Yes! Boise Residents Really Used to Buy Homes Out Of a Sears Catalog
Growing up, one of the best parts of the holiday season was the arrival of the Sears “Wishbook” on your front doorstep.
When the big catalog showed up in August or September, you’d grab a big marker and start circling the things that you hoped Santa would bring you for Christmas. When you share those memories with your kids, they blink and look at you like you’re crazy. They’ve never known a time when they couldn’t log on to Amazon and easily add things to a wish list.
Looking back, the Sears catalog was kind of like Amazon before Amazon’s time. According to the History Channel, Sears, Roebuck and Company didn’t get their start as the now-defunct department store we so fondly remember. They were originally a mail-order watch company but their catalogs grew to include just about everything, much like Amazon evolved from an online bookseller to the hub for anything you could possibly imagine.
And yes, that included homes! While most articles you read about Sears homes are quick to jump into the “home kits” they offered, it appears that they were offering floorplans through their catalog at least three years before the kits became available.
At least, that’s according to the City of Meridian, which reveals that the historic “Tolleth House” at 134 E State Avenue was built in 1907 from plans featured in the 1905 Sears, Roebuck and Company catalog.
In 1908, they started offering more than 400 house “kits” in their catalog. According to the Craftsman Blog, it was a way for the company to get rid of a surplus of building supplies they’d accumulated. The kits included all the materials you needed to build the home, cut and fit to the correct sizes and were shipped to the buyer. With some hard work and the right conditions, they could be assembled in about a month and a half. The first Sears “Honor Bilt” Modern Homes ranged anywhere from around $750 to $6,000.
In the 32 years that Sears sold homes, more than 70,000 of them were purchased. With that sort of popularity, it’s not a surprise that competitors, including a regional one commonly called “Pacific Ready Cut Homes,” entered the market.
Identifying Sears and other “kit” homes still standing across the country became a passion for author Rosemary Thorton. Her travels brought her to Idaho, where she had a hard time finding Sears Kit homes. She found one that matched the “Argyle” style found in the Sears catalog in Nampa. You can click HERE to see it. Its address is “804” but we have no idea which street in Nampa it’s on! If you recognize it, send us an e-mail so we can find it on Google Maps.
She had a lot more luck finding Pacific Ready-Cut Homes in our area, including this duplex in the North End. A realtor friend of ours tipped us off that the kit home is still standing on the corner of Jefferson and Elm, not far from the Roosevelt Market. It matches “Style 218” from their 1925 catalog. According to public records, it was built in 1935 and remodeled in 2019.
Idaho History buff and administrator of the popular "Boise & The Treasure Valley History" All of Idaho's History Facebook group, Bryan Lee Mckee, shared the story of another kit house in the group. According to a 2016 post in the group, this home on N Curtis Rd was built from one of the Bungalow style Sears kits. Over the years it has gone under an expansive remodel and expansion project to make it feel more like a rich Victorian home, rather than a cheap bungalow.
Other group members chimed in about the Sears homes that they were aware of in the Treasure Valley. Madeleine shared that there was a three-story Sears Kit Barn in Parma that's been fully restored. You can see it on the corner of Dixie and Bratt Corner.
After one user shared Rosemary's page about the Sears Argyle, many other users chimed in that they were aware of this model or another Sears home in the North End, East Boise, Caldwell and several other places in the Treasure Valley. We found this Argyle on Woodlawn Avenue. When it was first marketed in 1916, the kit for this model cost just $881. The price rose to $1,479 three years later. Many of us can't find an apartment for that price in 2022, so it's absolutely wild to think about!