Kit homes were all the rage in the U.S. and Canada during the early 20thC. Also known as pre-cut, ready-cut, mill-cut, mail order or catalogue houses, kit home manufacturers touted savings of 30 – 40% over traditional building methods. In the 1920’s, they sold for $600 – $6,000. (In today’s dollars, those amounts translate into $8,400 – $84,000.) Now, kit homes are selling on average for $700,000 – +$1M.

Imagine kit homes as giant boxes of Legos. Just as you choose the kind of Lego design you want to build from the picture on the top of the Lego box, you choose the style of house you want to build from the hundreds of styles your home kit manufacturer has. (Sears, Roebuck and Co. had 360 styles that ranged from bungalow to Colonial for the 70,000 kit homes they sold.) Open the Lego box or the kit and you have everything you need (pre-cut and numbered lumber to fit in a particular place in a particular house, nails, flooring, josts and bridging, studs, rafters, clapboards, plaster, drywall, columns, doors and windows, paint for two exterior coats) to build the house or the Lego design of your dreams.

Today, owning a kit home is like “owning a piece of history,” said DC real estate agent Anna Mackler. She recently sold a kit home for $636,000, some $200,000 over the asking price. Mackler said, “The kit home angle made the house more appealing by adding to its character.”

In the 1920’s, everyone knew about kit homes because everyone had a Sears, Roebuck and Co. catalogue. Today, people like Andrew Mutch, an IT administrator who lives in a kit house in Novi, MI, and Judith Chabot, a French teacher in St. Louis, write about them in (his) Kit House Hunters blog and (her) Sears House Seeker blog. Chabot has found 8,000 documented Sears kit houses and 1,000 supplied by other suppliers.

Catarina Bannier, an agent with Evers and Co. Real Estate in Washington State, recently sold a 1920,s 5-bedroom brick kit house made by Lewis Manufacturing for $2.75M. This particular kit house is one of only four remaining, authenticated Standish models.

Kit houses continue to be manufactured today. Bob Andreasen, a 70 year old spec home developer, just build a Lindal manufactured kit house for his daughters and grand children in Massachusetts. “You still to this day can’t find better quality of materials than what I could source. Our finished product is both nicer and cost less than a new custom home.”

For DIYers, savings from kit houses can be dramatic. Grace and Jeff Yoder, first time DIYers, built a 3 bedroom, 2 bath, 2,760 square foot house for $125,000. That price includes everything but the land on which that kit house now stands. j

Today, just like in the old days, a kit containing everything needed to build a house is a huge draw. Just remember there’s a huge price differential between kit homes being built today and kit homes that were built in the good ole days.