A house in a box

Can you imagine if that was a tag line? What would you believe? Today, I was on our local Realtor® caravan looking at new inventory in San Luis Obispo and one of the homes we saw was a historical home dating back to 1930. Of course, I was in love with it from the first sighting of it because it was an old home with some serious character and curb appeal but what I learned about this home’s past really surprised me. This home was a Sears and Roebuck Modern Home. When the agent holding the home open for us to go through told me that I started thinking about how different things have become and whether it would be a good thing to be able to buy a ‘kit home’ in today’s modern world and what implications that might have.

The Sears Modern Home program was an interesting way for Sears to sell mortgages, lots, building supplies and eventually a ‘move in ready’ home in a box. When I looked at the home this morning it was hard to imagine a 1,500 square foot home and appliances being delivered on a truck to be taken out of a box and assembled like an Erector set project that a family could move into. It had an especially unique look to it yet it was certainly reminiscent to the architecture of its era with high-peaked roofs, double hung windows, a raised foundation and cellar and a nice long driveway back to a detached garage. The interesting thing is that the catalog featured 22 home models in 1911 and about the same in 1930, which when you  think about it; 22 homes could make for a diverse neighborhood if all of the neighbors picked different models. By 1940 the Great Depression and a number of circumstances had taken its toll on the Modern Homes program and the last home was sold that year. In the wake of the program 447 different homes were designed by numerous architects and over 100,000 homes were ordered and built by Sears customers.

My mind has been turning since I walked off of that lot this morning, mostly revolving around what that program could be today. I imagine an advertisement in Sunset Magazine or Better Homes and Gardens with a tagline saying something to the effect of, “Green living is just a click away!” and a link to a website with mail order home packages. In our Sky Mall and Amazon buying environment I can see how this could be a viable program barring local building ordinances and municipal involvement. Think of how we could reduce a carbon footprint for a new home if supplies and appliances were all generated in a local American town, assembled in a box car, and shipped together. Think of the American jobs that could be created simply compiling and packaging a home in a box or shipping it to another local builder that could just ‘slap it all together’ on site. Just think if when you bought a home you literally could buy the materials for a hard cost. Wouldn’t that be awesome?

Sure it would but the reality of it is, that was then and this is now. Back then people were flooding away from the city by the bus load and land was still abundant and undeveloped. People still knew how to build things with their hands and the price of a home then was about the cost of buying a car today. Still, I like to think that there is a case to be made for a drop ship home business that a buyer with land could choose their floor plan and amenities and coordinate with a city staff member and a contractor and build an affordable home, with green ratings and move their family in and that the home would still be standing and saleable over 80 years later.

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