March 15, 2017 10:56 AM

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A century ago, the typical American’s salary was $687 per year. That might not sound like much—after factoring in inflation, it’s about $16,500 in today’s dollars—but it was more than enough to buy a house.

Well, it was more than enough to cover the materials for a house anyway. Back then, the starting price of a house from Sears, Roebuck & Company, which shipped home components in parts that would have to be assembled by buyers, was only $659. That’s the equivalent of $16,164.74 today.

A recent Reddit post pointed out this amazing historical tidbit, along with a link showing an ad from the Sears Modern Home Catalog circa 1913-1917.

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Decades ago, Sears sold the plans and materials to dozens and dozens of different house styles, including the Modern Home No. 229 that surfaced on Reddit. According to the century-old ad, the $659 price covered all the lumber, lath, flooring, roof, pipes, cedar shingles, paint, and other materials needed to build a five-room bungalow, featuring two bedrooms, a kitchen, and a front porch.

The Reddit post received more than 500 comments a mere 14 hours after being published with the headline “If only new houses were still so cheap!”

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While many commenters pointed out people today are frustrated because our ancestors “were able to have so much, at such little cost,” others highlighted that the ad—and the price—are a bit misleading. What’s easily overlooked is that the “house” doesn’t come with a foundation, heat, or electricity, nor does the price include land to build on. Some Redditors surmised that the basic cost of materials for building a similar 700-square-foot home today actually might not be that different, after inflation, than what Sears was charging a century ago.

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The tiny houses that have become popular in recent years, which cost as little as $20,000 for materials (or $86,500 for a modern 745-square-foot home from IKEA), are good comparisons to the old Sears catalog homes.

For what it’s worth, folks who are curious about the seemingly cheap DIY homes of a century ago can readily buy vintage books featuring Sears’ Modern Homes (circa 1913), popular Sears’ house designs of the 1930s, and illustrated catalogs of home building supplies from 1910.

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