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Brian Teach's Blog

By Brian Teach, Realtor- CDPE | Agent in Orlando, FL

Sears Catalog Homes History

The "Sears Catalog Home" was an owner-built "kit" house that was sold by the Sears, Roebuck and Co. corporation via catalog orders from 1906 to 1940.  Sears Catalog Home, sold as Sears Modern Homes were ready-to-assemble houses sold through mail order by Sears Roebuck and Company, an American retailer. Over 70,000 of these were sold in North America between 1908 and 1940. Shipped via railroad boxcar, these kits included all the materials needed to build a house. Many were assembled by the new homeowner and friends, relatives, and neighbors, in a fashion similar to the traditional barn-raisings farming families.

As an add-on, Sears offered the latest technology available to house buyers in the early part of the twentieth century. Central heating, indoor plumbing, and electricity were all new developments in house design that "Modern Homes" incorporated, although not all of the houses were designed with these conveniences. Central heating, for example, not only improved the livability of houses with little insulation but also improved fire safety, a worry in an era when open flames threatened houses and even entire cities, as in the Great Chicago Fire (1871).

As demand decreased, Sears expanded the product line to feature houses that varied in expense to meet the budgets of various buyers. Sears began offering financing plans in 1916. However, the company experienced steadily rising payment defaults throughout the Great Depression, resulting in increasing strain for the catalog house program. More than 370 designs of Sears Homes were offered during the program's 32-year history. The mortgage portion of the program was discontinued in 1934 after Sears was forced to liquidate $11 million in defaulted debt. Sears closed their Modern Homes department in 1940. A few years later, all sales records were destroyed during a corporate house cleaning. The only way to find these houses today is literally one by one.

Today, some communities across the United States feature clusters of the houses as unofficial historical sites. Elgin, Illinois (a Chicago suburb) has the largest known collection of Sears Homes, with more than 200 Sears Homes (and few kit homes from other companies as well). A culture of Sears Modern Home seekers has emerged in recent years, as individual buildings have been identified.

If you or someone you know would like more information about the greater Orlando marketplace or a particular home in your neighborhood, please give me a call at 407-923-9313.

Brian Teach


Comments

By Kathy Weber (951) 551-7587,  Fri Mar 25 2011, 02:07
I remember my grandparents having one of those catalogs!
Amazing how times have changed!

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