It’s not every day that you see a truck rolling down the main drag of town with a house on the back. Mobile homes are one thing. But a single-family with a porch going from point A to point B? That’ll get your attention.
You might be curious why anyone would physically move a house—like, dig it out of the ground and take it to another location—rather than just find a new one like most people do. Typically, historic homes are the best candidates to justify the enormous expense and effort this process requires.
Take the 124-year old, 3,000-square-foot Mackenzie House on the Wayne State University campus in Detroit that will be uprooted in 2019 to make space for a new lobby and performance complex. It’ll be a $750,000 project to just go around the block. According to the National Register of Historic Places, more than 95,000 properties have been listed in the National Register as “worthy of preservation.”
But there are other reasons to move a house, too. Hard to wrap your head around how such a colossal feat gets accomplished? It’s interesting stuff… we found out all the details from a pro who’s crew does 200-250 house lifts annually.
How much does moving a house cost?
As you might imagine, moving a house is not a “flat fee” type of service. There are many factors that go into the pricing of a home move, though on average, costs for the industry seem to land between $12 and $16 per square foot.
Mike Brovant, lead of the sales and marketing team at Wolfe House and Building Movers, a company that’s been moving houses for 50 years, says moving a house is not an impulse decision.
“It’s not something where people go ‘Eh, I’d kind of like to have my house somewhere else,’ pay 10 grand and they’re done,” Brovant said.
It’s a mashup of logistics and expenses, usually costing between 50%-75% of what a new build of comparable size would cost, sometimes even more than a new build. Reports range from $15,000 to $200,000 for just the labor and transporting parts.
Here are some of the criteria a mover will use to give you an estimate:
Size and weight
Square-footage, as well as the structure’s length and width, matters when it comes to getting a quote. Moving your prefab house will be less expensive than moving a historic 8,000 square-foot mansion.
Structure and shape
A meandering ranch-style single-story with tons of nooks and crannies could cost more to move than a boxy, industrial tri-level regardless of square footage, because of the equipment needed.
Wrap-around patios and intricate chimneys (as well as other accessories) add time and money to move costs. In addition, the materials the home is made from matter—brick, logs, stone. No material is necessarily more expensive or harder to move, but all factor into the general costs.
Foundation and crawl space
A home built on a pier foundation (like near a waterfront) is vastly different than a home built directly on a concrete slab floor. The crawl space is a big factor in pricing as this is the space the steel slats are inserted to lift and move the house.
Accessibility and route obstacles
If you’re just moving the house a few yards so it’s further back from the main street, there might be minimal obstacles—a mailbox or trees limbs, uneven terrain that needs to get smoothed out or a pool the pros will need to maneuver around.
Generally, larger areas are easier to work in than smaller lots, and flat surfaces easier than homes on the cliff’s edge.
If you’re wanting to move the house down the block, you and your contractor have a few more factors to consider (and more homework to do). They’ll need to make sure the roads are wide enough for the house’s transport, that there aren’t powerlines or trees in the way and that all the proper permits have been secured.
Even a short stretch of road can have multiple obstacles, meaning the further you’re moving your house, the more logistics there are to think about.
Labor and time
You won’t see HGTV hosts doing this work themselves. Everyone who wants to move their home must hire the big guns to do it. This means you’re paying for experts who have years of experience, all the highest tech equipment and machinery (and solid high-premium insurance if anything goes wrong).
Home moving companies usually visit both current and future sites of the home to gather all this information before calculating a quote, though some are able to produce a quote with given numbers, without an on-site visit.
Brovant says most of the moves they assist with happen within a span of just a quarter-mile; as in point A (where the house is) and point B (where the house needs to go) is usually less than 1,400 feet. Though it may be just a stone’s throw from its original location (or not even that if you’re just lifting it) the price tag is hefty.
What types of houses can you move?
Brovant says there’s not a lot of limitations to the types of homes you can move. But the most common are mobile homes, which are literally manufactured to be portable (and are therefore less expensive to move), and historic homes.
So if it’s expensive and you need an army of professionals to do it, why do people bother?
Moving a home is a viable solution if:
- You want to relocate your current home to be further from the street
- You want to relocate your current home to be further from the waterfront or shoreline
- You’ve just acquired the lot next to your home and want to move your home to use both lots
- You don’t need to move it, but instead need to lift it to fix foundational issues or put in a basement
- You’d rather spend the money to stay put in your current house than rebuild or relocate
- You live in a historic home and do not want to demolish the structure
Your house doesn’t make a good candidate to move if:
- You’re looking for a good deal
- Your house has major structural defects (Brovant says “If it’s falling into a pile” it’s bad but says even unstable structures can be shored up before moving them.)
- You’re really sentimental about your house but have to relocate to a new city
What’s the process of moving a house look like?
To begin the project, the homeowner will need to talk to a general contractor, an architect and an engineer. Together, they will make a plan, have drawings done and apply for permits. Once they have permits they can get started on the physical work.
The general contractor will come in to clear out the crawlspace and disconnect the house from the foundation and all outside utilities.
Preparing the route is the job of the general contractor. Before moving day, they’ll have determined the best route to the new location, factoring in the width of the roads and any potential obstructions, and arranged to deal with those obstructions.
This means they will make sure the trees in the way are trimmed, traffic control is taken care of and more extensively, arranged for the relocation of power lines, utility poles and traffic lights if necessary. Depending on the distance, they may have also arranged for escort vehicles. When making these arrangements, the contractor is considering terrain quality and sharp corners.
Next, a transporting company comes in and drill holes in the foundation, installs their lifting steel and jacking system, lifts the house up, installs dollies and drives off. This makes it seem easy but experts are maneuvering some heavy-duty machinery to make this happen. They follow the contractor’s guidance regarding route to the new location.
At the new location, the general contractor will have the new foundation excavated out and the new footings poured. The moving company will drive the house into the new site, down a ramp and over the new footers. They’ll lift the building up (a bit higher than what it needs to be permanently) then pull the wheels out and leave the house supported on the steel structure underneath.
A mason will come in and build the foundation up to the house. Then, the moving company will return, set the house down onto the foundation, and remove all their equipment and materials. The general contractor finishes everything up—backfills, interior work, utility hookup, etc.
How common is the practice of moving houses?
Wolfe keeps multiple crews busy throughout the year and averages between 200-250 lifts and moves annually— 80% of which are houses. Brovant says they do a lot of lifting in flooded areas.
Even with such a giant project, Brovant says the risks are minimal. The most common risk is that the cost of the project will be more expensive than planned.
Homeowners should have a cushion built in because there are many little expenses that add up.
Moving a home is not a good solution for everyone but it does have its benefits. Homeowners can get a new solid foundation, they can lift their home to add more headroom or add a garage. They can save an old family house or historic structure, and they can move their home back on a lot to reduce road noise.
The practice has advantages, though it’s not for those looking to save a buck or who are West-Coast bound but just don’t want to part with that Colonial.