Between 1908 and 1940, Sears delivered over 70,000 mail order homes across North America.
These kits were loaded into Boxcars and trucked to the building site where homeowners, together with family, friends and neighbours would assemble them in a fashion similar to a Barn Raising.
Sears Roebuck promised that “a man of average abilities could assemble a Sears kit home in about 90 days.” No detail was overlooked, as both manual and blueprints instructed homeowner as to the correct spacing of the 750 pounds of nails.
There were other catalogue homes companies including Aladdin which delivered 75,000 homes between 1906 and 1981 across the US, Canada and internationally.
I reflect on this bit of interesting housing history because housing is what we trade in. I imagine the catalogue homes were a pretty big disrupter to the home builders of the time. The sharing economy is bringing a new disruption to housing through Airbnb and VRBO and other internet service companies. Even bigger is the technology disruption that threatens not only how real estate is traded but also the financial benefits of homeownership.
Companies like Zillow and Opendoor are buying homes in the US. It’s early days in this trend but Zillow is reported to be increasing their acquisitions of homes by 40% month over month. They aren’t doing this to relieve consumer risk. They want both the billions in commissions and eventually, they will want the zillions in property appreciation. Call me crazy but I feel we need to pay attention to this developing trend. Let’s hope we are not cycling back to a Feudal Land tenure system where tech companies will be granting consumers a fiefdom. (link to https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Land_tenure#Feudal_land_tenure)
What we do as REALTORS® is intrinsically important but only if we understand what we do and do it well.
What we do is help people make important decisions about where to live, when to move and how to benefit financially from the process of home ownership. Each of these is complicated and completely unique to the individuals we serve. If we aren’t digging deep on understanding our clients and their needs and understanding the economics of housing, we aren’t doing our job.
Doing our job, and doing so with excellence (plus a fair bit of resourcefulness and adaptability) will maintain our relevance in the face of disruption. After all, it was the mass producers of houses who were threatened by mail order homes, not the craft builders who were making something unique, impactful, and important.