With advanced designs, solid construction, and high resale value, modular homes are inching their way into the Hamptons.
Riding the crest of a dune, Resolution: 4 Architecture’s Dune Road Beach House offers views of both the ocean to the south and the bay to the north.
A long drive to the Hamptons at this time of year may be tolerable. There’s a beach waiting at the end of it. But on a rainy day in November? To supervise a construction site? Not so much, says Dr. Louis Fiore, who wanted to build a summer getaway in Southampton but had no desire to trek back and forth in the off-season from his home in Newtown, Massachusetts, to make sure it was getting done right. So he went modular. His home was built in a factory, to exact specifications, in a couple of huge pieces. And the ranch-style house with cathedral ceilings took only nine months to deliver, instead of two years, as some custom jobs do, which meant two extra summers to use it. “If you’re not going to be able to be on-site to manage it,” Fiore says, “it’s worth it.”
Because of the speed as well as factors like cost, energy efficiency, and strength, modular homes are gradually becoming an option for those seeking to create a residence from scratch on the East End, according to vendors, designers, and real estate brokers. Modulars are certainly not a major segment of the Hamptons housing market yet—they tend to be smaller and simpler than the type of weekend retreat the highest-end buyer craves. In other words, it may be a while before one turns up on Georgica Pond’s banks. But even among the masses, the structures have a PR challenge: They’re frequently confused with manufactured homes or double-wide trailers.
The floor-to-ceiling windows of the Dune Road Beach House makes you feel as if you’re lounging on the sand.
“I don’t think modulars are on most people’s radars,” says Krae Van Sickle, a broker with Saunders & Associates who’s been selling homes in the Hamptons since 1994. “But we’re seeing an open-mindedness to them we’ve never seen before.”
What may be piquing interest is modulars’ relatively low cost, which even one-percenters who could splurge for a pricier property are finding appealing, brokers say. Without considering land value, modulars—which are generally prefabricated in Pennsylvania and Upstate New York, where labor is less expensive—can be up to 50 percent cheaper than comparable “stick” homes built a two-by-four at a time. Others, though, say that discount understates the cost of prepping a site with a foundation and water main, for instance, and the true savings is more in the range of 10 percent.
“Building is becoming out of reach for a lot of people, unless maybe if you’re on Wall Street,” says Michael Hunn, who owns Hamptons Modular Homes. The company has existed since 1984 but recently changed its name from Future Surroundings Modular Homes in recognition of the emerging market. Hunn, whose first project in the Hamptons was a five-bedroom modular on an acre in Wainscott, says modulars are mushrooming in size. A decade ago, customers liked modest ranches, but his last five homes, he says, have measured more than 5,000 square feet, even if year-rounders still buy more of them than weekenders.
The modules of the North Fork Bay House were trucked in from Pennsylvania and craned onto a steel frame.
And far from humdrum boxes, modulars are also getting fancier. In the Southampton Shores area, Hunn recently installed a stucco-sided Mediterranean that had imported roof tiles, he says, while another one nearby eschewed vinyl siding for cedar shakes. As designs improve and construction techniques advance, it can be hard to pick out modulars on the landscape. Brokers who are marketing existing homes may also not reveal how they were constructed, which can make it difficult to get an accurate tally of what’s out there locally. Still, in the Northeast, modulars accounted for 5 percent of all homes built in 2012, or 2,000 dwellings, according to the trade group the National Association of Home Builders. And their share jumped to 7 percent in 2013, or 4,000 homes, with further gains expected.
The saturation in certain Hamptons communities is even greater, says Barry Altman, president of Custom Modular Homes of Long Island, a 30-yearold firm based in Southampton. In his town, he says, modulars make up about 15 percent of all the new houses going up today. And in a sign of a healthy market, many are being built as spec homes—houses that don’t have buyers lined up in advance—like an angular two-story Midcentury Modern near the water in Quogue, perched atop a stone base and with a swimming pool. Two similar homes are planned in Westhampton, on Tanners Neck and Brushy Neck Lanes, says Altman, adding that all three will be completed next summer.
A rendering of Resolution: 4 Architecture’s Sagaponack House.
Altman, who also builds conventional homes, is among the largest modular providers in the area. Modulars are 80 percent of his business, or about 20 of the 25 homes he’ll install in Suffolk County this year. “The logic is there, and the savings are there, and that’s why the business has grown,” he says.
Eco-friendliness may also explain the appeal. Despite being built in out-of-state factories and trucked to their sites, modulars, according to their advocates, yield less construction waste, since their assembly-line approach is so streamlined. The lumber also can’t be ruined by bad weather.
In addition, modulars can be green from the get-go, unlike stick-built homes, which usually have to be reverse-engineered, according to Tyler Schmetterer, a cofounder of the eight-year-old New World Home, based in Southampton, which favors Early American home styles. In fact, the New York attorney who owned a 3,100-square-foot Colonial on Huntting Avenue in East Hampton didn’t receive a power bill for months because the home was so airtight and impervious to heat, the air conditioning barely came on, Schmetterer explains. On average, New World’s homes require 60 percent less energy than conventional homes, he adds.
Modulars can resell well, too. A Greek Revival that New World developed on School Street in Bridgehampton recently sold for about $3 million, or three times the purchase price of the lot, according to Schmetterer. “The owner did very well,” he says.
When construction on Resolution: 4 Architecture’s Peconic Bay House was complete, it featured three bedrooms, two baths, and even its own power plant.
In a region slammed by major storms like Hurricane Sandy in recent years, modulars also stand up well to the elements, says John Colucci, a vice president of Westchester Modular Homes of Wingdale, New York, the state’s largest manufacturer. After all, they have to be driven down the highway at 75 miles per hour, he says, and be hoisted by cranes; the homes also come with warranties. “It’s not a knock on stick-builders,” Colucci says. “They just don’t have to build them as strong as I do.”
Resolution: 4 Architecture’s Water Mill House offers a summer escape surrounded by a breathtaking landscape.
While modular homes may seem like the next big thing, the Hamptons has seen them before, thanks to architect Andrew Geller. Best known locally for his 1959 “double diamond” Pearlroth House in Westhampton Beach, Geller, working for Raymond Loewy & Associates, designed a U-shaped modular on Old Northwest Road in East Hampton that still stands today. Built in New Jersey, the sections of the home had to be narrow enough to squeeze through the tollbooths on the George Washington Bridge, says Jake Gorst, Geller’s grandson, who is working on a book about his grandfather. (Though many assume the Leisurama homes in Montauk were modulars, they had only some pre-cut sections and had to be assembled individually on-site, Gorst explains.) A child of the Depression, Geller “was thrilled with the idea that somebody could own a house—that you could essentially go into a showroom and say, ‘This is the house I want,’” Gorst says.
The company’s Wainscott House is a year-round playhouse for a family with four kids and a multitude of guests.
For all the upsides of modulars, stumbling blocks remain. Some criticize the lack of style variety, although at least one company, Resolution: 4 Architecture, based in New York and active in the Hamptons, offers Legolike forms, with squared-off roofs and wood and metal panels that contrast sharply with the shingles across the East End. “Most people come to us because they’re interested in a clean, open space,” says Joseph Tanney, a Resolution cofounder. In the Hamptons, the permitting process can also be onerous, though perhaps not much more so than for any new-construction home. But modulars may still have their work cut out for them to win over skeptics who equate mass production with inferiority, or who think anything prefab belongs in a trailer park, says Howard Kipnes, president of Cedar Knolls, the contractor who set up Dr. Louis Fiore’s house for Westchester Modular Homes. “It’s not so much that there’s a stigma anymore, but there’s a perception that curb appeal can be limited,” Kipnes says. “But without a doubt, we’re seeing growth.”