a story about surviving and thriving after the housing collapse? We’d love to hear it in the comments below!

Thank you so much for reading Mobile Home Living!

13 thoughts on “A Second Chance at Home Ownership – How One Family Weathered the Housing Collapse”

  1. Hi, Pam! Your sister’s story is an exact copy of me & my husband. We lost everything except our lakeside property with a 1992 single-wide, which, in our more fortunate days, we have joked about filling with fireworks & setting’ ’em off, assuming we’d be able to build a “real” house and teach (literally) this one. Well, once we had to move in & do the renovations like Karen & Jim, my husband said that this was actually built well, it’s the dated finished ( and cheap shower stall) that we didn’t like. So we have done many of Karen & Jim’s same improvements & plan to just keep it, and if we get a windfall, add onto it. My best friend found some unused space behind the kitchen wall to create a 18″ x 18″ pantry, floor to ceiling and boy, what a difference! The small kitchen cabinets are much less crowded. Look carefully where there may be useable storage space like this. The walls are studded out like any other home, so construction is the same if you want to put the door on the other side of the wall or whatever. Glad I found your site!

    • Hi Corrine, thanks for reading MMHL. When my husband got seriously ill in early 2009 (exact same time as economic downturn and housing market crisis – same as Karen and Jim) we found ourselves in some serious financial doo-doo. Just when we had to unload our big house; no one was buying and our equity went up in smoke. We made it out of the crisis in a little better shape than a lot of people who found themselves in a similar situation at that time…and for that I am truly thankful. My husband is still alive (he had cancer and is now cancer-free), and we were able to salvage enough of our ‘net worth’ to pay cash for our little old mobile home on a couple of acres in the country. Now that we have no mortgage, and the medical bills are paid, the stress has melted away….life is good. You can follow along with my own attempts to make my dated mobile more to my liking on mobilehomeliving.org. I also have a Pinterest board that you can follow if you wish: https://www.pinterest.com/pamelawillis735/our-mobile-home-remodel/ I’m glad you are finding happiness in your new-old home.

  2. I love this article and would love some sound advice. I have been thinking about a single or double wide for a while but got a bit scared when people started telling me it wasn’t safe for a single person, nor a female. I considered renting in a trailer park but many don’t seem that great where I live and I worry about what happens in bad weather. Someone told me you can get one rooted to a foundation but most people selling them want you to move it to a piece of land which I don’t have or live in the trailer park. When I search for trailers already on land they get pricey and most want all cash up front with no financing and my credit is not good. What would you suggest? I am in VA by the way! Thanks

    • Hi Tiffanei!

      I’m from WV! You may be able to find a rent to own listing. The sellers make money with a highish interest rate (in WV there’s a cap on rent to own homes at 8% interest). They let you pay a percentage down and payments. As long as the contract is well-written and you have an attorney look it over you should fare well.

      Now, as far as a mobile home not being safe….I have no idea why anyone would think that? Back in the 1940’s there were some issues because the campers (they were still small) only had one door so there were some deaths but laws changed that.

      I’m a female and I’ve been single and lived in a mobile home. It was no different from an apartment or a site-built home, just less work to clean..lol

      Best of luck to you!

  3. Hello all from Ohio! Five years ago, the oil and gas companies “discovered” our rural county. What was once a sleepy little area of Amish buggies and farm tractors quickly became the epicenter of fracking, extraction, and construction. Hundreds of workers quickly arrived, and rent prices skyrocketed. My rent tripled in three months, as the landlords were making room for the oil workers and their money. I purchased a 1983 mobile home for $4,000 in a small mobile home park. Empty for a few years, it was badly in need of a good cleaning. Basically a good structure, but needing to go was the shag carpeting and leaky windows and the stray possum who found its way in. My first winter was a “learning experience,” to put it mildly. But I am grateful each and every day that I am a homeowner and that I am living absolutely within my means as a single senior citizen lady. And I continue to be impressed with the efficiency of space in a mobile home.

    • Hi Elisabeth!

      Great to hear from you!

      Buying our 1978 single wide in southern WV completely changed my family’s life. It gave us a sense of pride neither of us had experienced before and made the world a little less harsh. We had a foundation to build on! It sounds like it’s the same with you! I’m really glad you’ve found the ‘secret’ to living affordable!

      I wish you continued success and happiness!

    • Elisabeth, hello there in Ohio. In regard to your possum, while we were moving into our ’75 single wide, it was pretty hecktic. I grabbed a Milky Way bar at the gas station, ate half of it and set the rest at the edge of the kitchen counter. Next morning, it had moved about 2 ft. I thought my husband had been at it. Nope, not hubby, we had a little mouse in residence. Oh well, I guess they like a little candy bar now and again.
      We’ve had the same experience as far as finding that our home has allowed us to live within our means. It’s quite gratifying and just feels so darn good. I’m glad you found your home….much happiness to you.

  4. Thanks for reading MMHL, I’m glad you liked the article. Less is more, IS freeing. Karen and Jim had a little ‘guest house’ (Jim built it) that sat on our property for a number of years. They’d use it when they visited us. When they moved to their present property near me, they hired a fellow to move it to their place. It’s really cute. Maybe I’ll go over there and take some pics and post on the FB page. Their guests love it…a little privacy, and it’s like staying in a little cabin in the woods. (they have a port o potty) outside of the little guest house for convenience.

  5. Hi Pam…… my maiden name was Willis. So nice to “meet” another Willis who has a love for mobile living too. Both my hubby and myself took early retirement so that we could assist my mom, uncle and aunt in their last years. Ten years ago we sold a 5 bedroom home, relocated and bought the double wide mobile that we are now living in. We both love it !. We have 3 bedrooms, 2 bath, living room, tv room, kitchen, laundry and it’s perfect for us. We too have remodeled along the way. I love your choice of flooring, the color and style is gorgeous. Your bathroom is lovely! We also love the mortgage free feeling also, and with that, we purchased a lovely “used” motorhome in great shape, and when we feel like taking off, we lock up and go. Living in an adult only mobile park works for us. Freedom is the best…. and good for you for choosing that lifestyle.

    • Hi Sandy, thanks for reading MMHL. Actually, the article here is about my sister’s home, that’s her bathroom….but I’ll pass the compliment along. I also live in a mobile home, as stated in my bio. The ‘mortgage free’ thing is SO great, lots of stress just melted away.

  6. Good day and Happy Springtime. I am hoping to see more of the inside of this redo. The floor choice looked lovely, I do like the colour of the wood. I live in a double wide that needs flooring desperately but like Karen and Jim I am on a very fixed income. I do love my mobile and wish it were also on some acreage but I am thankful I have a place to call home in a mobile park. ;) I love this website and all the fabulous information that is available to us. Thank you for sharing this experience and oh, I LOVE the barn!!!

    • Hi Sue, I’m glad you liked the article, and thank you for reading MMHL. My sister, Karen and her husband needed to get the home livable. So, first things first. The upgrades and fixes that were needed to be able to live in the house busted the budget for awhile. (They also needed a new septic system…big bucks). I’m sure she’ll allow me to share as they progress. Do check into the Lowe’s Allen Roth flooring. My husband and I put it in our house a few years ago, and really like it, that’s why I recommended it to my sister. We had some scrap planks (along with other building debris) sitting outside all winter in the wet and snow. When we took it to the dump in the Spring, I looked at the Allen Roth scrap planks, and they were in pristine condition! The wet conditions hadn’t damaged it at all! We used it in our entire house, 840 SF (except two small entryways where we used vinyl), and the cost was $800. Good Luck.


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