If you were around a hundred years ago, the idea of ordering a “kit home” was common. You could pick out the style you want from a catalogue and have all the materials delivered to your future doorstep. They were cheap back then, but today, those homes are commanding high prices as a piece of American history.
The Wall Street Journal has an excellent write-up on these vintage kit homes. It reports that a “Martha Washington” style home from Sears located in Washington, D.C., sold for $1.06 million last year. The buyer said of the home, “It was something that made it unique.” He also said of the quality of the home that is was “solidly built.”
What is a Vintage Kit Home?
They were popular during the first four or five decades of the 1900’s. Seven big companies were selling them including Sears, Roebuck, and Co. and Montgomery Ward. The Journal writes that Sears sold about 70,000 of them in 370 different styles.
The kits included the plans and all the materials needed to build and finish the home from lumber and nails to cabinets and paint. Prices were dirt cheap. They ranged from $600 to $6,000 back in the 1920s. The Journal calculated those amounts as $8,400 to $84,000 in today’s dollars. The materials were reportedly all high quality, and shipped directly to the buildable lots.
There’s no way to know how many of these homes are still in existence, but there’s a growing movement of people tracking them down — especially the ones from Sears. A website that’s dedicated to the rediscovery of these kit homes says that a national database of so-called “Sears Modern Homes” now has information on more than 7,500 kit homes in existence today. They’ve been located in 44 states, the District of Columbia, and parts of Canada.
Kit House Hunters
If you go to this website, called Kit House Hunters, you’ll find more details on where these homes are located. Ohio is now topping the list for having the largest number of identified kit homes from Sears. As of last June, Kit House Hunters had discovered more than 1,600 of them. That’s about 20 percent of the houses in the Sears kit home database. Illinois also has a lot of those homes, along with New York, Pennsylvania, and Michigan.
The Wall Street Journal article spoke with a kit-house enthusiast who said, “It’s kind of like bird watching.” French teacher Judith Chabot, of St. Louis, is the one who oversees the Sears Modern Home Facebook page. She claims there are more than 8,200 rediscovered Sears homes in the U.S. and another 1,000 from other companies.
Modern Day Kit Homes
Kit homes are not just a thing of the past. If you are a do-it-yourselfer who doesn’t want to source all the materials yourself, you can buy kit homes today, but not from Sears.
Shelter-Kit is a company out of New Hampshire that sells kits for homes, cabins, barns, garages, and workshops. The company offers pre-existing plans or custom designs, along with support before and during construction.
The kits themselves include precut materials for a “weather-tight” shell on your foundation, but things like windows, doors, and other finish pieces are “optional”. And the cost for the shell of a 1,200-square foot home is from $28 to $49 per square foot or from $33,600 to $58,000.
There are other companies that sell kit homes as well. The Wall Street Journal spoke to a man in Sheffield, Massachusetts who built a 7,000-square-foot vacation home with a kit from Lindal Cedar Homes. It ended up costing him $200 a square foot or $1.4 million. But, the owner says, the kit came with higher quality materials than he could have found himself, and ended up costing him much less than a custom-built home. Photos of the vintage homes are fascinating to look at. You’ll find lots of them at the Kit House Hunters website.
To listen to this podcast dated October 25, 2017, click here.