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Sears Houses: This article series provides detailed photographic and historic clues to assist in the identification of Sears Catalog or Kit homes and including references to other expert books and resources on Sears Homes. We describe and provide photographs of Sears Catalog homes, using examples of these homes located in the Hudson Valley of New York. This article provides examples of clues useful in identifying Sears Catalog Kit Homes. We also edit Sears Kit House identification checklists and comment and books on Sears Homes by Rosemary Thornton.
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Daniel Friedman has inspected and identified Sears catalog homes in the Hudson Valley of New York, and has included additional identification tips and photos with this article. Rosemary Thornton, whose work is referenced in this document, is a leading expert on Sears catalog homes.
Thornton is also the author of books on identifying Sears houses, cited at References below, and she offers a Sears house identification service.
Here is the original catalog description of this home at 15 N. Remsen, Wappingers Falls, NY
Three neighbors - three Sears catalog homes were built in a row by Wappingers grocer Adolph Von Vorstel on N. Remsen Ave. in Wappingers Falls.
This house, #15 N. Remsen, in Wappingers Falls, NY, arrived by train. Using the Sears numbering system, the contents of the railroad boxcars (typically two boxcars were needed to ship all of the parts to build a complete home) were brought by wagon to this site in the village of Wappingers Falls, NY.
Wagon loads of house materials were brought wagon-by-wagon in the proper order for construction while the boxcar sat on a siding. The total cost for this house was $1500. As shown here in September, 2005 this charming house was listed for sale by its owners for $299,000.
Inspecting a Fullerton Sears Catalog House for Details
More difficult to find in some homes is the definitive stamp/stencil letter-number identification on framing lumber and trim, but it is often there for the diligent inspector, for example on
Like many houses with a history of incomplete insulation and dormers with flashing failures at the dormer wall-to-roof juncture, there are often visible in the attic of both Sears Catalog and non-Sears homes of this design.
We did not examine the mechanicals closely in this house, as they were not provided by Sears and Roebuck and were obtained locally. We did not photograph the kitchen and bath as they had been remodeled leaving no obvious original materials.
However the combination of catalog match, interior hardware, and stencil marks make the identification of this home as a Sears catalog house quite clear. We also had help - the home was so identified and its history written in a Poughkeepsie Journal article in 1990. However the owners and listing realtor had been unable to identify the Sears catalog model. The Journal article (1/7/1990 F1-2), also identified other Sears catalog homes in Dutchess County, NY. These are listed here.
How can you spot a Sears Catalog Home? While I have expanded, edited, and illustrated this list based on our own field experience, and we have added photographs and other details, this material has its origin in Thornton's books cited at "References" below. We recommend those books for any owner or serious investigator of Sears Catalog homes.
Sears Roebuck company began selling buildings or components of buildings in 1895. Some early experiments by Sears included selling a kit to build a complete school or office building. The first complete Sears Kit homes, that is, residences, were marketed by Sears & Roebuck in 1908, and eventually Sears offered 370 different models of residential homes, ranging from small bungalows at $500. (kit cost) to larger homes costing $5000. Buyers of a Sears Kit home saved about one third of the typical construction costs of their era.
Beginning in 1929, and not by coincidence, the volume of Sears Catalog houses sold dropped dramatically. So it's probably true that most of these homes were sold and built before that year, but it is certainly the case that the sale of some models continued to 1940.
In 1940 the last "official" Sears kit house was sold and shipped to its owner. By 1940 home designs, specifications (and building codes) had become more complex, detailed, and demanding, including stricter requirements for electrical wiring and plumbing, and Sears abandoned the dwindling "do it yourself" home market.
However some homes could have been purchased around 1939 or 1940 but not completed until several years later, depending on what time and labor the buyer had available to build their house. Thornton cites a Sears house which was completed around 1944.
However other companies may have both purchased remaining Sears kit house stock or copied Sears designs and continued to sell kit homes after 1940. we have encountered such a home in northern Dutchess County in New York State, one which looks just like a Sears model but which lacks the Sears identifying stencils on framing and other key details. Our client traced the sale and construction of the home to a company which sold it as a kit house in the early 1940's.
We've had less success finding details about other kit home companies selling in the United States and Canada, though Rebecca Hunter has compiled a list of a variety of kit house companies. Benefiting from Hunter's work as well as our own search we list a number of kit or catalog home manufacturers here.
Watch Online Video about Sears Homes, Rosemary Thornton, KETC Living in St. Louis, Sears Homes
This link to a YouTube entry will display a nice five-minute video in which Rosemary Thornton discusses
the history and appearance of Sears Catalog Homes.
Any ASHI, NAHI, or other serious home inspector who has been working in the Hudson Valley of New York for a decade or more has probably inspected several Sears Catalog homes, even if s/he did not recognize it at the time. A review of some of our inspection photos came up with a few candidates with an expert like Thornton might see immediately as probable or improbable Sears Catalog Houses.
These along with some houses I photographed which are definitely not Sears Catalog Houses are included in this list as a fun exercise for readers.
This photo is of an Aladdin kit home constructed in Tivoli, New York. Since its original construction, especially viewed from the exterior, it would be tough to identify this as a kit home much less as an Aladdin kit home.
But the observation of stencil marks on some framing visible in the interior of the home and research by the owners turned up the original plans for this Aladdin home.
[Aladdin kit home photos wanted, CONTACT us]
The National Trust Library offers catalogs of Aladdin kit houses.
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Technical Reviewers & References
Related Topics, found near the top of this page suggest articles closely related to this one.
References for Identifying Sears Catalog Homes and other brands
We recommend all three of these publications. Item #1 is a great reference catalog of home designs, organized to help as a field guide. Rosemary Thornton's two books contain additional specific details which you will find instrumental in identifying Sears Catalog Homes.