Oh No! It’s Not a Sears Kit House!

Last weekend in Raleigh, I gave a talk on Sears Homes. More than 200 people attended the talk and about 50 folks came prepared with photos of their own “Sears Home.”

About 75% of the time, I am not able to identify the house in their photo as a Sears Home. However, I’m usually able to identify the houses as a kit home from another company (such as Aladdin or Gordon Van Tine or Wardway).

Also – as is typical – some people were puzzled as to why their house wasn’t a match to any of the 370 designs that Sears offered. These folks had grown up hearing that “Grandfather bought the house from the Sears catalog and patiently waited for it to arrive at the train station,” and then went to work building his “Sears House.”

So what’s going on?


You have to begin with a simple question.  What is a Sears house?

A Sears house is a kit home, wherein both blueprints and materials were purchased from the Sears Modern Homes catalog during their years of operation; 1908 – 1940.

Sears began selling building supplies in 1895, but they did not sell kit homes until 1908. Building supply catalogs from Sears offered almost everything you needed to build a house, but the first Sears Modern Homes catalog, offering the package deal, did not appear until 1908.

Sears did sell house designs – blueprints – in the early 1900s.

In fact, both Sears and Montgomery Wards promoted and sold an identical 4 x 6-inch booklet titled Practical Homebuilder with 115 different blueprints priced from $2.50 – $8.00, for houses that would cost $500 – $3500 to construct.  But these were not Sears Modern Homes or even a precursor to Sears Modern Homes.  Practical Homebuilder was created by Frederick Drake & Company and imprinted with the Sears or Wards name on the cover page and sold through their general merchandise catalogs.

I suspect that – in many cases – “Grandfather” purchased his blue prints from the Practical Homebuilder booklet (imprinted with the Sears Roebuck name and logo), and then ordered all his lumber from the Sears Building Materials Catalog, and then waited for his “Sears House” to arrive.

Again, to be a true “Sears House,” both blueprints and (at least some of the) building materials should have been purchased from the Sears Modern Homes catalog between 1908-1940. If any one of those three elements are missing: Blueprints, building materials or timing (1908-1940), it’s not a true Sears kit home.



The 1910 Sears Modern Homes catalog is very rare and one of the hardest to find today.


This image appeared on the back page of the very rare 1910 Sears Modern Homes catalog.

This image appeared on the back page of the 1910 Sears Modern Homes catalog. I've put a blue star on the houses that are either extensively customized Sears designs, or are not identifiable as a Sears Model at all. Of the 15 images shown here, nine of these houses do not appear to be "Sears Homes."


This house presents a beautiful example.

This house presents a beautiful example of a house that is *not* a true Sears kit home. It is not one of the 370 models that Sears offered during their 32 years in the kit house business. In fact, it looks a lot more like the Aladdin "Virginia" than any thing Sears ever offered. And yet, the building materials came from Sears, and it's possible even the blueprints were ordered out of the Sears catalog.



Mr. Turk was pretty pleased was pretty pleased with the transaction.



I'm not sure what to think of that front door.


To learn more about Sears Homes, click here.

To buy Rose’s newest book, click here.

To learn about kit homes from Montgomery Ward, click here.

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  1. tina

    That front door looks like the top of a crate box…. or, a barn door. 🙂

  2. Mark

    William A. Turk lived at 1503 Holcomb Avenue in Detroit in the 1910 census. If this was the address of the house then it is no longer there.

    The houses in that area that have not been burned or torn down look to be from that era.

  3. Jacqui

    Have you ever seen a copy of Practical Homebuilder?

    We’re renovating a turn of the century Foursquare and all details on its history are fuzzy but they include a new house on an old foundation, replacing the 2nd story and changing the direction the house faced after a tornado in the 20s and becoming a duplex in the 50s.

    I know the millwork is Sears and my best guess at an original floor plan doesn’t seem to match a kit home so I’m wondering if the plans could have been from Practical Homebuilder.

    Any idea how to find some of those floor plans? Thanks!

  4. Gemma

    The term “Sears house” is almost like using “Coke” in Alabama to mean a carbonated beverage.

    The host would ask if the guest would like a Coke. The guest replies yes, then the host inquires further as to what kind. The guest would specify Sprite, etc.

    In this case, I’m almost hearing “I have a Sears house.” “What kind?” “Wardway.”

    The name Sears has become colloquial for kit home.

  5. zs

    Anywhere to find the 1910 Modern Homes catalog or Practical Hombuilder from same year reproduced? Online?