How to Buy a Great House in Detroit

The idea of buying a house in Detroit might scare you. The city has a horrible reputation. Crime. Poverty. Corruption. One look at the five o’clock news and you’d think that walking down the street put your life in danger. There are some unfortunate exceptions to the rule but most crime in the city is not random. The poverty and unemployment rate are high, but this is true of most urban areas. As for corruption, that’s as American as apple pie and it’s not exclusive to Detroit.

Race is also a factor. Detroit is the fourth most segregated city in America. Many white families left after the 1967 riots. Now, middle class black families are following them to suburbia because they don’t want to live next door to Pookie. Even Pookie is leaving. What’s left is a shell of a city with a fraction of the population, down from nearly 2 million in the 1950’s to about 700,000 today.

Last year, when my husband and I were house hunting, everyone encouraged us to do the safe thing and move to the suburbs. We considered it for a second but we couldn’t ignore all of the beautiful brick homes at unbelievable prices in the city. We found a gem of a house with four bedrooms, finished hardwood floors and a fireplace for less than the cost of a new car.

Tips for buying a house in Detroit:

1.) Look in historical districts

Most of these homes were built between 1915 – 1930, a time when auto industry wealth flowed through Detroit and the reason why it was called the “Paris of the west.” You’ll discover luxurious extras like custom masonry, maid’s quarters and spacious back yards. These communities also tend to attract more homeowners than renters.

2.) Talk to your potential neighbors

Try to find a senior citizen who has lived on the block for a long time to give you the real scoop on the neighborhood. If you don’t feel comfortable going door-to-door in a community then you should not be buying real estate there.

3.) Be ready to do some renovations

You may get a deal on a house in Detroit, but the less you pay, the more repairs you’ll have to do. Sometimes, a fresh coat of paint is all it needs. More than likely, you’ll spend as much in renovations as you did on the purchase price. Find some good contractors or prepare for a D.I.Y. (Do It Yourself) adventure.

Despite the negative press, people of all backgrounds are taking a second look at Detroit. Most of them flock to midtown or downtown. But diversity is coming closer to home. Recently, three families moved to my neighborhood from the suburbs. A white family, a Middle Eastern family and a black family. I know it sounds like the beginning of some corny joke, but it’s true and I think that it’s wonderful. I hope it continues to catch on.

Detroit Real Estate Resources:

HUD’s (U.S. Department of Housing & Urban Development) website has a lot of great houses for great prices. This is where I found my house.

City Of Detroit’s web site with information about historical districts. Research neighborhoods and tax incentives.

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