Saturday, November 14, 2015

Sears Mortgages of Oakland County, Michigan

One of the more time-intensive methods of researching Sears kit houses is by searching through mortgage records. Depending on where you are doing the research, it can take quite a bit of work to look through these records and related property records to find homes that were financed through Sears Roebuck. But when they are found, these mortgages help to authenticate possible Sears houses or lead us to houses that had not previously been identified.

Advertisement for financing a Sears kit house (1928)
Image courtesy of Detroit Free Press

Advertisement for Sears Tarryton
Image courtesy of Detroit Free Press
Starting in January of this year, I started looking up mortgage records for Sears houses in Oakland County. Eleven months later, I've almost finished my research on these Sears mortgages. To date, I've found over 500 Sears mortgages that were recorded at Oakland County Register of Deeds office between 1917 and 1933.

From those mortgages, I've been able to locate and identify and/or authenticate over 300 Sears houses - 319 to date. Of the 319 homes, some had been previously identified by other Sears kit house researchers or had been publicly documented as Sears houses. Quite a few had not been publicly identified as Sears houses. In either case, the mortgage records serve to authenticate these houses as being from Sears. I still have a few records to look up and I have a number of records for homes that I haven't been able to identify yet. But from the list of 319 homes, I want to share some of the details of the houses that Sears financed in Oakland County, Michigan. 

From the list of homes that I've been able to identify and/or authenticate, I found 74 different models of Sears homes. Quite a few of these models were represented by just one or two examples of a particular model. Among the list of 74 are some of the rarer Sears models including the Chesterfield (Clawson) and the Tarryton (Royal Oak). To date, I'm not aware of any other examples of those two models having been identified elsewhere in the country. (2023: Examples of the Tarryton have been located elsewhere in the country) If you know of examples, let us know!

As you might expect, the most popular models were, for the most part, the more modestly priced models that were affordable to a large number of potential buyers. The top 5 house models by total are:
1. Hampton - 36
2. Claremont - 20
3. Sunlight - 18
4. Barrington - 16
4. Solace - 16
5 .Berwyn - 15
5. Vallonia - 15
The Hampton easily topped the list, representing over 10% of the identified Sears houses. One of the reasons for this is that a single developer in Pontiac, Michigan ordered and built at least 10 Hamptons in one neighborhood. Even so, the Hampton can be found in at least 9 different Oakland County communities. The Hampton was available from 1924 - 1931 and as discussed here continued to be available as its "twin" - the Crafton - from 1932 - 1940. Both models were popular with buyers of Sears kit houses because of their relative affordability and the ability to fit the house on narrower lots.

Catalog image of Sears Hampton (1925)
Image courtesy of

What's interesting about the popularity of the Berwyn and the Claremont is that they were first offered in the 1928 Sears Modern Homes catalog. The last recorded mortgage for a Sears house that appears in the "Modern Homes" catalog in Oakland County was in October 1931 (for a Claremont in Northville, Michigan). In less than 4 years, Sears sold with mortgages, more of these models than other models that were offered for many more years. That said, it should also be noted that the time period between 1928 - 1930 were some of the best years for sales of Sears kit homes which had some influence on those totals.

Catalog image of Sears Barrington (1929)
Images courtesy of Antique Home
The Barrington was the most expensive model to make the top 5. It was only available in the Modern Homes catalog between 1926 - 1931. Considering its relative popularity in light of its price, fellow researchers have wondered why Sears stopped offering the house for sale after 1931. But a review of the mortgage records help provide a clue to its fate. While 10 Barringtons were sold in 1927, only one was sold in 1929 and none were sold with mortgages in either 1930 or 1931. During that time period, purchasers of higher cost Sears houses were gravitating to the Sears Dover. Also, fewer higher priced homes were sold as buyers sought out more moderately priced homes like the Berwyn and the Claremont.

Finally, two "Standard Built" models made the list. "Standard Built" models were offered by Sears for a number of years as a lower-priced alternative to their Honor-Bilt homes. Some of the models looked very similar to models in the Honor-Bilt line. For example, the "Standard Built" Grant looks a lot like the Hampton and the "Standard Built" Farnum is very similar to the Sunlight. The tip-off to these houses were their lower priced mortgages. A close examination of the exterior of these homes revealed that they were based on the "Standard Built" designs. The "Standard Built" homes are for the most part, very modest houses and weren't as well-built as the more expensive Honor Bilt houses. But I'm sure that there are more "Standard Built" houses in the list of houses with mortgages that I'm still working on identifying.

The following is a list of all of the identified Sears houses with mortgages in Oakland County by model and the number of each model identified.

Alhambra - 1
Argyle - 1
Avalon - 1
Barrington - 16
Bellewood - 4
Berwyn - 15
Betsy Ross - 2
Brookwood - 1
Chesterfield - 1
Claremont - 20
Clyde - 3
Collingwood - 1
Columbine - 2
Conway - 8
Cornell - 1
Crescent - 4
Crestwood - 2
Detroit - 1
Dover - 10
Dundee - 1
Franklin (Standard) - 1
Fullerton - 1
Garfield - 5
Gladstone - 1
Glen Falls - 1
Grant (Standard) - 1
Hamilton - 7
Hampton - 36
Hathaway - 4
Honor - 2
Josephine - 1
Kimberly - 2
Kismet - 1
LaSalle - 5
Lebanon - 1
Lewiston - 2
Lexington - 1
Manchester - 5
Maplewood - 5
Marina - 2
Martha Washington - 1
Melrose - 2
Mitchell - 4
Oakdale - 2
Olivia - 2
Osborn - 1
Parkridge - 1
Prescott - 2

Preston - 1
Puritan - 8
Randolph - 1
Rochelle - 4
Rodessa - 14
Roseberry - 1
Salem - 1
Sheridan - 1
Solace - 16
Somers - 4
Somerset - 1
Starlight - 12
Sunlight - 18
Tarryton - 1
Uriel - 1
Vallonia - 15
Van Dorn - 1
Van Page - 1
Verona - 2
Walton - 2
Wellington - 4
Willard - 2
Wilmore - 1
Windsor - 6
Winona - 5
Winthrop - 2

In a a future post, I'll break down these numbers by community to see where the most Sears houses are located. You might be surprised where some of these homes were built!

Updated on June 26, 2016 to reflect additional houses identified. Also removed Melrose as "rare" model as it's been found elsewhere in the US. 

Updated on July 30, 2016 to reflect additional houses identified. 

Updated on August 20, 2019 to reflect additional houses identified. 

Updated on May 3, 2023 to note that mortgages were issued through 1933.


  1. This represents an amazing amount of research. Excellent information!

  2. That number of Claremonts surprises me. Good work!

  3. Wonderful research! I'd love to see where they are in Royal Oak

    1. Thanks! If you can get over to the Royal Oak Historical Society's Museum, part of the their current exhibit is all about the kit houses of Royal Oak which includes a map and a list of all of the houses we've found so far.

      If you can't make that, watch for future posts where I'll share more details on where these houses are located.

  4. This is such interesting information. I really enjoyed reading about the homes. Have you considered writing a book?

    1. We get asked that a lot! We've kicked the idea around a bit but nothing definite yet. But if we do, we'll post about it here.

  5. Thank you for the insight!

    Where is / was the location of the cluster of Hampton properties in Pontiac that you referenced? What was the developer's name?

  6. Thanks Mike!

    It's the Marimont subdivision at the NW corner of Walton and Baldwin (a small portion of the sub is east of Baldwin). The developer was Norman Meginnity. He was involved in developing properties in the Detroit area in the 1920s. Just to make things confusing, most of the "Hamptons" that he built have clipped gables, which make them look like another Sears model, the "Sunlight". But the porches and the building footprints match the "Hampton". He also built some "Hamptons" that look like "Hamptons" as you would see them in the catalog. Here's a couple of addresses:

    - 212 W Brooklyn - Sears Hampton with clipped gables
    - 40 E Brooklyn (east of Baldwin) - Sears Hampton without clipped gables

    Unlike other parts of Pontiac, most of the houses that were built in this area are still there, at least what I can see from Google Streetview and similar sites.

    1. Also, feel free to share this information with people in the Pontiac area. Pontiac had the highest number of Sears houses financed through Sears and while quite a few houses have been lost to time, there's still a substantial number of kit houses in town.

  7. Hey, I know where that neighborhood is!

  8. Unfortunately, many of the kit homes (and other 1920's Craftsman homes) in the Marimont neighborhood, while they are generally in good repair, have been remuddled beyond recognition. Lots of cheap replacement windows, craptastic vinyl siding, "modernization," ungainly out-of-character additions, enclosed front porches, etc., hide the original character of the houses. There are two houses on the corner of Stanley and W Brooklyn that still retain the character of their original Craftsman-influenced design. One on the northeast corner, and one on the southwest corner, although the southwest one could use a paint job. I don't know if they are kit homes. Andrew once pointed out to me a house in the block between Carlisle and Stanley in the north side of W Brooklyn which is a Sears kit home, and it doesn't look TOO bad in terms of hiding its original character.