Moving needn't mean leaving the house behind

October 03, 1993|By Michael Walsh | Michael Walsh,Contributing Writer Universal Press Syndicate

Ours may be a mobile society, but ordinarily when we move, we take all our worldly possessions save one -- the house. But as wedded as they are to the land upon which they were built, houses can be moved, too. And, if recent news stories about such undertakings are any indication of a "movement," more and more houses are becoming mobile homes.

For example, a Chicago couple recently made news by moving an enormous Victorian brick and limestone rowhouse. More than 100 years old, the three-story house had been slated for demolition.

The couple bought the house for a dollar and paid $50,000 to have it moved by truck to a location several blocks away. The new site was a narrow lot in a row of similar vintage rowhouses. The gap into which the house was delicately tucked was just three feet wider than the house itself. Yet it all came off without a hitch. The new owners got a house worth at least six times their investment and the old owners saved the cost of having it torn down.

Just a few weeks later, an Arlington Heights, Ill., couple moved a 175,000-pound, 80-foot-long, split-level house a mile and a half. Greg and Nadine Watt got the house for free from a local church that needed the house's original site for a parking lot. The Watts demolished their old house, which they had outgrown, and moved the new house onto the site, all for about $50,000. That's a bargain, considering that an equivalent house would typically cost two to three times as much.

Whether the house is intact or in pieces, moving it is indeed do-able, and, for some, it's an affordable alternative to building a new house or buying an existing one. Cost is largely determined by the shape and size of the house (obviously, smaller houses are less expensive to move than larger ones) and the distance it is to be moved. David Scribner of Scrib's Housemoving Inc. in David City, Neb., told Decorating Remodeling that in his region a typical move of 12 miles for a 1,200-square-foot ranch house would cost between $6,000 and $8,000.

Part of the expense of any move are the fees the new owner will pay to have electrical lines, telephone lines, television cables and traffic lights temporarily moved and tree branches trimmed. The movers will likely be charged also for traffic control and police escorts, and for various permits.

Naturally, insurance is a must. Fortunately, professional house movers will make all the arrangements. Because moving a house is so unconventional, you may have to shop around for a bank willing to provide financing. Some will simply consider the cost of the move the cost of the house and issue a mortgage accordingly.

Adding to the price are the costs for a new site, a new foundation and hookups to water and sewer systems and electric power lines. Some local zoning laws require that an old house that is moved to a new site meet current building-code standards. Depending on the age and condition of the house, that may mean new plumbing, wiring, heating system and insulation.

All things considered, then, moving a house makes sense

economically only if you can get the house itself for little or nothing and if you can find a nearby site on which to put it. Good candidates are old farmhouses, long since abandoned but still structurally sound, and homes that are in the path of civilization. Houses located in areas zoned for commercial development -- new shopping centers, discount stores and the like -- are often simply bulldozed down. Keep your eyes open for announcements of such news, or alert your town's building and zoning department that you'd like to find a house to move.

Log houses and post-and-beam houses and barns can be moved in pieces. Typically, the major structural elements are photographed, documented with drawings, and numbered before the building is dismantled, moved and rebuilt on a new site. For long-distance moves, this method can be cheaper than moving a house intact, because the pieces can be transported on several trucks and because traffic lights, overhead wires and low bridges pose no problems.

How do you find a professional house mover? Just look in the telephone directory yellow pages under the heading of "House and Building Movers." Or, for a list of movers in your area, send a self-addressed stamped envelope to the International Association of Structural Movers, P.O. Box 1213, Elbridge, N.Y. 13060. If possible, get bids from several companies, ask for references, and make sure they have the experience and equipment to move the house you have in mind.

Obviously, moving a house over a long distance is simply not economical. Even moving small houses short distances is likely to remain a rare occurrence. But under the right circumstances -- a low- or no-cost house and an available nearby site -- it is an alternative way to put your search for a dream house on the fast track.

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