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Relocating a house rarely a smooth move

Dear Steve,
What do you think about buying a low-cost home and moving it to your location? I've seen homes for sale for as little as $2,000 just because they need to be moved. -- Chris

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Dear Chris,
I've seen them for as little as $1! And there's good reason. There are so many expenses, nuances, variables, headaches and caveats to moving a house that I scarcely know where to start. Often, total costs can run as high as the price of a nice new-construction house.

If it's an 1,800 square-foot house you're moving, it will probably cost you at least $20,000 to $30,000 in base moving expenses, or roughly $12 to $16 per square foot. Of course, that figure doesn't include the land you will still need at the new site, the new foundation, and the inevitable repairs and renovations. (Wiring and plumbing will often require replacement.)

Sometimes, foundations on older homes don't always match up with what's on the old blueprints. Surprise! Additionally, some municipalities may require you to bring the house up to building code at its new locale, unless it's an historic home that you're saving from the wrecking ball.

Also realize the house-moving process can take days.

The walls have to be secured, the house must be removed from its foundation and placed on a trailer or oversized dollies, then moved very slowly, probably in the wee hours of morning, often at about walking pace, through tree-lined and car-lined streets. That can be especially perilous and complex if your "new" house is two-stories tall, in which case power/cable/phone lines may need to be lifted and neighborhood tree limbs may need to be shorn. (This won't make you too many friends if chain saws are buzzing on people's trees at 2 a.m. some Sunday morning.) Needless to say, the shorter and clearer the route, the less expensive to move.

Some larger houses even need to be cut into pieces or at least have their roofs removed to be moved safely. This gets very pricey.

But wait. There's more. The homes in the neighborhood where you're moving the house to should be reasonably compatible with it in size, age and design. Some neighbors may have objections to an old house moving into a new subdivision. In some cases, you will need to get their consent. Call your city's planning department for all the details.

And make sure you find a reputable mover with a multitude of references and no unresolved disputes with past customers. Check to see that the firm has adequate bonding and insurance. The mover should also be able to give you a realistic checklist of everything you'll need to do to prepare for the move and what you'll need to have in place, such as groundwork and utility hookups, when your house reaches its destination.

What drives the sale of these uniquely cheap homes, particularly in areas where real estate is inflated, is the disparity between the value of the building (low in your case) and land value (probably high in your case). The difference can be so drastic that giving away a house makes sense, especially if the seller has a future development in mind for the same parcel and wants to escape the cost of demolition, which can run $6 or more per square foot.

Now, you are forewarned. What I haven't noted is that sometimes these moves actually make sense if you can snag a home in good shape with the type of classic workmanship that's unavailable in new homes today, and put it where you want it. Good luck. You may need it!

Bankrate.com's corrections policy
-- Posted: July 2, 2005
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