Skip to comments.Amish-made houses are a modern trend
Posted on 02/15/2007 9:08:25 PM PST by Dan Evans
When Joyce Greenfield decided to build a house in the southern Maryland town of Chaptico, she knew she wanted a single-story rambler with at least three bedrooms and fancy bathrooms. At 49 and inching toward retirement, she also needed something affordable a modular home.
She turned to a community not widely known for home-building: the Amish.
One of a kind Relatives recommended an Amish man in St. Mary's County, John Hertzler. She drove out to his farm in Mechanicsville he has no phone, being Amish and described what she wanted. She was thrilled with the price he quoted, $90,000, but was stunned to hear this:
The waiting list was two years long. Even though the houses take only five weeks to build.
Hertzler's family business is thought to be the region's only Amish modular-home outfit and it has been booming. With no advertising, not even a listing in the phone book, Hertzler Modular Homes has cultivated a following among people looking for a customized and less expensive alternative to the cookie-cutter models that dominate residential developments.
Hertzler can build only one house at a time in his warehouse, and he has been producing at maximum capacity, about 10 to 12 a year. Asked why his houses are so popular, Hertzler was modest, as is expected by the Amish community.
"I don't know," he said. "I'm sure it probably is word of mouth."
Hertzler's business is an example of a recent shift in America's Amish. As farming becomes more expensive, Amish families are turning to making things and selling them to the general public.
Small-business growth "In the last 15 years, there's been quite a rapid development of small businesses, micro-enterprises in the Amish community owned and operated by Amish people," said Donald Kraybill, a leading scholar of the Amish and a professor at Elizabethtown College in Pennsylvania, who wrote the 2004 book Amish Enterprise: From Plows to Profits.
About 2,000 Amish and Mennonite people live in southern Maryland, to which their ancestors migrated from Pennsylvania in the 1940s. Several of the families make furniture, sew quilts, and build barns and sheds for sale.
Hertzler's business is tucked away among the farms of Mechanicsville, the heart of the region's Amish population, where horses draw buggies slowly along country roads. Down a dirt and gravel driveway off a two-lane highway sits Hertzler's warehouse, where he and a half-dozen other bearded Amish workmen labor in suspenders and straw hats.
Using 'Amish electricity' They measure and saw, hammer and trim. Since the Amish do not believe in using electricity or many other modern conveniences, they power tools using what Kraybill calls "Amish electricity." A diesel engine pumps compressed air through hoses to power the tools. The Amish hire electricians to wire the homes.
A typical 1,500-square-foot home is constructed in two long units, which are less than 14 feet wide so they can be transported on roads.
Insulation, doors, carpets and cabinets are all added in the warehouse.
A separate contractor lays a foundation on the home site, and Hertzler hires a crew to truck the home to the property. In one day, Hertzler and his workers put the house together and build the roof.
"As far as I know, they have held up well," Hertzler said.
After about a year of checking in with Hertzler, Greenfield made it to the top of the waiting list in late November.
One recent afternoon, Hertzler gave a visitor a tour of Greenfield's nearly finished home. Planks, carpet scraps and linoleum sheets were scattered across the warehouse floor.
Hertzler buys many of his products and appliances from such mainstream vendors as Lowe's. Because Hertzler doesn't have a telephone, two Lowe's saleswomen drove to his warehouse that afternoon to discuss a pending order.
Hertzler's home-building operation is so low-profile that Lowe's saleswoman Penny Fleming said she "didn't really know that they were even really here" before she started taking Hertzler's orders.
$50 a square foot
In 2001, Hertzler took over the company from his father, John Sr., who started it about a quarter-century ago. The elder Hertzler, 67, still lives next door in a block farmhouse he built years ago. He and his wife raised their six children there.
The elder Hertzler sold his first modular home for $20,000, or about $17 a square foot. "Young couples coming in with a baby in their arms," John Sr. said. "Those were my favorite customers."
Since then, John Sr. estimates, the company has built 330 homes. Today, they sell for about $50 per square foot.
Greenfield, who sealed her deal with a handshake, said commercial modular home vendors offer similarly sized homes for two or three times the price.
The Amish can afford to sell at lower prices for several reasons, Kraybill said: They are exempt from paying Social Security taxes because they have waived the right to receive benefits; many family members work for the business and have a strong work ethic; and the way they operate helps keep costs low. There are no computers or air conditioning, he said.
"They don't have bells and whistles in the shops," Kraybill said. "They don't have air conditioning; they don't have computers; they don't have red carpets. It's just bare-bones."
Once Greenfield made it to the top of the waiting list, she met with Hertzler to design the house. She ordered the largest he would build, 1,680 square feet, with cream vinyl siding and burgundy shutters.
To seal the deal, they shook hands. Greenfield said she was not asked to sign a contract or to put any money down. Hertzler wrote her name and contact information on an unpainted door frame.
Greenfield said she drove to Hertzler's warehouse to check in once a week until construction was finished. By mid-January, Hertzler delivered her home. A yellow crane lowered the two units like coffins into the foundation. Hertzler and his crew assembled a high-pitched roof.
And Greenfield still hadn't paid a dime, although she intended to pay in full once the construction was finished. "I guess they do it in good faith," she reasoned.
Benjamin Beale, a University of Maryland extension agent who works with the Amish in St. Mary's, said transactions based on trust are common.
"There certainly is a sense of doing business the old-fashioned way, on a handshake and a trust in the agreement," Beale said. "But certainly in the general public that's unheard of, isn't it? You go to buy a house nowadays and you go into settlement to sign 60 papers."
Amish workers from Hertzler Modular Homes position a home for Joyce Greenfield in Chaptico, Md., a deal sealed by a handshake. A typical home is built in two units, which are less than 14 feet wide so they can be transported on roads.
I would rather see the Amish building homes than illegal aliens. Trouble is there aren't enough Amish. But that will change because in the last 100 years the Amish population has increased by a factor of 36.
": They are exempt from paying Social Security taxes because they have waived the right to receive benefits"
Hey..how'd they get that deal? Sign me up!
I just bought a dining room set of furniture from an Amish craftsman.
The quality is head-and-shoulders above any other furniture maker I've considered.
So... there's that.
Grab some suspenders and a hat and grow a beard ;o)
Best stuff you can find for the price! I lost my job this year when the furniture store I worked for (which dealt almost exclusively in Amish-built furniture) went under. Now I'm spoiled - can't even look in a "regular" furniture store.
The Amish don't believe in insurance so they got an exemption about fifty years ago.
I'd take anything Amish-built over anything union-built. In a heartbeat. Funny how that is. :-)
When I was a young man and longing for purpose, I seriously considered moving to an Amish community and becoming one of them. I don't know if I'd have actually stopped being Catholic, and I obviously don't have a problem with using electricity, but I'd have worked for their trust for as many years as it took.
I want this deal! I resent being forced into the "Social Security" Ponzi scheme against my will, and I resent being tracked by business and government because of that damn social security number.
There's no phone, no lights, no motorcar
Not a single luxury
Like Robinson Caruso
It's as primitive as can be
A local Amish builder sold us a cabin from his inventory, 12 feet by 20 feet, unfinished interior but very nice porch, door and windows. He and his workers delivered and installed it on my property where I wanted it, all for under $4000. He was courteous, prompt, and friendly.
We are using it for storage right now, but it will be a nice guest cabin in a couple of years. All of the materials are first quality, and the workmanship is excellent.
That was also done on a handshake. The builder's wife was pregnant with their 6th child, she took the orders and did the office work.
I also bought a beautiful star quilt, a generous queen-sized (larger in dimension than a king-sized spread I bought from Penney's) from the wife, she said the community of women do quilts. It is exquisitely done, very highest quality. Under $800. When she handed it to me after the transaction, she said, "May you and your family sleep in peace under this quilt for generations to come."
The children are homeschooled, they watched everything their mother did, and were quiet, friendly, and very well behaved, and very curious about us. They looked me up and down from a distance, were curious about my clothes, my jewelry.
Don't assume because the Amish built it, it is good. My parents had an Amish Cabinent maker build a farm kitchen full of them. They looked great for about 6 months, then they all started cracking and coming apart. She drove back to the Amishman's house and told him about it. He wouldn't do anything, said that the guy that he bought the wood from sold him green lumber--so it wasn't his fault. Only problem was that the guy who sold him the lumber turned out to be his brother. There's crooked and there's good Amish, no different than the rest of us.
Same here. I didn't know that was possible.
"Show me just what Mohammed brought that was new, and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached." - Manuel II Palelologus
I am thinking of ordering one of the round dining room tables they make (72" wide) over the internet.
From what I have learned they make great furniture.
Neither does my religion, which I just made up now. I demand my exemption now! The persecution of my people must end!