House kits have been around since the early 1900s, when Sears and The Aladdin Co. marketed popular designs through catalogs and mail order. Despite their modest market share, myriad suppliers are providing home buyers and builders with plans and (usually) precut materials for houses, cabins, and geodesic domes—from 200-square-foot offices to 4,000-square-foot estates.
Customers believe kits are a less-expensive alternative to buying a house from a production or custom builder, but they’re often mistaken. Kits cost as little as $22,000 to more than $240,000, depending on the design’s size and complexity. That cost covers the external shell and plans, but typically doesn’t include plumbing, electrical, fixtures, finish carpentry, foundations, land, or labor. Although some can be erected by seasoned do-it-yourselfers, kit manufacturers strongly recommend having professionals do the work.
“The overall consensus of our homeowners has been that the … construction price, is, on average, the same or slightly below stick-built rates in their area,” says Rocio Romero, whose St. Louis-based company, Rocio Romero Sales, has sold more than 160 house kits since 2002.
Romero’s LV Series kits—which include open wall panels, exterior siding, steel posts, and the roof structure—cost $27,950 to $39,500. Romero also offers a host of design, drafting, and project management services that can tack on tens of thousands of dollars to the kit price.
Affordability comes from “sweat equity,” asserts Noah Grunberg. His company, Shelburne Falls, Mass.–based Noble Homes, has sold a dozen kits since 2008, mostly online to customers from Cape Cod to Las Vegas. Noble Homes’ eco-friendly kits, which start at around $45 per square foot, target skilled do-it-yourselfers who, Grunberg believes, can assemble the house’s exterior in about three weeks. But completing the project with contractors and interior materials can bring that cost up to $150 per square foot, Grunberg estimates.
Ricky Cappe thinks he has come up with a better mousetrap. Cappe is a Los Angeles–based green building consultant who recently launched SAK House (the acronym stands for Sustainable Affordable Kit), with five plans that are adaptable for different regions. Its kits include blueprints, elevations, and a construction timeline. What’s missing are materials; instead, SAK House kits—which retail from $5,900 to $9,500—point buyers toward building products manufacturers, such as Jeld-Wen and EcoTimber, with which the firm has supply-chain arrangements.
Will kits lower the cost of construction? Maybe not. Cappe spent $200 per square foot to complete a house in British Columbia from one of his kits. But he’s optimistic that buyers will be drawn to SAK House because, he says, “We’ve made it simpler and affordable for people who don’t want to go through the thousands of decisions of building a house themselves.”