1 Deals on Wheels
By G. Pascal Zachary

(Business 2.0) – The Strategy: Move a Cheap House to a Nice Lot Minimum Investment: Less Than $50,000

If "location, location, location" is the defining principle of real estate value, then the greatest frustration for a buyer is to find a dream house in a nightmare neighborhood. That's what happened to Kay Laurent. Four years ago she was driving through southern Alabama when she passed a gorgeous wood house sporting a breathtaking price tag: $17,000.

Most people would have driven on. But Laurent got a brainstorm. If she could truck her four-bedroom treasure to the Florida panhandle beach community where she and her husband owned a lot, she knew she could make a killing. She bought the house on the spot.

So began one of many Laurent adventures in house moving, a little-known real estate niche in which, with the right house, a desirable plot, and, most important, an experienced and trustworthy mover, you can earn a tidy bundle. While Laurent won't say what the house is worth today, she admits it's far more valuable than the combined $100,000 spent on the house, land, and moving costs. Needless to say she has become a big believer in the concept: Laurent has bought, moved, and sold a dozen homes.

It was Ducky Johnson House Movers--a 38-year-old family-run business based in Grand Ridge, Fla., one of only a few dozen big house movers in the United States--that showed her the ropes. For instance, Laurent bought the Alabama house unaware that Alabama law forbids moving a home more than 50 miles; the Johnsons persuaded state officials to grant an exemption. Charlie Johnson, the company's top boss, offers investors another lucrative perk--a new foundation is included with the price of the moving quote. Wood homes, he says, are the cheapest to move; a one-story, 1,000-square-foot house costs $15,000 to $17,000 to move as far as 50 miles. Brick homes move for about twice that.

Johnson, who manages five moving crews to keep up with rising demand, says he trucked 400 structures last year--a third of them single-family homes. David Scribner, president of the International Association of Structural Movers, says he's never seen business as brisk as it is now. One home he bought in Omaha, Neb., for $2,000 and moved just a few miles away sold to a developer for $29,000. The developer fixed it up and flipped it for $135,000. "It happens a lot," Scribner says. "You can double your money in a year's time."

Where can you find the ideal house to relocate? In booming Florida, some worthy houses are facing the wrecking ball because developers want to use the land for condos or shopping malls. In other cases, a house becomes enveloped by commercial properties, driving up the value of the land and turning the structure into a lonely island. Regardless, in this seat-of-the-pants business--where "there's no schooling in the world that can teach you what we know," Johnson says--it's best to call the movers first. -- G.P.Z.

Ducky Johnson's Shipping Rates

 Average price for moving a one-story wood house (1,000 sq. ft.): $15,000-$17,000

Average price for moving a brick house: $30,000

Price of a new foundation: INCLUDED