You’re driving down the street and hit a huge backup.
Eventually, you see the cause of the traffic jam: a huge truck, towing a bizarre load. You have to look a few times to be sure, but your eyes aren’t playing tricks on you – a house is being pulled behind the vehicle.
We’re not talking about a mobile home. There’s a complete house – a ranch, a colonial or contemporary home, complete with porches, decks and chimneys – being transported down the road. And it’s being escorted by an honor guard of sorts, police cars and utility trucks with their lights flashing.
Your chances of actually witnessing this odd sight are slim, but homes are moved more often than you might expect. Big companies that specialize in moving houses say they handle as many as 150-200 jobs a year.
When you’re in the middle of a move, it’s not uncommon to think “I really wish we could have just kept this house and brought it with us.”
But who actually does it? And how much does it cost to move a house?
Let’s find out.
Why Do People Move Houses?
There are lots of reasons, and the most common one doesn’t have any effect on traffic.
Many who decide to move their home are just repositioning it on their own property, either to move it further away from the street or to move it back from the shoreline. Those jobs are still quite complicated and expensive, but don’t involve the messy logistics of transporting a house on public roadways.
There are other good reasons to move a house, and they won’t inconvenience anyone except the homeowner.
Some people purchase additional property next to their own, and they want their house repositioned so they can take full advantage of both lots. Others don’t really “move” the house at all. They simply have it raised up into the air so the foundation can be repaired or a basement can be built underneath the home. These are still complicated and expensive jobs, but not logistical nightmares.
That brings us to the truck we mentioned, the one towing an entire house along city streets.
Most often, those homes are classic or historic houses. Some are located on property where they’d otherwise have to be demolished, and moving them is the best way to ensure that they’re preserved. Others have been purchased by new owners, who have gotten a great deal but want to move their house to a more suitable location or a better neighborhood.
Transporting those homes usually makes a lot of sense. In other cases, it probably doesn’t.
The sentimental attachment that people have to their houses is understandable. So is the impulse they may have to pick up their home and move it to a new school district, a new town, or even a new state.
Moving a house isn’t just expensive, however – it’s often prohibitively expensive. Some people find that the move ends up costing them much more than they would have spent on a brand-new home.
In other words, buying an empty lot somewhere else and then “bringing your old house with you” usually isn’t going to save you much money.
But why is moving a home so expensive?
Bottom Line: People move their homes for a variety of reasons, and some make practical sense. They include moving a house away from the road or the water’s edge, moving it to take advantage of a next-door lot the owner has just purchased, or moving an historic house to a location where it can be preserved. However, those who just want to “take their house with them” when they move often find that’s just as expensive as buying a new home.
The Real Costs of Moving a House
So far, we’ve only said that transporting a home to a new location is “expensive.”We know you’d like a more specific estimate on the cost, but it’s virtually impossible to nail down even a ballpark number. Industry officials say the final price can be anywhere between $5,000 and $200,000.
There’s a good reason why it’s so difficult to determine how much it costs to move a house: a number of widely-varying factors have to be considered. Among them are the weight, size and style of the house, the type of foundation, the distance to be traveled, and the physical obstacles there may be along the way.
Let’s break that all down.
The Home’s Weight and Size
This one shouldn’t be surprising to anyone who’s hired movers. A small apartment can easily fit in a small truck or even a van; a 4,000 square foot home will normally require a huge box truck because of the amount and weight of the furniture and belongings that will be transported.
It’s no different when you’re moving a house. The truck and dollies that the movers will use will be very different for a 1,500 square foot house than a 6,000 foot mansion; a lightweight prefab home will require very different equipment than one built from scratch.
There’s another factor, too. Lifting the home and moving it requires specialized (and expensive) equipment. The heavier and bigger the home, the more extensive the work will be – meaning more equipment will be needed.
The Style of the Home
What’s easier to pick up? A square box, or a carton that held a kitchen countertop?
Exactly. A two- or three-level cookie-cutter house is likely to be relatively square or rectangular. That type of home will be much easier to move than a single-level ranch house that’s 40, 60 or 80 feet in length. Add an extra wing, a big garage, a huge porch or deck, a fancy balcony or multiple chimneys to the house, and the job becomes even trickier.
We’re not only talking about the size of the truck that will be needed, although that’s certainly a factor. The home’s extra features may require specialized equipment, additional support or delicate handling – and all of that takes more time and adds to the cost of the move.
The Home’s Foundation
If a house is built on a concrete slab and the slab is coming with the home, moving the foundation is a simpler task; workers just build tunnels for the lifting beams underneath the slab. On the other hand, older houses built on stone foundations (or sitting on dirt and rubble) will be much harder to pick up. Those built on wood pilings (usually those on the shoreline) may be easiest of all, because they provide ample access for forklift-type equipment. The type of foundation is a major factor in the price of moving a house.
Distance of the Move, And Obstacles Along the Way
It goes without saying that moving a house 100 miles will be much more expensive than moving it half-a-mile. But there’s another important issue that must be addressed.
A standard two story house is 18 to 20 feet high. Put it on wheels behind a truck, and it’s at least 25 feet above street level. And that’s not accounting for sloped roofs and chimneys.
Many of the utility poles in America are 30 feet high, though, and the wires that run between them can sag even lower. Even more problematic: street lights and traffic signals are normally mounted on poles that range from nine to 14 feet high.
You can certainly see the potential problems. Setting out on public roads can quickly lead to big-time problems. Now factor in the possibility of encountering overhanging trees, sharp curves, narrow streets, and bridges spanning the roadways, and it’s obvious that moving a house on public roadways requires a great deal of advance planning. Often, trees must be trimmed; in some cases, utility poles and wires must be moved.
There’s more. In most jurisdictions you need special city or state permits to move a house, and many require police details as escorts and traffic control officers. None of that is cheap; in fact, taking care of all of these logistical details can cost thousands, or even tens of thousands, of dollars.
Then there’s the cost of hiring the people who actually do the work. We’ll take a look at that next.
Bottom Line: Moving a house can cost anywhere from $5,000 to $200,000 – and sometimes, even more. That’s because many very different factors must be considered, including the home’s size and style, the type of foundation it sits on, and the many obstacles that may be encountered on public roadways. There are also expensive permits to obtain, the possible need to hire off-duty police officers as escorts, and of course, the cost of the actual work itself.
Who Moves Houses?
In most cases, you can’t simply call a “house moving company” and go on vacation. Yes, a company that specializes in transporting homes will do most of the heavy lifting, but they’re not the only professionals you’ll need.
The other key player you’ll have to hire is a general contractor; for some moves, you’ll need an engineer and/or an architect as well. Why? To put it bluntly, your house isn’t just sitting on the ground waiting to be picked up. It’s attached to a foundation, with numerous utility lines and pipes running in and out of the home. The actual house has to be “detached” from everything holding it in place – and that work has to be done safely.
The general contractor will meet with other professionals to prepare a full plan for the move, and will secure any local permits that might be required. The contractor will also supervise work at the home’s new location, laying a foundation (if necessary) and planning for the “arrival” of the house. And they’ll also work with municipal officials to make all arrangements needed to clear the roadways of obstacles.
When everything’s ready, it’s the moving company’s turn. Their workers will drill holes in or underneath the foundation (unless the foundation is being left behind), and use sophisticated machinery to lift the house and put it onto dollies that can handle its size and support its weight.
Once the trip is complete, the movers will position the house above the new foundation until everything’s ready, and then will lower it onto steel beams. A mason hired by the contractor “attaches” the foundation to the home, and the contractor supervises the finish work, utility connections and anything else that must be done to make the house livable again.
That’s a lot of work, and a lot of people to pay. You won’t pay most of them directly, of course; workers like electricians, plumbers and laborers are included in the (very high) price you’ll be paying the general contractor and the moving company. But their wages, plus all of the overhead included in the moving company’s fee (that special equipment isn’t cheap!) drives the cost of your move even higher.
Bottom Line: Moving a house is an extremely complicated undertaking. You’ll not only need a company that specializes in moving homes, but also a general contractor and quite possibly an engineer and an architect. Because of the many tasks that must be completed, and the expertise and equipment you’re also paying for, the costs add up quickly.
Seriously, How Much It Will Cost To Move My House?
Again, there’s no such thing as a one-size-fits-all ballpark estimate. Some in the industry say that prices start at about $12-$16 per square foot for the actual move, but often run much higher.
That means moving a 2,000 square foot home would cost at least $24,000-$32,000, but that’s definitely on the low side – and it doesn’t take into account all of the other costs. Once you start adding in the cost of the general contractor and architect, the hourly rates for all the workers involved in the project from start to finish, and all the permits and ancillary costs, that moving price can easily double or triple.
We know that information doesn’t help much. The only way to get an answer specific to your home and destination is to call one of the companies that specialize in moving homes. They’ll visit your house and the site where it will be moved to, and they’ll be able to come up with a relatively-accurate estimate.
It won’t be a guaranteed price, though.
Bottom Line: The oft-quoted estimate of $12-$16 per square to move a house can be extremely misleading. That’s just a very raw, ballpark figure for only the actual move of the home. An enormous amount of work must be done before and after the house is transported, and that work can cost more than the move itself.
Are There Risks In Moving a House?
Not the ones you’re probably worried about. If a home is in poor shape and won’t survive the move, a moving company won’t even touch it. Otherwise, the chances of structural damage to the house are small, but check with your insurance company to make sure you’d be covered by your homeowner’s policy. If you use an experienced house moving company, there’s little chance they’ll cause any harm to the house – but they carry huge insurance policies just in case.
The much bigger risk is that the move will cost even more than the estimate you received ahead of time. No house movers will guarantee their estimates, because there are so many variables involved in such a complicated job. At least one or two unexpected hitches are likely to develop.
Your best defense is to have a substantial emergency fund ready, so you can afford and pay for any extra costs that crop up while your house is being moved. It goes without saying that your home is your most valuable possession. The last thing you need is for it to be held hostage because you can’t pay all of the bills connected to the move.
Bottom Line: The risk is small that any major damage will occur when you have your house moved, as long as you use qualified professionals. The bigger risk is that the costs can balloon even higher than you’d expected.
How Much Does It Cost To Move a House: FAQ
Q: Does the “$12-$16 per square foot rule” apply if I’m just having my house moved to a different spot on my property?
A: It’s important to qualify once more: that’s not a rule. It’s just a number that some in the moving industry offer when people ask how much it costs to move a house. There’s a good chance that moving your house just a few yards will cost less than that, but only a moving company can tell you for sure. What we can tell you is that keeping the home on your own property will let you avoid some of the extra costs we’ve mentioned, such as removing roadway obstacles between the origin and destination points.
Q: Is it really as expensive to move my current house as it would be to buy a new one?
A: Not always. More often than not, though, the two prices will be relatively close to each other. And be honest, do you want to deal with several months of hassles and anxiety? Or would you rather simply move out of your old house in the morning, and then move into a beautiful, ready-to-occupy home that same afternoon?
Q: Do I have to empty out my house before it’s moved?
A: Every moving company will have different advice, but generally speaking, not everything has to be removed. Most companies will want you to take out all appliances and anything that’s fragile, as well as everything in the basement. You should also empty shelves and bookcases, and it might be a good idea to bolt furniture to the wall. (That’s not as draconian as it sounds; many California homeowners who live on earthquake fault lines do it routinely.)
Q: Will I have to disassemble stairs and decks from the house before the move?
A: It depends on how they’re attached and how far they stick out, among other considerations. Your moving company will give you their detailed requirements.