Thinking of moving? Take your house with you
by Staci Giordullo
Greg Close and his wife Becky Anderson bought their Portland, Ore., home for a dollar. So what's the catch? "We had to move it," Close says. "And we like a good challenge, so we decided to do it!"
The Angie's List members purchased one of 40 married-student houses slated for demolition at Concordia University in 2007. "It would have cost the university $40,000 to demolish each house," Close says.
Relocating a house isn't a new concept — from our earliest nomadic days, humans have built and dismantled shelters as necessary. However, today's version of moving a house is vastly different. "It was surreal to say the least," Close says.
Keith Settle, owner of highly rated Northwest Structural Moving in Scappoose, Ore., moved the couple's one-story house 15 blocks. "We have to coordinate all public agencies and utility companies," Settle says. "Some moves have as many as 40 additional people involved."
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Settle says he can move any type of structure and averages 60 jobs a year. "We get asked to look at some pretty off-the-wall ideas, like lowering a house 40 feet over the side of a cliff," he says. "We have to decide if the project is financially feasible for the client."
Cost depends on a number of things: the size and weight of the home, the length of the journey, and a new foundation are some of the biggest factors. Industry experts estimate costs for just the move itself on a 1,800-square-foot home runs roughly $12 to $16 per square foot.
Jody Barrett, owner of McDowell House and Structure Movers in Amarillo, Texas, charges between $6 and $15 a square foot and says his customers see it as a low-cost housing option. "It's less expensive to have an existing house moved than to purchase a new one," he says.
In the end, Close and Anderson spent $150,000 on the house move, which included a new foundation, an upgraded electrical system and the required permits, but say it was well worth it as their home gained an instant $100,000 in equity.
There are a number of reasons for moving an existing structure. If a home is subject to dangers such as flooding or is in the way of encroaching development — which is often the case with historic homes — they can be relocated.
If a landowner decides to build a new home on the property, giving away the previous home saves the owner cost of demolition and keeps debris out of the landfill. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates the annual amount of residential demolition materials at 19 million tons.
"We're the ultimate recyclers," says Bill Scribner, International Association of Structural Movers director and owner of Scrib's House Moving Inc. in David City, Neb.
Find a house mover
To find a home mover, try a keyword search on Angie's List for variations of "structural mover" and cross-check the company with the IASM member directory at iasm.org.
If you've already moved your house, don't forget to submit a report about your experience!
Eliminating demolition waste and educating the public is a priority for IASM, which has 385 members worldwide. "The environmental aspect is a huge part of what we do," says Scribner, who averages up to 150 moves a year, and adds that the best part of his job is doing something for which future generations can be proud.
Don Toothman Jr., owner of Toothman Structure Movers in Springfield, Tenn., agrees the green factor is the No. 1 reason he enjoys moving homes. "You've saved a house and you've saved someone the cost of demolition — which is more than monetary," Toothman says.
The structural moving industry is comprised of mostly family-owned operations with a long tradition of apprenticeship. "You can't get this type of training in school," says June Cook, co-owner of Baxter Cook House & Building Mover in Searsport, Maine.
June and her husband, Baxter, lead the New England Structural Movers Association and recommend anyone considering a move to check with their local structural movers association or IASM. "We're like family," June says. "If a company isn't reputable, the association will know."
Before the big move, there's a punch list of items for the professionals, but the homeowner can leave the house's contents alone. "There's very little damage done, if any, to a house when it's moved," Toothman says. "We've moved houses that still had the china in the cabinets."
Companies first assess the home's weight and then cut openings in the foundation in order to insert steel support beams. A unified hydraulic jacking system is placed under the beams, which keeps the house level while being raised. Sliding dollies with tires are placed under the house and attached to a truck.
Thus the journey begins. As the truck crawls along a designated route, a small army of professionals accompanies the parade. Workers from the utility companies shimmy up poles to move wires. Movers push tree branches out of the way and neighbors stare from their porches.
While the novelty may never get old, it's a job that makes businesses in the industry proud. "It's a wonderful way to recycle and preserving the historic integrity is so important," says Brett Schulz, owner of highly rated Brett Schulz Architect, who often works with house movers in Portland, Ore. "It's a challenge, but I like suiting up for the challenge."