Moving a House

In Linsey Lee’s oral history of Martha’s Vineyard Vineyard Voices, Eric Cottle of Chilmark remembers that when he was young, houses were moved around the Island using oxen. Moving a house from, say, Chilmark to West Chop could take days, and Eric reveals a far simpler time when he recalls, “Of course, them days they could go down the road and when it come night, they unhook the oxen and go home and leave the house there, right in the middle of the road.”

Today, there’s still a fair amount of house moving going on here on the Island. Bob Hayden, owner of Hayden Building Movers in Cotuit recently moved the Daggett house, owned by Ralph Packer, from Beach Street in Vineyard Haven through Five Corners down to the waterfront. (It was later barged to Tisbury Wharf Company property on Beach Road.)

Bob is a second-generation house mover and claims that there are generally two reasons why people want to move a house. The first is emotional – they have a sentimental attachment to a house. This was the case with the Daggett house, which has been in the Packer family for five generations.

The second reason is financial – often it’s more economical to move a house, especially one with historic architectural details, than to build a new one from scratch. But that cost can vary widely.

The first thing Bob Hayden looks at when assessing a move is the access road. Is the road curvy and bumpy? Will the house fit down the driveway without moving trees? How many utility lines will be disrupted? These factors all affect the price and feasibility of the move.

As does the condition of the house. In some cases, things like drywall, chimneys, plumbing, and wiring must be removed or disconnected before the move. However, if the house is structurally sound, it can often be moved intact. Bob once moved a house with two 200-year-old beehive ovens without damaging a brick.

Moving a house has been described as orchestrating a parade because of all the coordination that goes on between utility companies and state and local authorities. On the Island, crews from Verizon, Comcast, and NSTAR must be on hand to disconnect and move lines, and police have to direct traffic.

The mechanics of moving a house are relatively simple. Large steel beams are inserted through holes in the foundation, the house is jacked up, and then it’s rolled onto a truck. In principle, this is the way it was done in the days of the oxen; however, things like hydraulic lifts, modern dollies, and trucks have made the job considerably easier.

Having said that, you should never even consider moving a house unless you have a vast amount of patience. The permitting process alone for moving the Daggett house took a year. From inception to completion, the project took more than four years.

What’s it cost to move a house? That’s sort of like asking how much does it cost to build a house. It can vary dramatically depending upon the route and the condition and size of the house, but estimates generally run between $8,000 and $50,000, not including the takedown and setup of home utilities, foundations, and other systems.

And of course, if you leave the house parked overnight on the street, you should factor in a pretty hefty parking ticket.