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Sunday, May 20, 2007 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Corrected version

Finding a bargain, Seattle man orders his home to go

Seattle Times staff reporter

Frank-Michael Rebhan was not looking for a new house when he walked his dog past 6317 Phinney Ave. N. in late January.

He already owned a small house a few blocks away. But this sandy-gray beauty was a 1917 Craftsman-style home with leaded stained-glass windows, dark wood built-ins and box-beam ceilings. And a notice said it was slated for demolition.

Rebhan had an outlandish idea: What if he saved the home by moving it to his own lot?

Rebhan hadn't even been inside yet, but the 37-year-old quickly did some intense calculations. He added up costs for moving the house, demolition of his own home, excavation and the other issues involved in moving a house.

He figured out how much it would add to his current mortgage and realized: "It's a no-brainer."

Five months later, his old house is gone and his new one was to move slowly down Phinney Avenue North starting around 4 a.m. today. An HGTV camera crew planned to capture the two-hour process covering a few blocks and Rebhan, of course, planned to watch.

Was he nervous?

"No, not really," he said.

Then he laughed.

"A little, maybe."

Learning on the run

Rebhan estimates the entire move, including excavation, demolition and pouring a new foundation, among other costs, will total around $150,000. He used the equity in his old property to finance the move, and it will cover nearly all expenses.

When he first started, Rebhan said he didn't really know if such a move was realistic.

He had to see how much it would cost, find the developer, become a general contractor and juggle his regular job as West Coast sales representative for Voss Automotive.

But at some point, Rebhan felt certain about the project.

"If I'd had too many doubts, I would not have started it," he said.

He researched moving companies first and found Nickel Bros. House Moving. He learned moves of this size typically cost $35,000 to $50,000.

Moving homes is becoming more common, especially to save homes like Rebhan's, said Jeff McCord, Seattle representative for Nickel Bros. Accidents are rare, and the company fully insures the homes.

McCord walked Rebhan through much of the process, which included getting permits for demolition of his old home and for moving the new one.

He helped Rebhan persuade developer Walter Wendt, of Refino Homes of Washington, to sell the home for $1, since the developer would save money that otherwise would be spent to demolish the house and because saving the house would be of value to the neighborhood.

Other complications have arisen for Rebhan, including a broken leg in late February that made it difficult for him to prep his new house for the move — taking down basement walls, stripping out piping and removing the chimney. He had a tight timeline to accommodate the developer's schedule.

"It's as if somebody assigned you a flight to the moon and you figure out what's needed," he said.

But by early May, it had come together. A salvaging company went through Rebhan's old house, built in 1909, and it was demolished starting May 10.

He moved into his new house, relying on neighbors and friends for electricity, showers and laundry. His belongings will move with the house.

Getting it ready

Last week, Nickel Bros. slid the house sideways to an adjacent lot. Dollies were added underneath the house Friday, and a tractor-trailer was attached to the I-beams supporting the house.

This morning, the house was to have made its way off the lot, down Phinney to North 67th Street and then to Palatine Avenue North.

If all goes as planned, the movers will have navigated two turns, shimmied past an oak tree that had been specially pruned for the move and tilted the house to squeeze past a neighbor's rocky wall. Utility crews will have turned off electrical lines in the house's path.

Plans were to back the house into Rebhan's lot, where it will stay aloft on supports until a foundation is poured in the next few weeks.

In moves such as this, the houses are treated with extreme care so there is no structural damage, but there could be some surface damage, such as plaster cracking, McCord said.

On the eve of the move, Rebhan said it felt surreal.

"You don't know what you're doing, and now you're sitting in your rocket about to take off, and everyone's saying, 'Great job,' " he said.

"I'm sure I'll be glad when it's over."

Nicole Tsong: 206-464-2150 or ntsong@seattletimes.com

Information in this article, originally published May 20, was corrected May 29. A previous version of this story incorrectly stated that moving a house could cause plaster to come down. Plaster can crack in that situation, but typically does not come off walls, according to Jeff McCord, Seattle representative for Nickel Bros. House Moving.

Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company

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