Housing: Shell Shock

It seemed like such a good idea, right after World War II, for those Americans for whom a house had always been a dream house. The shell home came along, providing an inexpensive (average cost: $3,000), wall-to-wall do-it-yourself kit that was finished on the outside but left the interior up to the buyer. The shell house industry that started out so promisingly has just gone through one of the crudest shakeouts in business history, and is emerging a vastly smaller but much stronger part of the nation's $25.6 billion housing business.

Shell homes were launched 17 years ago by an...

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