THERE'S A DRAMATIC SCENE currently under way on Martha's Vineyard. To keep their 8,300-square-foot house from plunging off an eroding bluff, the owners are moving it back 275 feet. The estimated cost: at least $1 million.
The stone and wood-shingled house, built in 2004, has seven bedrooms, seven bathrooms and a massive basement with a bowling alley, according to public records. All of that—plus a 1,814-square-foot guesthouse and a garage—is going, much of it to the 4-acre property next door that the owners bought in January for $4.5 million for that purpose.
The move involves digging underneath the basement, moving the structure through a trench and then refilling the hole with soil. Still, that pales in comparison to what the house cost to build: The current appraised value of the buildings and the land is $7.6 million, but contractors put the cost of rebuilding the main house alone at around $10 million.
"People would be absolutely shocked" if they knew how much money and effort goes into reassembling old houses, says Anna Winter, who moved two historic taverns with stenciled walls and floors—built by two brothers in Massachusetts in the 1700s—from Northfield to Concord, Mass. Ms. Winter and her husband, technology entrepreneur Neil E. Rasmussen, bought their 200-acre parcel in Concord in part because of its history: It was once owned by descendants of the Ralph Waldo Emerson family. But the house that stood there was in bad shape, so they took it down. "The landscape cried out for an 18th-century structure," says Ms. Winter, who runs a nonprofit historic preservation group.
In the 17th and 18th centuries it wasn't uncommon to move a house. Home-building was more labor-intensive then because of cruder tools and equipment, materials were harder to come by and houses were smaller because they didn't include bathrooms or kitchens. "Moving the house made more financial sense than building a new one," says Stan Barber of Larmon House Movers Inc., which has been moving houses since 1885 and covers New York, Massachusetts, Connecticut and Vermont. George Ellis, operations manager for Gary Sylvester's Building Moving & Excavation in East Falmouth, Mass., says nowadays many of his clients are looking to preserve homes. His company recently moved two houses that were more than 5,000-square-feet each—both because the owners wanted to build new houses on the sites but didn't want to destroy the old ones.more