The sight of a house being moved on a truck leaves tourists agog. But house removal is alive and well in New Zealand. At the time of writing there were more than 155 houses for removal being advertised online. Prices ranged from a $1 reserve on a property at 2 Ganges Ave, Mangere East, to $184,000 for a three-bedroom home for sale through Atlas Building Removals.

Typically houses for removal are old state houses or ropey run-down homes. Although some of them fit that stereotype, there are some newly renovated and character homes.

West Auckland-based Haines House Removal recently sold a pristine character 275sq m English-style home that was being relocated from Parnell to make way for several homes on one site. The house sold for $375,000 plus GST. Likewise a bungalow with a virtually new kitchen on Lake Pupuke was sold for $135,000 plus GST.

House moving can be a cost-effective way to put a home on bare land, but it does have perils for the unwary. Rule one is to do your homework. Check with the council to see if the site has covenants, which may be the case in new subdivisions in particular. You'll also need to get consents from the council.

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Des Jack, of Jack House Removals in Hamilton, says most councils require a re-site report from a licensed building practitioner in design, which means a draughtsperson or architect, and will require building consent. In some instances a resource consent will also be required.

You'll also need to get a lawyer to check over the contracts to look for issues such as whether the contract provides for the whole deal or just the house or transportation. Contracts will also cover issues such as piles being fixed to the bearers. And you'll also need to know if the price includes GST.

Then you need to track down a suitable home. It's a good idea to contact all the house removers near your site. You can also buy direct from the vendor and pay for removal directly, which will save you the removal company's mark-up. Houses for removal can be found on Realestate.co.nz and Trade Me, which lists private sales.

Buyers should always get a pre-purchase inspection. It's often easier to see the downsides of a home that has been removed to a yard.

Typically homes can be transported up to 50km to a flat site for a standard fee. In theory you could buy a house from Whanganui and have it delivered to a steep section in Browns Bay, but it's going to cost you extra. Jack says the majority of his customers are in the Waikato, but about 15 per cent go to Auckland and he has delivered houses all over the North Island.

It's difficult to give an estimate of the cost to move and renovate a house as there are so many variables. But a simple Hardiplank style home with tin roof could cost around $20,000 plus GST and include standard repiling.

Variables that add to the price could include the slope of the site and access, whether there are old-style concrete tiles that need to be removed, if verandas and porches have to be taken down, if piles need to be driven into soft soil or peat. Jack says not all houses need to be rewired and replumbed. Villa roofs often have to be lowered for a shift and then reinstalled at the final destination. Sometimes more modern roof tiles can be left in place for the move, says Jack.

Purchasers need to pay for disconnection and reconnection of services and may need a driveway built. If the house is sheathed in bricks, owners may replace these with other cladding.

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Many secondhand homes available for removal are structurally sound. They're sold by developers who plan to build several new homes on one site. Sometimes all that's needed is wallpaper, paint, carpet, curtains and possible insulation.

Complete do-ups are also available. Ranui-based Fistonich Building Removals sold a run-down 120sq m three-bedroom, two-storey villa for $12,000 plus GST. The second storey, it has to be said looked like a jerry-built 1960s add-on, to what would have been not much more than a worker's cottage. Nonetheless, bargain basement homes like this are often popular with investors.

Renovations could include insulation, building paper wrap, and recladding. About 20 per cent will need a new roof. These costs, however, would be much the same whether you were buying an existing do-up or having one moved onto the site.

If you're buying direct from a seller before your section is ready, there could be charges for double-handling and a storage charge, which is often more than $100 plus GST a week.