Give an old house new life: Move it

EVERETT — Nickel Bros. is a moving company. But instead of moving belongings from houses, this firm just moves the houses.

While many house-moving companies typically move structures when requested by their owners, Nickel Bros. also buys and moves homes slated for demolition and then sells them.

And business is growing, says Jeremy Nickel, one of the brothers who runs the Canadian-based firm and is president of its U.S. business. He established a new office at the Port of Everett early last year; the company also has three other offices in this state.

Growth around Western Washington has led to more development that threatens old houses and more people are learning about the option of moving homes instead of knocking them down, said Jeff McCord, sales representative for Nickel Bros. in Seattle and Everett.

“Right now, there’s a confluence of events: higher property values, rezonings, greater appreciation of the older architecture and a greater appreciation of saving the old materials and an awareness of sustainability and recycling,” he said.

Started in 1956 by Jeremy Nickel’s father and his uncle, Nickel Bros. actually moves just about anything big. It won an industry award this year for moving a 220-foot-long, 340-ton ship loader, the longest structure moved in the region during the past year. Companywide, Nickel Bros. moves or lifts more than 300 structures a year.

In addition to lifting houses for moves to other locations, the company also jacks up houses when homeowners want to build a new foundation or basement beneath.

A one-story home can even be raised in order to build a new story under it. It turns out that creating a two-story home that way, rather than building on top of an existing home, can cut construction costs by up to 50 percent, McCord said.

But it’s the big moves Nickel Bros. does that attract the most attention. That process involves dozens of people, big equipment and extensive choreography of everyone from utility work crews to tugboat and barge captains. A big move can range in cost from $150,000 to $200,000, while smaller, shorter moves can be quite a bit cheaper.

With the work and cost involved, few house-moving companies are doing what Nickel Bros. has started: buying homes that otherwise would be torn down, moving them on its own dime and then putting them up for sale.

“There are not many that have this as their primary business model,” McCord said. “But we see ourselves as a house recycling company.”

After all, McCord said, giving an old home a second life at a new location is the ultimate in recycling, saving tons of building materials from ending up in landfills.

As of last week, the company had 40 moved homes up for sale. Two of those homes are being stored in Everett, including a 1933 waterfront home moved from Seattle that’s now visible to I-5 traffic passing Dagmars Marina.

“The houses that will be stored there (at Dagmars) are typically the character houses. It kind of spurs people’s interest in the home-moving concept to see them as they pass,” McCord said.

That four-bedroom, 2,800-square-foot home overlooking I-5 is being offered for $195,000, including basic moving costs to an empty lot. It’s a steal, even when figuring the cost of building a foundation for it. Most of the homes offered on the Nickel Bros. Web site are priced under $200,000.

But there are limitations to where those homes can go, McCord said. A big home has to travel by barge, so a buyer needs to have a lot on or close to the water. Even smaller homes typically aren’t moved very far by truck.

For that reason, many of Nickel Bros. houses from Seattle and the surrounding area end up on lots in the San Juans or other islands in the region.

McCord said the company is looking to do more jobs around Everett, as new development may push older houses out of the way. Nickel Bros. would love to save those houses rather than see bulldozers tear them down, he said.

In addition to just being an environmentally friendly thing to do, developers can save thousands of dollars in demolition costs and can even sometimes receive “green builder” designations by letting a company such as Nickel Bros. move a house out of the way of progress. McCord said he and others in the company still are working to introduce themselves to Snohomish County developers.

“Everett is a developing city, and some of the things that have gone on in other Puget Sound cities are affecting Everett now. So we’ve found this is a good central location for us,” he said.

Reporter Eric Fetters: 425-339-3453 or fetters@heraldnet.com

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