How do we know it's a Sears house?
Methods of Authenticating a Sears houses
Our team analyzes each house that we find, discussing each house, and coming to a consensus about the probability of it being an example of the Sears model that it appears to be. We have learned, over many years of researching, that in the kit-house era, there were many "lookalike" models (similar styles offered by non-kit companies, or by other kit companies). Many homes on our national database are listed, but not authenticated, but those are only added once there is consensus that the house is highly probable to be the model it appears to be.
To officially authenticate a model, we need one of these primary-source pieces of evidence:
Mortgage or Deed from Sears: The house has a mortgage or deed signed by a recognized Sears trustee
Building Permit: Records of a building permit listing a known Sears architect, or Sears Roebuck as architect
Blueprints: Blue prints from Sears Roebuck, showing the model number
Shipping label: Sears shipping label found, usually on the back of trim pieces around doors or windows, or crown or floor moulding (this could have the name Norwood Sash & Door, or Sears, or simply list an address on Homan Avenue in Chicago) and, the house matches a Sears model (at least, originally) . To see an example of one kind of shipping label from Sears, see this Sears Homes of Chicagoland blog post about an authenticated Hazelton model, or this Sears Houses In Ohio blog post about a very old Sears model N°171 in Sidney, Ohio. (See image, below, of one style of shipping label.)
Stamped lumber: Alpha-numeric characters stamped on framing lumber, and, the house matches a Sears model (at least, originally) . Remember, other kit-house companies also stamped their lumber, so, if you find marked lumber, but the house does not match a Sears model, you would want to look through catalogs for other companies. To see examples of stamped lumber, and learn more about this element of Sears houses, see this Sears House Seeker blog post about an authenticated Sears Winona in Affton, Missouri, or this post about an authenticated Sears Sunbeam in Wilkins Township, Pennsylvania. (See images at the end of this page.)
Sears paperwork from the purchase of the kit : On rare ocurrence, owners of an authentic Sears house have original paperwork related to the ordering of the kit from Sears. To read the story of the building of a Sears Aurora in Trotwood, Ohio, see this Sears Houses In Ohio blog post ; or, to read about a customized Sears Vallonia in Westerly, Rhode Island, and see blueprints and Sears La Tosca hardware, along with extensive paperwork from throughout the process of the ordering of this customized kit, see this Sears House Seeker blog post.
Newspaper ads advertising the house as a Sears model home: Sears sometimes arranged for the use of a recently-built house of one of their customers, as a model home, for the public to visit for a short period of time, and they advertised this in local newspapers. See this Kit House Hunters blog post about this concept, listing a number of these model homes that we have found throughout our years of research.
Historic Newspaper notices of the building, financing, or designing of a home by Sears: Local newspapers sometimes ran images of newly-built homes, and we have sometimes found Sears Roebuck listed as the source of financing, or a Sears-employed architect listed as the designer of the home. To see a set of these newspaper-advertised Sears homes in St. Louis, Missouri, see this Sears House Seeker blog post focusing on Sears architect L. J. Steffens.
Testimonials sent in by satisfied customers, or towns listed as "built at" locations of a certain model : Another reliable resource that allows us to track down authentic examples of Sears houses, is the body of testimonial letters and images sent in to Sears by satisfied customers. We can also be fairly certain of the authenticity of a certain model if it is found in a town listed as a "built at" location for that model, in the Sears Modern Homes catalogs. Researcher Rebecca L. Hunter published a book to organize these types of listings, in her book, Putting Sears Homes On the Map: A Compilation of Testimonials Published In Sears Modern Homes Catalogs 1908-1940, available here, on her website; You can read about a series of these finds in Dunkirk, New York, in these three blog posts in Sarah Mullane's blog, Catalog Homes of Western New York: Dunkirk 1 • Dunkirk 2 • Dunkirk 2.5 . You can also read about a testimonial Americus model, in this Sears House Seeker blog post; this very early Sears No 110 in Fulton, New York ; and this wonderful Sears Ashmore in Cleveland, Ohio.
We consider a house to be almost certainly a Sears house, but not officially authenticated, if it:
Matches a Sears model (at least, originally), and has only-sold-by-Sears door hardware or hinges or the Sears-only front door iron strapping (which has a distinct curlicue at the hinge edge).
To see an example of the Sears curlicue on the iron strapping of a Sears house front door in Burlington, Vermont, see this Sears House Seeker blog post.
To see an example of Sears Narcissus door handle hardware, see this DC House Smarts blog post about a Sears Winthrop in Bethesda, Maryland.
To see an example of Sears Stratford door handle hardware, as well as the Sears Door Butt hinge, see this Sears Houses In Ohio blog post about a Sears Langston in nearby Fort Mitchell, Kentucky. Cindy Catanzaro shows many original Sears elements of Sears houses that she has visited and photographed, in the numerous posts of this blog.
What are some unreliable methods for determining if a house is a Sears kit house?
Floor-plan alone: Sears sometimes used the same, or similar, floor plan for more than one model, providing a different exterior, or even a different roof orientation, with changes to the number and placement of windows and doors. It is important to look at the overall structure of the house, including the roof style (hip? side gable? front gable?) and any porch that might be part of the design. Additionally, many non-Sears houses of similar size and general design, might also have a very similar floor plan as a Sears model. A true example of any Sears model, should have all elements shown in the catalog... every window, door, closet, bathroom, staircase, and hallway, all in exactly the spot that is shown in the Sears Modern Homes catalog, as well as the location of the furnace vent chimney. Still, we do not consider a house that matches the look and layout, to be an authenticated Sears house, without one of the primary-source elements listed above.
Measurements of rooms : This can be a helpful piece of information, but it is not a fool-proof method of authenticating a house, and it is only helpful, if the house perfectly matches the window and door and hallway and closet and room placement of a Sears model, with the same roof and porch and furnace vent chimney location. However, those elements alone, are not sufficient to authenticate a house, because of the existence of extremely close "lookalikes" from other companies. No one should offer a certificate of authenticity for a house that only visually matches a Sears model.
Measurements between rafters or joists : There is absolutely no connection between the amount of space between rafters or joists, and the likelihood of a house being a Sears model... even if the house has a strong resemblance to a Sears model. If someone is charging you to authenticate your home, and includes this concept as part of their authentication process, you should be very suspicious of their qualifications. Most homes built in the era of the Sears Modern Homes program, used the same standard spacing for these elements, as do many homes today. Sears advertised that their Honor Bilt homes had 14-3/8" spacing between joists and rafters (that would be edge-to-edge), though, considering the size of the wood, that would come to 16" apart, measuring center-to-center. That measurement is a standard distance between joists or rafters in many American homes.
Family history or town lore : You would think that these would be reliable resources, but, alas, they are not. Sometimes these stories are accurate, but many, many times, facts and names and companies have been confused over the years. We often hear the statement, "... but, we can't find a Sears model that matches the house." That, in almost every single case, is because the house is not from Sears, after all. It may be that some Sears building supplies (and no house plans) were ordered from Sears; or, it may be that someone in the past learned a little bit about Sears houses, and thought that their house, or another in their neighborhood, was a match for a model they saw in a book (not realizing the many details that did not match up), declared the house to be a Sears house, and then passed the story on through the years (sometimes even going so far as to spread the mistaken information through a historical society or a newspaper story); or, the house may be a kit from a different company (often, the term Sears House gets applied in a generic way, similar to saying Kleenex for any brand of tissue). Consider the case of the August Anstett family, in Torrington, Connecticut, who, for generations, have thought that their family home was a Sears house, when, in reality, it was an Aladdin Homes kit house. We were able to locate the purchase records from the Aladdin Homes Company, for the Aladdin Adams model, bought by August Anstett in 1924... and, that's why it didn't resemble anything in the Sears Modern Homes catalogs.
The general look of the house or neighborhood : Sears homes followed the general design trends of their era. We often hear someone suggest that their house "feels like" a kit house, or that their neighborhood is "filled with tons of Sears houses", because they are associating the common house designs of the era, with Sears, and Sears alone. But, in reality, only about 2% of houses built in the kit-house era, were kits, and every kit company, and every plans-only book of plans that was available through a lumber yard or building contractor, offered similar design options. Sears models included large Queen-Anne or Victorian style houses, smaller bungalows, houses with Craftsman design components, dutch colonials, cape cods, English cottage designs, and even a grand plantation-style model... but, so did every single other house plan or kit house company of the era. In support of that, I invite you to browse through any of the plans-only books, shown in this set of albums from Daily Bungalow, and the catalogs of other kit-house companies, all listed on a page of the Sears House Seeker blog, here.
The existence of a railroad line running through the town, or near the lot of a certain house thought to be a Sears house : Though it's true that Sears kits were shipped to homeowners by rail, the existence of a railroad line running through a town, does not really make it any more likely that there are Sears houses in that town. Most towns had rail lines, and there are many, many towns around the U.S. that have rail lines, and yet have no kit houses in the town. Remember, too, that the building supplies shipped by Sears, were deposited at the train depot of a town, not at the lot of the homeowner, so the fact of a lot having a rail line behind it, doesn't make it any more likely to have a Sears kit house on that lot. Additionally, we know of homeowners who picked up their box-car loads at rail stations many miles from their building site, and transported the supplies to the lot, by truck. This concept has been misconstrued by folks reading about the kit-house concept and its connection to rail, for many years.