MYRTLE BEACH, S.C. -- The Rev. Lawrence Beadle's three-bedroom home along South Carolina's Grand Strand is appointed with all the traditional touches: black shutters, a picture window and a carport.
Those amenities may be part of the reason mobile homes such as Beadle's are growing in popularity here and across the country.
According to the 2000 census, South Carolina is the nation's mobile home capital.
One in five South Carolina households is a mobile home. New Mexico ranks a close second. West Virginia, Mississippi, North Carolina, Alabama, Wyoming, Arkansas, Montana and Kentucky round out the top 10 states with the highest percentages of mobile homes - or "manufactured housing," as the industry prefers to call them.
"When people come to visit - from the outside they form an opinion. But when they come inside they say, 'Wow, what a beautiful home,"' says Beadle, 74.
Many people think of the old tin-can trailers no wider than a car when they hear the words "mobile home." But that's not the case nowadays.
Many mobile homes these days are roomier and well-appointed. And industry leaders say federal and state regulations require today's mobile homes to be of a much higher quality than those made 30 years ago. In the North, for example, mobile homes now must be able to hold up under heavy snow, and in the Southeast, they have to withstand hurricane-force winds.
The new versions fit many of the needs of first-time homebuyers, retirees, even the governor of Arkansas.
Gov. Mike Huckabee moved into a triple-wide in 2000 - and endured Jay Leno's wisecracks - while the Governor's Mansion in Little Rock was being renovated. One in seven households in Arkansas is a mobile home.
Bob Martindale, who sells manufactured homes in Myrtle Beach, says many people are skeptical at first. "You end up trying to educate people," he says. "Most people have a stigma in their minds."
Nationwide, nearly 8.7 million households, or 1 in 13, are mobile homes, according to census figures. That is up from 7.3 million in 1990. The number of mobile homes in South Carolina increased 17 percent to 355,499 during the 1990s.
Florida led the nation in the total number of mobile homes, with 842,701, or close to 10 percent of all U.S. mobile homes.
Mobile homes were least prevalent in the District of Columbia, Hawaii, Connecticut and Massachusetts, accounting for less than 1 percent of all households there.
John Cone, executive director of the Home Builders Association of South Carolina, recommends people invest in an ordinary site-built home instead, in part because the property is almost certain to increase in value. But he admits mobile homes "certainly make affordable housing, and in a state where we have many poor people, it makes sense."
Many communities use zoning to keep mobile homes out, but North Charleston welcomes them in some areas to help revitalize neighborhoods with depressed property values and stagnant sales.
"It works beautifully," says City Councilwoman Dorothy Williams. "They're built so well and can withstand the (Hurricane) Hugo wind."
The homes also are popular with retirees such as the Beadles, who left their ministry in New York nine years ago for the Beachwood retirement community, where 40 mobile homes with a clubhouse, pool, hot tub and shuffleboards are all tucked in a grove of pines behind a security gate.
The mobile homes now in the Beachwood community run between $85,000 and $165,000, according to community manager Carol Marsh. Homeowners pay property taxes plus $252 a month to lease the land underneath their homes.
"Since most of them are on fixed incomes, they know what they're going to pay every month," Marsh says.
Calvin and Sondra Keys gave up trying to build a house along the coast when they discovered they could design a 2,000-square-foot mobile home more cheaply.
"Being manufactured on an assembly line, I think they're built better," says Calvin Keys, who retired to South Carolina from Washington, D.C. "On other site-built homes, they can cut corners and you'd never know about it."
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