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Ask the Architect

What to do with an old house


Q. We were intrigued by the old house we bought, especially when we decided to renovate to add two bedrooms now that we’re expecting. The contractor we met with told us it would be a shame to change the house very much, since it was a kit house from Sears. He said the house is valuable, historically. Is that true, and are we making a mistake to change the house? Should we sell it to someone who can appreciate it, maybe make a nice profit because someone else will be more excited than we are? We really need the extra space.

A. You might find someone who truly appreciates the historic value of your home, if you can sell them on the idea. Of the 70,000 Sears and Roebuck catalog kit homes originally sold nationally, many are still standing, and some have reportedly sold for over $1 million, a far cry from the simple beginnings of the 270 models you could have chosen from between 1908 and the 1940s. Imagine ordering a home for between $600 and $6,000, from a bungalow to a mansion, and receiving over 10,000 building parts, including nails and paint. In today’s dollars, that would be a reasonable $8,500 to $84,000. Consider that an average home today, from scratch, would consist of parts totaling over $150,000.

I remember how exciting it was when the Sears catalog arrived, and members of the family would spend hours leafing through, taking in the world of things you could buy, all from one company. It was like having the entire internet of retail items in a 3-inch-thick book. I think we held on to the catalogs way past when the next version would arrive, just because it was overwhelming. You could dream about what you’d buy if your allowance was increased. My lawn-mowing money was often earmarked for something special I’d chosen from Sears.

When the once-mammoth company, a cross between Amazon and Walmart, filed for bankruptcy last October, an era came to an end, leaving behind the amazing collection of what once was. Hundreds of thousands of Americans got through the Great Depression because of Sears homes. So even though the nostalgia of your home has less meaning to you, there still are those who would love the opportunity to celebrate its history.

In 2015, another company, Allwood Industrials, began selling kit homes on Amazon. The legacy continues, possibly making your home worth even more. What you could do is put out feelers based on the historic intrinsic value and see what happens. Understandably, you may not be able to wait, considering the time it takes for plans, permits and getting through the construction process. Most couples in your situation find themselves under greater stress as the blessed event approaches and discover they won’t finish on time, in my experience. Prepare your Plans B and C to avoid the stress. Best of luck!

© 2019 Monte Leeper. Readers are encouraged to send questions to yourhousedr@aol.com, with “Herald question” in the subject line, or to Herald Homes, 2 Endo Blvd., Garden City, NY 11530, Attn: Monte Leeper, architect.