D.C.’s Homes With A Unique Provenance: Vintage Home Kits

David Hatef

Before there was Amazon, there was the Sears catalog. When taking a tour of Washington D.C. area neighborhoods like Cleveland Park, Chevy Chase, Silver Spring, and Shephard’s Park, it’s easy to feel wowed by the beautiful, historic homes on display. What makes these homes stand out even more is the unexpected secret of their construction. Many of them were originally built using D.I.Y. kits from the Sears catalog.

In the early 1900s, most Americans received a copy of the Sears, Roebuck and Co catalog in the mail. Sears, along with a few competitors, advertised D.I.Y. kits for hundreds of different home styles, such as bungalows and colonials. Buyers could purchase the home of their choice and have all the materials, from wood to nails to paint, shipped to them by rail. For D.C. area neighborhoods on the train line and close to the station, moving the materials to the station to their future home lot was a convenient process.

Sears created the custom machine cut materials for each kit, so the quality of the build remained high for a reasonable price that middle class families could afford. Adjusted for today’s dollar values, the materials ran from just under $10,000 for the lowest prices homes to around $80,000. With shipping times averaging around six weeks, getting the new home materials was also fast and easy.

Once the materials arrived, home owners hired professional help, supplemented by their own labor, to build the house. Typically, D.C. area buyers used a mason, who created the foundation for the house. A hired home developer or builder led the construction process, adding an additional but manageable cost to the build for the owners. However, a surprising number of D.I.Y. vintage home owners built their own homes, particularly when they ordered a smaller home, from start to finish.

​​​​​​​Today, many of these D.I.Y. homes remain standing and are in excellent condition. The solid construction and quality materials make these houses long lasting, and many maintain stunning curb appeal and original details from the historical period. A far cry from their humble roots, there’s a renewed interest in D.I.Y. homes, as many modern buyers appreciate their beauty and solid builds. Some of these homes sell for over $1 million dollars.

​​​​​​​Contact D.C.'s premier real estate agent, David Hatef, to view his listings and to learn more about D.I.Y. vintage homes that are currently on the market.


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