1. First off: What even is a Sears Modern Home?
Then a mail-order catalog (and eventually a department store), Sears, Roebuck and Company sold houses across America in the early 20th century via the railroad. They had about 400 different designs that cost anywhere from a few hundred dollars to a few thousand. People would buy the pieces (including appliances) and build them themselves from instructions via Sears.
2. But — is your home really old? Was it built between 1908 and 1940?
This is when Sears sold kit homes. They have a list of every single house they ever sold, the year it was built, and what the design was. Pictured here is the Avondale home #151 in Oklahoma from 1911, which cost between $1,198 to $2,657.
3. Were you lucky enough to grow up in Virginia, Illinois, or Texas?
The towns of Arlington, Virginia; Aurora, Carlinville, Des Plaines, Downers Grove and Elgin, Illinois; as well as part of Houston, Texas, have large clusters of Sears houses. Pictured here is Carlinville, Ilinois, which has “the largest contiguous collection” of the homes in the nation, writes Rosemary Thornton, of searshomes.org, an expert on the subject who has written several books.
4. Does your house match the floor plan of a Sears home?
Pay particular attention to the placement of the porch and eaves of the house. Pictured here is the Arlington home in Oklahoma from 1913 which cost between $1,294 to $2,906.
5. Does it have weird markings in secret places?
You’ll often see lumber stamped with numbers in places like the attic (though Sears itself notes that “Not all Modern Homes had Sears stamps” because Sears “encouraged builders of Modern Homes to save money by ordering their lumber from local lumber mills”). Additionally, other sheetrock, wood, and plumbing was often labeled. And finally, shipping labels were sometimes left on the wood.
6. Does it have weird joints sticking out of weird places?
So that construction would be easy for novices, Sears designed the buildings so that there was “a block at the point where complex joints meet.”
7. Finally: Are the documents in order?
Thornton suggests visiting your local courthouse and looking at “old building permits and grantor records” because for a certain period of time, Sears gave people mortgages on their homes, and also, their company name should be noted on any building permits.
8. Finally: If you think you have Sears Home, you probably don’t.
“More than 80% of the people who think they have a Sears Home are wrong,” writes Thornton. This is largely because there are lots of other companies that sold “kit homes” in the U.S. during the 20th century, like Gordon Van Tine, Aladdin, Lewis Homes, Harris Brothers, and Sterling Homes. Prefabs are everywhere!