Most everyone has enjoyed the convenience of ordering an item through Amazon and finding it effortlessly delivered to their doorstep. However, long before Amazon dominated the home shopping market, American families would peruse the Sears, Roebuck catalog and have any number of home goods delivered to their door. Can you imagine browsing through the Sears catalog for your new house? Between 1908 and 1942 that’s exactly what hundreds of Americans did! Consequently, scattered throughout the St. Louis area are dozens of charming Sears Kit homes!
Sears, Roebuck was the original mail order company who sold home goods to the average American family. In order to sell more home goods, the company went into the business of selling houses. Where better to put all your Sears’ merchandise than in your new Sears home? It was quite remarkable. Between 1908 and 1942, Sears had 370 different home designs to choose from! Sears Kit homes were not prefabricated homes, but rather contained thousands of pieces of house and an instruction book. The kit included everything one would need to build their own house including lumber, shingles, bathtubs, faucets, light fixtures, windows and more!
Sears promised that a man of average ability could assemble his own home within 90 days! The cost of the homes ranged from approximately $500 to $5000. This was roughly 2/3 the average cost of a home at that time. The sweat equity allowed many people the ability to own their own home who otherwise would not have been able to afford it. In 1911 Sears also began offering mortgages to finance the purchase of their kit homes. In a remarkably progressive move for the time, Sears made it very easy to qualify for their mortgage. They simply asked if the applicant was employed and if they owned the lot for their home.
Pictured is an example of a home kit listing. It is the Madelia design from the 1921 Sears, Roebuck catalog. For just $1757, Sears, Roebuck furnished everything needed to construct this home. In today’s market that is just $29,000!
I would like to point out that the quality of the homes was premium. The lumber used by Sears, Roebuck was first-growth lumber on virgin forest – not easy to find today! Southern yellow pine was used for all the framing and cypress was used for the exterior sheathing and trim. Amazingly, starting in 1916, Sears pre-cut all the wood so one didn’t even need a saw to construct their Sears home!
There were three manufacturing plants for Sears Kit homes, the closest being in Cairo, Illinois. The 30,000-piece home kit would fit into several box cars and then get shipped via train or barge. Not only was St. Louis easily accessible by train and barge from Cairo, but there was also a Sears Modern Homes sales center located downtown, which is why there are so many Sears Kit homes in the area!
Sears Kit homes included Dutch Colonials, Arts and Craft Bungalows, American Foursquares and more! So how do you know if your home is a Sears Kit home? Sears Kit homes were sold between 1908 and 1942, with the bulk of them sold between 1919 and 1930. From 1916 on, Sears stamped each piece of lumber with a letter and number to help with the assembly. Look for exposed lumber in the attic or basement and see if you can find the stamp. You can also look for shipping labels on the back of baseboards and trim. Perhaps you can even find the original blueprints in the attic or basement.
Local Sears Kit enthusiast, Judith Chabot, has a blog in which she has listed all the known Sears Kit homes in the area. Click on this link to check out her blog!
Agape had the pleasure of working on a Sears Kit home a few years ago! It was a charming Bungalow, the Jewell design. The home was bought and built in 1930 by a widow named Georgia E. Webster. Her mortgage in 1930 was just $4950 and that included construction costs!
When Agape worked on the home, the homeowners felt the kitchen needed to be upgraded to modern standards, so they enlisted Agape’s help. Agape architect, Laurie Smith, added 6 feet off the rear of the kitchen, creating a much larger, more usable space! Also added was a charming fireplace, with stonework and built-in cabinets that stayed true to the home’s historic design.
Agape Construction specializes in historic home renovation. We excel at incorporating modern amenities while keeping true to the home’s historic design. For more information, reach out today to speak with our friendly, knowledgeable staff at 314-798-7709.