Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Order Your House Online!

Not to re-visit the days of when we were moving last fall, but moving sucks. I mean, the moving itself sucks, but, worse than that, the process of buying a house sucks. One of the things I said somewhat frequently while we were in the house hunting stage was "why can't we just buy a house online?" I was somewhat serious about that, too. I mean, you can buy virtually everything online. You can even buy a car online. Why not a house?

Don't get me wrong, I understand why you can't buy a house online, but I don't like it. When we had to get a new car, I wanted to want to buy that online, too, but I couldn't bring myself to do it. A car is expensive enough that I wanted to "feel" the car before deciding on it. We did look at options online, but, in the end, we went down to the dealership and checked out the cars and test drove and all of that stuff. I can't imagine, in that sense, actually buying a house online. I'd need to go "feel" it, too.

Except the process of looking for a house is so horrid, there should be some kind of process for it online! There just should be.

A few months ago, while watching a period show with my wife, she said something along the lines of "I bet those are Sears catalog homes" about a neighborhood in  the show. I had to pause the show and say "what?" Then, after she explained, I had to say "what the heck!"

Because, see, before there was the Internet, you could buy your home online. Okay, so not online, but from a catalog. Seriously. Sears offered houses, HOUSES, in their famous Sears catalog.

We all know about the Sears catalog, right? Who, growing up in the 70s and 80s, didn't await the Sears catalog with great anticipation every winter so s/he could sit down with it and circle all the toys s/he wanted for Christmas? That's what I though. Maybe some kids still do that? I kind of doubt it. I only know that my kids don't because we don't get the Sears catalog nor do we shop very often at Sears (which I'm sure is a part of why Sears is having... issues... these days). But we USED to love the Sears catalog and "window" shopping in it. Back before the days of the Internet changed all of that.

At any rate, back in the day, specifically the days between 1908 and 1940, you could order a house from Sears' Book of Modern Homes and Building Plans. To make it even more amazing, the price for a house was as low as $650! Yes, less than $1000! And the most expensive plan was only $2500! At least, in 1908, those were the prices. Yeah, so you had to own a piece of land to put the house on, but, oh my gosh, you could just flip through a CATALOG and pick out the floor plan you liked best and order your house. They'd deliver it right to your non-existent doorstep, pre-assembled and ready to be put together. Mostly, you could even do it yourself with friends and relatives much like an old-fashioned barn raising. This Is Amazing! And I want it to come back.

Okay, so it may have to wait until we start colonizing other planets and there is, once again, plenty of land available for cheap for people to build on, but, still, this is such an amazing thing!

As great as I think it is to be able to order your house from a catalog, to be able to pick a floor plan and choose your bits and pieces to fit that floor plan, customize that floor plan into something that is you; I don't think it's such a great idea in writing. Not that it can't be done successfully. Plenty of people do it: write by formula. Plenty of people enjoy reading it, too. I just don't enjoy it. It can be kind of interesting to see how people make the formula their own, but, in  the end, I generally feel like "I've been in this house before." Unless you've done some pretty spectacular job at customization, it gets a little boring wandering through the same old floor plan over and over again.

Honestly, I feel that way about houses, too. If I could, I would design the general layout of my house myself. The thing I want out of a house is not something you can buy anywhere today (but that's a different topic). There is no existing layout for what I want. It's not the big house in the woods kind of thing. Or the big house on the hill. Or any of the "big house" ideas that most people have about big houses. It's so much not that that my wife was actually surprised by what I want out of a house. I want the same kind of thing out of my writing. I don't think I'm there, yet, but I am working on it. I think, based on the number of people who have said things like "that's not what I expected (but in a good way)" about my book, The House on the Corner, I'm getting there, but I'm not all the way there.

Still, the idea of being able to order a house online is awesome. Until I have the resources to design my own house, I'm all for the idea of the catalog house!
[Oh, and just to mention it, Sears wasn't the only company that sold catalog houses, just the most well known.]


  1. Can you order modular homes online or from a catalog? What about trailers? Not that I'd ever want to live in either of those!
    And yes, I remember circling everything I wanted for Christmas in the Sears catalog.

  2. If Sears' houses are anything like their other products, I wouldn't want to buy one online, offline, or otherwise.

    I want to design my own house too. My brother-in-law designed his own house, but he's a millionaire and stupid, so of course it looks ridiculous. "Let's add another pool in case you don't feel like walking to the other side of the yard." Brilliant idea!

    Oh, and I thought I sent my reply e-mail, but apparently it stayed in my drafts folder. So yes, if you could please not share what I sent, that would be great. :) Also, my plate is stacked a mile high with projects I'm working on, and 24 hours just does not seem like enough time in a day to get everything done, so I can relate, well, kind of. I can only imagine how that is with kids on summer break.

  3. Sears Craftsman homes are some of the most practical and beautiful homes and quality built. I've always wanted to live in one.
    We ordered our home from a catalog with a few custom features. It's a log home, and the only way to order it is by catalog really. And in a way you order it online, in that all the plans you can choose from are right there. Not sure they are up for swiping your credit card yet though!

  4. We used the JCPenney catalog for our Christmas stuff. Because we were higher-class than Sears, you see.

    When we went to buy Sweetie's new car, I test-drove it and asked questions and all, and then the salesman opened the hood to show me the engine.

    "Don't bother," I said. "What am I going to be able to tell you about the engine?"

    When we bought a used car last year for Oldest, I opened the hood and looked at the engine. "What are you looking for?" asked Sweetie.

    "I don't know," I said. "Dirt? Fire?"

    So I'd probably buy a car online, but I am pretty secure in my ability to sue the pants off anyone who rips me off. I might buy a house online, too, except that like you said, you have to visit it to see if you like it.

    We check out our hotels online, and that only works insofar as you can trust the pictures. The first one we stayed at recently had the power go out in the hallway on the second floor -- hard to tell about THAT online.

    As for how this applies to writing, I can see the allure of writing to a formula, although the books I like aren't really formulaic. If a book is a "typical" book but is really well-written, I'm okay with that. I read "The Silent Land" recently, and it was somewhat typical "Oh, guess what, we're dead" type of stuff but really well-done and somewhat more imaginative than most in that genre, so I liked it in the end but I was skeptical for most of the first 1/3 of the book until it took off.

    That contrasts with "Miss Peregrine," which also was a formula (call it the X-Men formula: hey, we're different from humanity and must protect it despite their fears) but which was not done so well and I hated it.

  5. My mom's house was probably a kit house from one company or another (it was a Craftsman-style cottage built in the 1920s, with a typical floor plan for kit houses, in a neighborhood where kit houses would have been common) and it was very well-built and quite solid. Thousands of these houses are still standing around the country and they are really charming. Sears back then wasn't like Sears is now.

    Sarah aka Andrew's wife

  6. I know what you mean Andrew. Home buying is such a frustrating process! On the other hand visiting a home is the only way to know if you'll really like it. Maybe using virtual reality?
    - Maurice Mitchell

    The Geek Twins | Film Sketchr

  7. Andrew, I'd love to know more about the home you'd like to build. As someone who will absolutely be building her own house - out of mud, probably, thought possibly straw or old tires - I'm always fascinated by hearing about the houses that others hold in their heads.

  8. I still get the Sears catalogue and order from them too, but I think that Sears in Canada is different than Sears in America..(ours used to be Simpson Sears)..I had heard about the houses and also you could order cars from Sears!
    @Jericha Senyak...I have heard of 'rammed earth' homes that are just rammed between forms made of...can't remember what the forms were made of..I loved the look of Dick Clark's Flintstones house!

  9. I hope real estate agents don't become obsolete because my middle daughter is making a good living at being one and I'd hate to see her put out of a job that she enjoys. The physical house is one thing, but I think the biggest thing you're buying into is the location and the neighbors. I would want to spend some time actually in the area where I'd be living before I'd buy a house there. On line is not always the truth just like a picture and a catalog often makes something seem better than it is in real life.

    I've heard about writing programs that practically compose books and stories. Once they have those perfected what good will writers be? But once that's all perfected maybe they'll come up with programs that read for us and download the data in our brains so we don't have to waste so much time reading.

    Brave new world, but not one that I like the sound of. Who needs people anyway?

    A Faraway View

  10. It would sound like a good idea until someone ordered a house that turned out to be a gingerbread house. ;) I know what you are saying and am surprised its isn't on ebay yet. :)

  11. Alex: Not that I know of anymore, but I didn't look into it, either.

    ABftS: Apparently, the Sears homes were really high quality and many of them are still standing and being used today over 100 years later.

    I don't think I have the same sort of house in mind as your brother-in-law.

    Donna: You know, if anyone had enough credit on a credit card to buy a house, I totally think they should be able to do it!
    How long ago did you do that with your log home?

    Briane: I used to look at the Penney's catalog, too, but it never had as good stuff.
    I don't mind a well done formula book; it just has to be well done.
    I've made no secret of my disdain for that "Peculiar book."

    Sarah's mom's house was quite nice. Considering its age, it was in spectacular condition when we sold it.

    Maurice: You know, some places are starting to add "virtual tours" of homes. It will be interesting to see where that goes.

    Jericha: Hmm... mud and straw. That sounds like brick to me. Not sure about the tires, though; they smell funny. :P

    Eve: Dick Clark had a Flintstones' house?
    They quit sending us Sears catalogs a few years ago. I suppose it was because we never made use of it. My kids are growing up without that experience.

    Lee: No kidding. I'm sure that's what the androids and cyborgs will think one day. What do humans do other than clutter up the place, anyway?

    GG: Ooh! A gingerbread house! Can you imagine how good that would smell to live in? Until, um, you ate it all...

  12. You can totally buy modular homes! Check out the tiny house blog:

    and more specifically, some of their modular posts:

    or this one:

    I love the idea of tiny houses, and one of the fun thigns about them is that they can be arranged and stacked in some really interesting, fun ways.

    Also, Andrew, thanks for your comments on my post.

  13. Before we bought the house I live in now we looked at ordering house plans online and the possibility of purchasing land. In the end we went the easy route and just bought a typical cookie cutter house. I love the idea of customizing your house to your needs and the way I did already pin your book on Pinterest!

  14. neal: Well, modular homes are not quite the same as what I'm talking about in the post, which are full sized houses, just smaller, because houses, in general, were smaller a century ago. But I'll go look at the tiny houses, anyway.

    Jennifer: That would have been cool, though. It's too bad that getting land to build on these days can be so difficult. Except in Detroit. I bet you can get some land there pretty cheap.

    And thanks for pinning me! That's awesome!

  15. I've been using all kinds of iPad applications to look for a suitable dwelling in my area. I've learned one thing...I don't make enough money. So I'm going to rent one more year and see where I'm at this time next year.

  16. Michael: Who in the 99% does make enough money? You should keep looking while the housing market is still at the bottom. It is showing some (small) signs of recovery and, if nothing else, interest rates probably won't be as low as they are right now next year.

  17. Nice correlation between catalog houses and writing! My parents met while working at Sears Tower. They were both in advertising and worked on the catalog :)

  18. I've heard of people (okay, this was back in the crazy days of the real estate madness four or five years ago) who bought their house (usually in another city or state) based solely on what they saw online through a real estate website. Things were so crazy you had to move fast to get a house you wanted. Sometimes you had to buy on faith and just fork over the money. Of course, I have no idea how many of those people absolutely regretted their decision and are underwater now. Probably most. No, I don't want to order a house on line. Just books. :)

  19. That would be very convenient. I would also appreciate if I could order my future castle online as well (I intend to have one in a few years when I'm a bestselling author rivaling J. K. herself).

  20. Jess: Wow! That's pretty cool. I'm still not happy that it's not the Sears Tower anymore.

    L.G.: The majority of people that bought houses during those few years are underwater, so, yeah... it would suck to have bought a bad house because you did it online to do it quick.

    S.L.: You know, I bet you can. You should check out the castles that are for sale over in Europe and pick one out.

  21. We built The Mount Hood log home on our island lot in Maine about 12 years ago now (wow, can't believe it's been that long!). We customized some by adding a laundry room and foyer and a few extra courses so we could make a loft upstairs. The company Hilltop in Bowdoinham, Maine, is still in business, and our home is still available. I thought back then we could see the prices, but I don't see them now. Other log home companies have the same type of deal, where the layouts are available online and some just deliver you the logs cut to size or not, for you to assemble. Love our home... everything is wood except three small areas of tile floor in laundry, foyer and one of the baths.

  22. Interesting connection to writing! I wasn't expecting you to link the two mid-post.

    I don't like the design of most houses; I wish you could both order online and customize.

  23. Donna: That sounds pretty cool. I wouldn't mind in living in a log cabin. In the woods. It would have to be in the woods, though, because a log cabin in, say, the desert would be kind of silly.

    TGE: Yeah, I don't like them, either. Most houses are not designed with any practicality in mind, which just boggles my mind. My wife says it's because men design them.
    So there should be a website where you go in and design your house and, then, someone comes and builds it for you.

  24. You're a brave soul. I don't think I could even consider buying something as important as a house online if such a service was available. I still hold my breath when I buy books for my Kindle. Yup, I know. I'm a dinosaur.

  25. Sam: If I could buy it and have it delivered anywhere I wanted it? I would do it in a moment!
    What kind of dinosaur?

  26. I'm not sure I'd be that thrilled about buying a house online, an example would be a house we found when we were looking several years ago that was perfect, perfect neighborhood, perfect yard, it was big, and oh so cheap... anyway, walking around it revealed some major issues that would have been very expensive to fix, I'd like to think a home inspection would have revealed them too... but by the time you get to that point you're already emotionally invested.

    So I don't think I'd be too thrilled with the online thing for a home, I just don't trust the ability of Realtors to be entirely honest with me online.

  27. Rusty: Well, I'd really only want to order a new house online. Unless, of course, money wasn't an issue and I could just fix anything that needed fixing.

  28. Honestly, I don't agree ordering a house online. Aside from the fact that I'm having a hard time about the measurement of the house, I'm a poor judge when it comes to online buying.

  29. Marianne: Thanks for stopping in! I think online house buying would have to only be for new houses.