Free House

By Bruce Firestone | Uncategorized

Jun 24

If someone gave you a free house–all you had to do was to move it–s/he’d be doing you a huge favor, right?

Not necessarily. 

Here’s one I got, not for free but close to it–it’s an old sales office that I bought for $5,500, and moved to a lot I owned in the rural area of Ottawa, near Dunrobin.


By the time, we bought the lot, put in a footing and foundation, a well and septic field, paid for the building permit and development charge, dropped the “free” home in place,
connected all the services, we’d spent $185,500. Today it would be

It would look something like this:


You can download this spreadsheet from

Here’s another spreadsheet; this one for an urban lot,

I’ve moved other buildings including this cottage and a heritage barn–


The barn was going to be torn down to make room for a new housing subdivision about 12 klicks south of this Dunrobin Lake site in Kanata North. John Galetta was the developer. Instead, he sold me this barn for $3,500. We took it down and moved it piece by piece then rebuilt it. Turned out that half the barn board and all the trusses were eaten through by dry rot so my wife said, “Hey, smart boy, you didn’t buy a barn, you bought a design.” Oh well.

I nearly got another one–the Cattle Castle (aka, the Aberdeen Pavilion) in downtown Ottawa. In 1991, it looked like this–


The city council of the day voted to demolish it at a cost of $350,000. I loved the late 19th century building, and we were getting ready to build the CTC (Canadian Tire Centre, called the Palladium at the time). So I called then mayor Jacquelin 

Holzman and offered to save the city of Ottawa $350,000. Instead, we would take it down and move it to Kanata where we would rebuild it next to our new building. 

How cool would it be to have nearly an acre of classic column-free exhibition space sitting next to/connected to the Palladium? The contrast between old and new architecture would have been awesome. 

Councillors thinking that a developer was perhaps trying to take advantage of the situation reversed course two weeks later and voted to spend $5.5 million fixing it up. The contractor who took on the job of refurbishing the Cattle Castle (Aberdeen’s nickname) went broke during the job, which turned out to be much more difficult than he expected. Oh well.


If you are moving buildings, get multiple bids. I’ve had quotes from $25k to $75k to move a single building less than 2 kilometers so competitive bidding is a must.

Anyway, the answer to affordable housing, ironically, is not free housing, per se.
It’s something else—maybe tiny houses on wheels that cannot be assessed for
property taxes. I don’t know. But I do know we need help—fresh minds, new
technology, and a heaping helping of unabashed enthusiasm to take on a system
plagued by inefficiency and a bureaucratic mindset that is creating urban
spaces that are frightmares.

Bruce M
Firestone, B Eng (Civil), M Eng-Sci, PhD

Century 21 Explorer Realty Inc Broker

613.422.6757 x 250


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About the Author

Bruce is an entrepreneur/real estate broker/developer/coach/urban guru/keynote speaker/Sens founder/novelist/columnist/peerless husband/dad.