Sears Catalog Homes – History and Fad

You may know how hard it is to buy a home in the current real estate market. In many cities, there are so few homes listed for sale that it can take a long time for a home buyer to find a property that works for them. What if you could buy your home out of a catalog?

Does that sound strange? If you wanted to build a home today, you might recognize that you need to get a loan, talk to a builder, work with the architect to design your home, and then wait a year or more to have the home constructed. That sounds reasonable.

Yet, years ago, it was possible to buy a home out of a catalog, a Sears catalog, in fact. For those who are a bit older, think back to when you or your parents used to visit Sears Department Store and purchase a catalog or, if you were lucky, they would send a massive, phone-book-sized book to your home (perhaps you're not sure what a phone book is either if you're younger!) Nevertheless, for some time, Sears did not sell just the latest fashion and accessories through these catalogs but also houses.

Sears Catalog Homes

Sears, Roebuck, & Co, more commonly called just Sears, was hoping to meet the demand of people who wanted a home established quickly. So they created it. These home building kits allowed people to purchase all of the materials necessary to build a home. The kits would then arrive on railroads in their hometown. Within about 90 days, the home could be fully erected and ready to move into by a family.

The company did this from 1908 through 1942. During that timeframe, Sears greatly contributed to the boom in real estate. The company sold about 75,000 homes like this, ranging widely in terms of style and features. They could be Craftsman style homes or Cape Cods. More so, Sears was able to make these home building kits very affordable thanks to its ability to mass produce them.

The investment did not seem strange to those living during that time. In the early part of the company’s history, about 20 percent of the U.S. population subscribed to these catalogs, which in some years were as long as 1,400 pages. They contained as many as 100,000 items that consumers could buy right from the comfort of their homes.

Recognizing its reach with consumers, Sears launched the home kits, knowing it would provide an effective way for the business to grow. Not only did the catalog sell the homes, but it also sold everything that someone could possibly want to buy to fill that home. That increased the company’s ability to market and build revenue incredibly quickly.

Why Did This Massive Switch in Home Sales Happen?

While it is clear Sears had a good opportunity on its hands, the reason for the move was a bit different. Prior to its launch, many companies were struggling to get product off their warehouse shelves. Some of its competitors, including The Aladdin Company, were already testing the water to offer a home kit like this. Sears took it to the next level.

There was a lot of material sitting on warehouse shelves. It was not getting to people fast enough. And, with a growing middle class that could now afford to buy a home, there were many areas of the country where a significant amount of demand existed. Homeowners were relying on local builders to be available to help them to build their home, but there just was not enough people to do so.

Staff would bundle and sell the materials for various styles of homes. Each home style had its own name, “Starlight” or the “Crescent” home. In many situations, the company would send along the blueprints for building the home as well, eliminating just about any wait that the home buyer had to have.

In some areas, Sears recognized that there just were not enough local professionals to put their homes together. To solve this problem, they worked with local construction services directly and, for an added charge, would help buyers to secure their home’s building services as well. Some local home builders actually turned to Sears to purchase model homes, then followed the models provided by Sears in the construction of their own properties.

Other companies launched a similar service. That includes organizations like The Aladdin Company, Pacific Ready Cut Homes, Sterling and Montgomery Ward Homes, and Gordon-Van Tine.

Was It Just a Fad?

A fad does not last long, typically, and yet the Sear catalog homes, also known as Modern Homes, were around until 1940, though sales continued in some areas until 1942. Over the years it was offered, there were over 370 model styles available for homeowners to choose from.

Unfortunately, the records for the company on where the homes were built are long gone, thanks to a fire. Today, it is not easy to determine which of these homes were, in fact, Sears Modern Homes. It is estimated that, in 1939 alone, the company sold around $7 million in kit homes alone.

Why did they stop making them, then? Preparations for World War II made it very difficult for the company to continue to offer its products, many of which included supplies that needed to be used for war prep. In 1941, The Supplies Priorities and Allocations Board required that all nonessential construction, including the building of these homes, was to stop.

While there is no doubt that these homes were unique in the way that they were built, many of them continue to exist throughout the country. Though it is not easy to pinpoint them, there are some outstanding examples of these homes available throughout much of the country. High-quality and built to last, these homes made a mark on real estate.

Call Working Moms Realty Instead of Flipping Through a Catalog

WMR is always on top of the market and can help you find your new home, even if we don't have a Sears catalog coming in the mail.  Let us do the work for you - Contact us today!  If you could order your next home from a catalog what features would you want in it?