When Mary Ann Ridenour and Bill Ridenour became empty nesters last year, their 3,200-square-foot home suddenly seemed superfluous.
As many couples at this stage of life do, the Ridenours decided to downsize. But unlike many others, they left their big house in a golf course community for a trailer home.
"When I tell people what we did they think I'm joking," said Mary Ann Ridenour.
Their move, however, is not as uncommon as you might think. As housing costs — both buying and renting — remain high in many parts of the country, some people are finding trailer homes to be an affordable option.
In fact, roughly 20 million people in the United States live in trailer houses, also referred to as mobile homes, according to Census numbers.
For the Ridenours, the impetus for moving into a trailer was cutting costs. Mary Ann Ridenour, a 49-year-old who works full-time as a court reporter, started a side business a year earlier. The couple wanted more cash to support her endeavor, so the $1,800 monthly mortgage payment on their house in Summerville, South Carolina, needed to go.
"We were working our butts off to live in this big house that we didn't need," Ridenour said. "We thought, 'Why are we paying this ridiculous mortgage on this home?' It was strapping us."
They bought a 3-bedroom, 2-bath trailer with a half-acre of land about 10 years ago, for $143,000. The trailer, whose previous owners had used it as a summertime crash pad, was 2 miles from the beach and across the street from native marshlands outside Charleston. The Ridenours moved in last July.
"It's not a sign of a great accomplishment that I've moved from a big beautiful home to a trailer," Ridenour said with a laugh. "Once we swallowed our pride, we now find the awkwardness when people realize our living conditions amusing."
She said she and her husband are much happier overall now that they're not stressed about money.
Trailer-home aesthetics have changed. Many today have modern interior designing, stainless-steel appliances and colorful paint.
"I love my trailer," said Kodi Bryant, 40, who purchased the home in Golden, Colorado for $20,000. Her side deck offers a view of the downtown Denver skyline and the Rocky Mountains.
"I looked at apartments in the Denver area, but they were so expensive," she said. "I didn't want to work in a cubicle and come home to a cubicle."
Mobile homes have long helped fill gaps in affordable housing. They were introduced after World War II and geared toward the millions of veterans returning home. Since then, trailer homes have grown in popularity. Census data from 2000 showed mobile homes constituted 7.6 percent of housing, compared to 0.7 percent in 1950.
Trailers still play an important role in satisfying the country's housing needs, according to Charles Becker, a professor of economics at Duke University, who has studied the topic. Not only is there a steady stock of trailer homes in otherwise tight housing markets, but mobile homes can accommodate lower- or middle-income people "who don't want to own more housing because they're retired or they can't afford it," Becker said.
The average price of a trailer home, which usually does not include the land under it, is about $73,000, according to Census data. This price is often more affordable than traditional single-family homes, especially for young families starting out or for first-time buyers.
"In some ways, this could be looked at as the new American Dream because the old American Dream has become unreachable for so many people," said Daniel Levine, director of the Avant-Guide Institute, a business that watches consumer trends.
Affordability was what prompted Emily McBroom, 33, and her husband, Jesse McBroom, 32, to buy a trailer house outside Denton, Texas, for their first home.
"We could get a brand-new trailer home with the newest appliances and pay less than the cheapest rent in the area," Emily McBroom said. Their two-bedroom, 600-square-foot trailer cost $29,000.The couple have their trailer on more than 7 acres of wooded land.
McBroom said it came down to priorities: They wanted to own a place, pay down student debt and having enough money to travel.
"It takes a certain person who will live in a trailer," she said. "You have to be comfortable with yourself and throw off the old-school ideals that you must be poor if you live in a trailer."