A truly affordable and good looking entry-level house might just be the holy grail of the residential construction market, and one modular manufacturer believes it has found it.

Excel Homes, based in Camp Hill, Pa., has unveiled a series of homes that target first-time home buyers with rock-bottom prices. Called the Starting Lineup Series, the homes start at just less than $100,000, but some could be as low as $60,000, depending on the region of the country. They are one- and two-story homes of fewer than 1,000 square feet which are also Energy Star-ready.

"Our goal with these designs is quality at an affordable price," said Steve Scharnhorst, Excel's president. "Today's homeowners are shifting away from the McMansions of the '80s and '90s and toward smaller homes with high quality designs, energy efficiency, and nice amenities. The Starting Lineup provides all of that with the added perk of a lower price tag, which, in this economy, is always a good selling point."

The collection of homes includes the two-bedroom, 771-square-foot Craftsman Bungalow model, inspired by the kit homes of the 1940s and '50s; a 945-square-foot residence called the Prairie View that is similar to the prairie-style designs of Frank Lloyd Wright; and the Trailblazer, a 556-square-foot unit that can be used as a starter home, guest house, a pool house, or a freestanding backyard office.

"The word 'design' doesn't have to be synonymous with larger homes and higher price tags," said Steven Saffell, director of architectural design and innovation for Excel. "In fact, design has nothing to do with cost or size. It's how you use the resources and materials available to you that determines the visual appeal of a home, and that's exactly the approach we took with these plans."

Affordability often means less design and less features, but Excel said that it has not reduced the quality or features of these houses. On the contrary, Saffell said the company has added some of its most desirable options, such as wood flooring in the public areas, quartz countertops in the kitchens and baths, vaulted ceilings, sunken living rooms, undermount kitchen sinks, craftsmen-style doors and trims, and a whole-house fan. Selections concerning the HVAC system and a number of code requirements are available at additional cost.

So how did the company managed get the prices so low? By taking a different tact than it usually does. Excel offers a few variations with the plans, but customer decisions are limited mainly to finish selections.

“By limiting options and the ability to modify the plans and elevations, we have streamlined the entire process—from ordering to production and even the set,” Saffell explained. “In addition, we have bundled options and programs, so that these homes can be ordered in much the same way one buys a new car. This too has allowed us to offer a great home at a very low cost.”

A smaller house results in lower prices, but it also means that the manufacturer can deliver the houses in a shorter amount of time. Excel says modular homes can be manufactured, delivered, and constructed fewer than six weeks. Many of the homes in the Starting Lineup series can be shipped on a single truck and finished in as little as one day.

The significance of this new series of homes is twofold, according to Excel. “The first is a high quality home designed to meet the needs of individuals or small families at a great price,” Saffell said. “The second is a green home with a smaller footprint to meet the needs of green-conscious individuals.... We believe there will always be a market for quality homes that deliver great value. And we believe green just makes sense now and into the future, and a growing segment of the market will see energy savings and green as a requirement versus an option.”

Nigel Maynard is senior editor, products, at BUILDER magazine. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/products_hound.