Sears, Roebuck and Company, more commonly known as Sears, wasn’t just a retail giant. From 1908 to 1942, Sears dipped its toes into the housing business by selling innovative catalog homes. From charming craftsman bungalows to grand colonial revivals, Sears catalog homes offered an affordable path to homeownership in the United States. Read through as I explore these iconic mail-order houses’ history, lasting impact, their worth today, and tips on marketing them.

The History of Sears Catalog Homes

In 1908, Sears launched its first Sears Modern Homes Catalog. Prospective homeowners could choose from various home models in the catalog, place an order, and receive the home kit by mail. That year, the base price for a Sears home kit was around $650, which is about $22,000 today. Of course, that price didn’t cover the land, electrical, and plumbing—it only included the necessary materials (e.g., lumber, shingles, millwork) and building instructions. These weren’t flimsy materials; Sears delivered high-quality, pre-cut pieces that were made to last.

Cover of Sears Modern Homes catalog in 1912
A Sears Modern Homes Catalog in 1912 (Source: Internet Archive)
A page of an old 1912 Sears catalog with actual photos of Sears houses built by customers
Actual houses built by Sears home kit buyers (Source: Internet Archive)

The 1910s proved to be another successful time for Sears Modern Homes. The company streamlined home kit production, established regional shipping warehouses, and offered payment plans. Sears catalogs became a favorite source for clothing, appliances, homes, and furniture—a one-stop shop for every American. Families built their dream homes from Sears kits, highlighting the ease of assembly.

A page of Sears 1927 catalog with The Ramsay house and its floor plan
The Ramsay (Source: Internet Archive)
A page of Sears 1927 catalog with The Estes and The Fosgate houses and their floor plans
The Estes & The Fosgate (Source: Internet Archive)

By 1915, Sears continued to innovate by offering more home styles. The Sears Modern Homes Catalog offered around 370 models, with about 80 to 100 models in each catalog, catering to various preferences, budgets, and family sizes. The popularity of Sears catalog homes soared throughout the 1920s, fueled by a thriving economy and the convenience of mail-order purchasing. Sears also recognized the growing demand for modern amenities and began offering electrical wiring and plumbing fixtures as add-ons in their kits.

A page of financing options from the Sears Modern Homes 1927 catalog
Financing options for Sears home kits (Source: Internet Archive)
A page about plumbing fixtures from the Sears Modern Homes 1927 catalog
Plumbing fixtures could be added to home kits (Source: Internet Archive)

During the Great Depression of the 1930s, Sears continued to offer smaller, more affordable houses to cater to tighter budgets and changing market demands. However, despite these more economical housing solutions, Sears’ sales still dipped. As a result, Sears stopped selling home kits in 1940, marking the end of a significant era.

Sears may have ceased its mail-order housing business, but its legacy remains. According to reports, Sears sold more than 70,000 home kits. Even though Sears no longer sells home kits, many of these houses still stand and become available in the market. You might even stumble upon some of them on property listing sites! While there’s no fixed price for a Sears home today, listings typically range from $300,000 to over a million. The continuous presence of Sears homes in the housing market only proves their timeless appeal, which attracts buyers.

How to Identify a Sears Kit Home

Think your current gorgeous bungalow listing arrived by mail order during the 1930s? Here’s how to crack the code and see if you got a Sears house listing:

1. Inspect Parts of the House

Study the construction materials used in the house. Popular home styles of Sears houses include craftsman bungalows, Tudors, and colonial revivals. These styles usually featured low-sloped roofs, elaborate chimneys, and spacious front porches, mostly constructed with pre-cut pieces, pre-cut lumber, and asphalt shingles.

2. Identify Unique Markings & Consult Sears Catalogs

Look for markings such as stamped lumber in the basement or attic, as these were used to assist in construction. Not all Sears houses have these letter and number markings, but their presence is a vital clue. Additionally, check behind millwork, such as window trims and baseboards, for some shipping labels. Sears attached these labels to some pieces, so look for markings indicating the house’s origin.

3. Research the House’s History

Gather information about the house’s original owner and construction date. Explore archives and historical records in your local library to learn more about the origins of the house and its potential ties to Sears catalog designs. Check if the house was built during the time when Sears home kits were popular.

4. Seek an Expert’s Opinion

If you’re still unsure whether you’ve got a Sears house, consider seeking a professional’s opinion or anyone familiar with Sears homes. You can also contact historians, preservation specialists, or organizations that identify properties with architectural histories. Additionally, you can join online communities or forums like Facebook groups and Reddit threads dedicated to Sears homes. Connect with other Sears homeowners and enthusiasts who can guide your research.

How Much Are Sears Houses Worth Today?

While you couldn’t order a Sears house from today’s catalog anymore, many of these iconic houses still stand. If, by any chance, you own one or are about to have one as your listing, you might be surprised by its current value. And believe it or not, these Sears houses don’t even stay on the market long!

Here are some Sears kit homes currently on the market, contingent, and just sold:

3325 Warringham Ave, Waterford, Michigan

  • Asking price: $349,000
  • Sears house model: Lewiston
  • Year built: 1929

6522 33rd St, Berwyn, Illinois

  • Asking price: $259,900
  • Sears house model: Vallonia
  • Year built: 1922

418 Ann St, West Chicago, Illinois

  • Asking price: $325,000
  • Sears house model: Barrington
  • Year built: 1928

327 Geneva Rd, Glen Ellyn, Illinois

  • Asking price: $475,000
  • Sears house model: Colchester
  • Year built: 1926

How to Market Sears Kit Homes Today

Promoting Sears kit homes can be a unique opportunity for real estate agents! Contrary to popular real estate belief, property listings don’t sell themselves, so here are several strategies that real estate agents can employ to market Sears catalog homes effectively:

  • Highlight facts and history about the Sears home: Educate buyers about these homes’ history and unique qualities. Create educational content, such as blog posts and videos (or share this article!) that highlight the appeal of Sears houses. 
  • Emphasize the home’s quality and craftsmanship: In your property listing descriptions, highlight the Sears house’s classic features. Mention its solid wood construction, iconic trim work, and spacious layouts. Stress their sturdiness and timeless charm, adding value and character.
  • Network and target niche audiences: Identify those interested in Sears catalog homes and network with potential leads. These people could be history buffs, artists, and vintage home lovers. Invite them to property showings or open houses, and tailor your marketing efforts to these audiences.
  • Create virtual tours: Produce high-quality photos and video walk-throughs to showcase the interior and exterior of Sears houses. Consider adding aerial shots to show the home’s surroundings and neighborhood appeal. Create virtual tours using software like Zillow 3D Home Tours, Matterport, and Asteroom.
  • Host an open house: Organize open houses to promote your Sears house listing and attract interested buyers. Use various marketing channels, such as local newspapers, neighborhood newsletters, and community events, to spread the word about your open house.
  • Social media marketing: Leverage social media sites such as Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram, and TikTok to market Sears catalog homes for sale. Use targeted ads to reach specific demographics interested in historical architecture and home restoration to improve the visibility of your listings.

FAQs: Sears Catalog House Kits

Bringing It All Together

Sears houses are timeless classics, adorned by unique design elements and cherished for their historical significance. Have you seen any Sears houses in your neighborhood? Trying to sell one? Or are you looking to buy one? Tell us about your Sears house stories in the comments!

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