Today Sears is best known for their department stores and the plans to save the retail-chain from bankruptcy. But in the early 1900s Sears was thriving. Almost 1/5 of Americans subscribed to the 1,400-page catalog which featured everything from diamonds to sporting goods to furniture. Up until this time most Americans lived in multi-generational housing. Their furniture was family heirlooms and their home decorations were kept minimal. Sears knew that in order to sell more home-goods there would need a higher demand for new furniture. In response they released a new product line in 1908, which would forever change the housing market: The Sears Mail Order Home
Sears’ created mail order homes, known at the time as “kit-homes”. A kit-home would arrive via train car, in a state similar to today’s Ikea packages. Each boxcar would contain over 10,000 pieces of lumber, all the essential pieces of the home and a rather lengthy instruction manual. Sears guaranteed that a man of “average skill” would be able to completely build the home in under 90 days. Initially Sears offered 40 different models to choose from, that would grow to over 447 designs.
The Sears’ Rodessa model sold for just $907, which featured 2 Bedrooms, 1 Bathroom, a living room and kitchen.
Change in the Market
Sears gave consumers a taste of the future housing industry. No longer expected to live in the same home as the past generations, as a new home was affordable. Sears shipped out over 75,000 homes across the country, for new generations to fill with new Sears furniture and appliances. Sears eventually met their demise in 1940 after years of declining sales and the economic impact of WWII.
Due to changing perceptions in the 1950s & 1960s many homeowners were embarrassed by their Sears homes and made renovations that made the home nearly unrecognizable. Now a team of Sears Homes Advocates work together to compile a list of kit-homes, you can find more information about their project here.
A Real Estate by Design agent recently sold a home in Durham, NC that has a striking resemblance to a Sears Home. Do you think it’s a match?
A huge thank you to 99% Invisible, for the wonderful podcast on the topic and to all the members of the working to conserve Sears Homes.