Several years ago, I listed for sale a circa 1920 Craftsman bungalow in Mansfield, Connecticut, and I suspected that it may have been a “Sears home” (see the house, left), or at least some kind of mail order house. I have been fascinated with Sears homes ever since. For those who don’t know, “Sears house” is a generic term people use to describe “mail order houses” or “kit homes” that were sold by Sears Roebuck, Aladdin Homes, Montgomery Ward, and other companies between 1908 and 1940. Over 70,000 of these “ready to assemble” houses were sold by Sears Roebuck, alone, and they can be found all over the country– probably even in your hometown. These kit homes were offered in dozens of styles, from the most basic Cape Cod to elaborate Colonial Revival houses that looked like small mansions.
The large “kits” were ordered from a catalogue, would arrive by train cars, and were transported to the house lot where, with the help of a large instruction manual, the house was built over a period of at least 3 months, but sometimes 3 years, depending on the proficiency of the assemblers! Unfortunately, depite Sears marketing these houses as “Modern Homes” (because they were designed to allow modern systems such as central heating , plumbing, & electricity), “Sears houses” apparently carried a negative connotation for years, probably because they were not always assembled by “professionals,” but instead were built by the homeonwers and the friends & family they could draft to help out.
However, it seems that the materials & construction methods for these houses were just as good (if not better) than any other houses being built during the early 20th century, and now, “Sears houses” seem to be gradually becoming a historic novelty, perhaps even seen as “desirable” by home buyers who seek Craftsman era properties. It is apparent that preservationists all over the country are beginning to rally to identify, catalogue & preserve these properties, and educate people about their special place in American (& architectural) history. However, as with any antique or historic properties, Sears houses are often threatened with demolition to make room for “progress,” and unfortunately, preservationists sometimes are unable to stop their demolition (see video below).
If you own a house that you suspect to be a Sears home, or if you are a Realtor trying to market one of these houses, there are lots of guides available on how to identify Sears houses (or other kit homes). I also think the following YouTube video is a nice introduction to the subject for readers who are unfamiliar with “Sears homes.” Also, several great books about Sears houses are listed below the video.
The woman featured in the YouTube video, Rosemary Thornton, is the author of two of the most widely read books about Sears houses — The Houses That Sears Built (a good overview & general history) and Finding the Houses That Sears Built (A Guide to the 60 Most Popular Styles). Another very comprehensive book that I would highly recommend is Houses By Mail by Katherine Cole Stevenson H. Ward Jandl.