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Feeling strong? Princeton is giving away 7 houses

Katie Zezima, Associated Press

Empty houses with a special marking are seen along Alexander road Wednesday, Feb. 27, 2013, in Princeton, N.J. Princeton is giving away seven houses it needs to clear away in order to start a new development project. For free. But only if you can haul it out of Princeton. The homes boast details including Victorian scroll moulding and fireplaces. The catch is that most are in bad shape, with insulation peeking out from the foundation and broken shutters or railings. Moving a house can cost tens to hundreds of thousands of dollars. Kendal Siegrist of Wolfe Housing and Building Movers in Bernville, Penn., said the houses can’t be carted away whole because there are too many utility lines, and it can cost $10,000 to move one line. (AP Photo/Mel Evans)

PRINCETON, N.J. (AP) -- Want a free house?

Princeton University has one waiting, but with a catch: you have to lug it away.

The school is giving away seven now-shuttered homes — some more than 150 years old — it needs to demolish or move as part of a project to build a new train station and a pair of arts buildings.

Most of the homes boast charming period details including exterior scroll moulding, arched windows and brick fireplaces. But to say they're fixer-uppers is an understatement.

The walls and floors have already been stripped to ready the homes for moving or demolition. In one, a long-forgotten coffee cup sits on a wall beam. Insulation peeks out from gaps in the wood siding on another home, a porch light hanging askew above. Debris is strewn about a peach and seafoam green floral couch in a living room. Electrical wires dangle from the roof of one home that's missing siding, the bare wood below exposed.

They are not, Princeton spokesman Martin A. Mbugua noted, "in move-in condition."

And if they're not gone by April 30, the only direction they're going is down.

That's the deadline under plans for the $300 million Arts and Transit Project, which will also move a heavily trafficked convenience store, add parking for commuters and construct a public plaza. Opponents sued the town and university over the project earlier this month but the school said it was expecting the lawsuit and construction shouldn't be affected.

It should come as no surprise in a state with some of the highest home prices in the nation that there has been intense interest in getting a free home. Mbugua said the university has received more than 400 calls and emails from people intrigued by the idea of a complimentary home.

The inquiries have come from as far away as Haiti, Mbugua said.

"It's really an opportunity for people who would like to preserve the houses or use them elsewhere," he said.

While the house might be on the house, moving it is quite an expensive proposition: tens to hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Kendal Siegrist of Wolfe Housing and Building Movers said the houses will have to be taken apart to move because that area of Princeton is densely populated.

Siegrist said the houses can't be carted away whole because there are too many utility lines in the area. Lines can cost up to $10,000 each to move, he said.

"Unless you have a strong desire to live in a historic building," Siegrist said, "I don't think it's going to be cheaper to disassemble and reassemble than it would be to build a new house."

Siegrist said his Bernville, Pa., company has received a number of calls from people interested in moving the homes to lots as far away as Mississippi and California.

"At the point when you have it dismantled and you have a couple of trucks, you can take it anywhere," he said.

Stephen O'Neill, a freshman who lives in a dorm across the street from the houses, said he's interested to see how the houses will be moved.

"It's good if someone wants a nice old house that has charm," he said.

But Zafar Gill, who was walking nearby with a friend, is skeptical about the idea of moving a home.

"Even in my house, when I have some mattresses to get rid of, it's a problem," he said. "So I don't know how they're going to take that away," he said, gesturing at one of the star-crossed houses.