One dollar house: Steal or no deal?

By: Shannon Lee , Contributing Writer
In: Old Houses, Old House Construction, Old House Musings, Historic Preservation

You have likely seen the headlines that pop up from time to time: A house for sale, only one dollar! Sometimes it is a humble cabin that has seen much better days. Other times, it’s a massive historic home that looks so majestic from the outside, you can’t help but wonder who in their right mind would give such a place away for only a single dollar bill.

That’s where the catch comes in: Either these homes need serious renovation, or you are going to need a very big moving truck.

Is a one dollar house really worth it?

In many cases, these homes are slated for demolition if a buyer is not found within a short period of time. The demolition could be simply because the old house is in the way of a new development, or no longer suits the area in which it sits. It could be that the owners of the property want to build something new on the land but would rather not destroy a fine old house in the process. By offering the house for sale to someone who is willing to move it, they are getting what they want yet still preserving some history.

But there are a few catches to the great deal. A one dollar house usually has to be moved. That means either tearing down the house, piece by piece, and thus spending a great deal of time and effort in doing so, or moving the house in one or more large pieces, thus requiring a great deal of money to get it to the new site. Moving a home can easily cost between $50,000 and $100,000, perhaps much more.

Once the home is moved, then it likely faces significant renovation — after all, it is rare to find a home in great condition selling for only one dollar. Many old houses that are slated for demolition have been gutted by previous owners or have faced disrepair for several years, both of which could mean you are paying for an empty shell, not for anything livable.

Too far gone for renovation?

In some cases, these old houses are simply too far gone for renovation. If the home is not structurally sound or would require renovation to such an extent that the historical integrity is destroyed, there are other options that provide a reasonable alternative.

Tearing the house apart piece by piece is one way to do this. By saving everything from the old clapboard to the kitchen cabinets, you can salvage history that can one day be used to repair or replace worn materials in your current home. You might be surprised by what you can use the parts for — an old window can be used as a frame to create a mirror on your wall, or many good pieces of clapboard can be used to side a shed on your property.

Even if you salvage only a few parts of that old house before the wrecking balls goes to work, you have saved a small piece of history — and you’ve gotten it for much cheaper than you would have anywhere else. That alone makes the one dollar deal a real steal.