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New Kit Houses Make It Easier to Control Cost, Look and Convenience

“Six hours later, there’s the house,” Haney recalls. He notes that it has no stairs, except a flight down to the wine cellar—this is vineyard country, after all. “I plan to live the rest of my life here,” he says. “I don’t want stairs.”

Indeed, prefabs can offer buyers like Haney lots of design options that will keep their homes accessible and easy to navigate as they age, such as no-step entrances and interiors, and wide-open floor plans that basically eliminate most doorways and hallways. By working directly with an architect from the get-go, buyers can even have such features as extra lighting, handrails and lever door handles made integral to the home’s design.

Looking (sometimes) before leaping

In these uncertain economic times, prospective prefab buyers should carefully check out any company before entering into a contract. Empyrean International, the builder of Deck Houses, Acorn Homes and Dwell Homes, abruptly closed last October—a victim of the nationwide credit crunch, its founder and owner said. A court-appointed receiver has since taken control of the company and put it up for sale.

Prospective buyers are also well advised to visit a model home before signing on the dotted line, as Haney and Yu did, though it is possible to order a home sight unseen, apart from pictures on the Internet.

Mary Griffith of Sloansville, N.Y., loves the new prefab house that she and her husband, Bill, moved into last October—a 1,200-square-foot “weeHouse” designed by Alchemy Architects of St. Paul, Minn.—but wishes she had seen it first. “We never actually met them until the day it was set on the foundation,” Griffith, 52, says. “It’s a pretty big leap to buy a house on the Internet and spend that much money and not know what it’s going to look like.” Still, having researched a number of different types of prefab designs, they kept coming back to the weeHouse because they “really loved the style,” she says—a simple box wrapped in dark, cement-based siding with large windows and rich wood interiors.

Architect Rocio Romero, who designs and sells high-tech, modernist LV Homes, conducts open-house tours that give attendees some hands-on time as well as the opportunity to talk with her staff about design features, custom design options, the building process and construction costs.

At 1,150 square feet, the basic LV Home has two bedrooms, two baths and an open, light-filled floor plan at a price of about $36,000—not counting foundation, windows, roof, and interior finish-out, which typically add anywhere from $80,000 to $185,000 in costs. The entire kit for the home, built near her company’s headquarters in Perryville, Mo., fits on a single truck.

Romero’s fans include Marian Anderson of South Haven, Mich., a sculptor who saw in the LV the perfect studio for the seven wooded acres on which she and her husband live. “I’m 88 years old and it’s crazy for me to build a new studio at this stage of my life,” Anderson says, “but everybody who sees it loves it.”

Brad McKee is a contributing editor to the magazines I.D. and Architect.

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