Big D Day 5: A House Revealed


Stony Creek Metropark – one of many awesome spots in the 1500ish-acre park.

If you’ve been following this saga, you already know I was scheduled yesterday to tour the inside of a few homes.

And I did (which you’ll see in a minute).

But before we get to that, I want to just give a huge shout out to Michigan’s Metroparks system. When I’d finished my property tours and checked into my hotel (stayed in Troy, MI last night), I headed out to Stony Creek Park for a little quiet and relaxation.

It was AMAZING. And I say this as a California girl who isn’t easily impressed (we’ve got a lot going for us in CA, too!).

I saw lakes, creeks, paved bike trails, hiking trails, mountain bike trails, beaches with snack bars and out of the way water areas like the one above. There was also a golf course (where I enjoyed a quiet beer and turkey sandwich).

How did I know to go there? It was a tip from my lunch companion — one Ms. Cheryl Pickett — who I swear should start her own tourism/relocation podcast for the Greater Detroit area. The woman is a veritable fount of knowledge!

This Metropark System is impressive. Seriously, you should check out the website.

And can I just say that Michigan is one of the greenest states I’ve ever been in? (Not necessarily green as in eco-friendly. Although, there are folks who care about the environment here, to be sure.) I mean green as in lawns, grass, trees — it’s everywhere. You almost can’t tell the golf courses from the surrounding areas.

But back to the house hunting…

This one was my favorite — even before I saw the inside:

Grand Blvd, Detroit

Grand Blvd, Detroit

The house sits squarely inside the Island View Historical District (if you look on a map, it’s just blocks away from the river front — although I couldn’t see Belle Isle from there unless I was up in a balloon). Grand Blvd was originally constructed in the early 1900s as a way to emulate the streets of Paris. (Yes, I looked it up.) It was also meant to be the outer most city limit line, back in the day.

The house has a lot of good things going in her favor. Unfortunately, there’s an equally heavy list of concerns. Here take a look for yourself:

So besides the roof issue, and the near lack of plumbing (there might one functioning bathroom and the copper pipes in the basement are gone), the place has a few spots of dry rot, too.

After talking it over with Mr. Perfect last night, there’s still no firm decision on whether or not to make an offer — his argument (and I agree) is does it make sense to buy a house for peanuts and then put another $30-40K into it? Wouldn’t it be easier to just buy something at around $50-60K that was already livable?

Oh, that I didn’t love historic houses so damn much.

I’m back to researching properties — if only to see what’s out there in the $50K price range. Wish me luck?



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Day 4: Just Another Weekend in the Big D

Eastern Market, Detroit

Eastern Market, Detroit

Everyone told me “Be sure to visit the Eastern Market while you’re there.”

And if you know me at all, you know I love a good farmers’ market. (It was one of the big disappointments of moving from Ventura (where they were great) to San Jose (where they pretty much suck).

This one? Well let’s just say I was lucky to find my car again after wandering around for a little over an hour.

It’s really an outdoor farmers’ market in the middle of an entire food district. Permanent shops selling everything from freshly butchered meat to local cheeses and beer surround the sprawling produce and flower stands.

I didn’t take enough pictures, but this should give you a teensy idea of what’s available on any given Saturday:

I stopped at one of the food vendors called The Mac Shack (their menu board appears in the video). I only had enough cash for the bacon, egg and cheese sandwich, but it was delish! (The egg was fried and not all the way, so just enough runny yolk to keep things moist.)

Since I couldn’t eat and walk at the same time (it’s a problem, I know), I sat down next to a couple and their two young daughters.

Me: “You come here often?”

The Wife: “Not really. This is our first time in a loooong time.”

Me: “What brought you today?”

The Husband: “We just moved back here after living in Orlando for almost 10 years.”

Me: “Really?! Wow – why’d you move back?”

The Husband: (Laughing) “We’ve been asking ourselves that same question.”

The Wife: “Actually, we thought this would be a better place to raise the girls. More midwestern values. Orlando has such a transient population.”

Me: “Ah. Well, I’m thinking of moving here myself.”

The Husband: “Be sure to spend a winter here first to be sure you can take it.”

The Wife: “Yeah, we grew up here and we thought we remembered what the winters were like. But we totally forgot.”

And before you knew it, my sandwich was done. I thanked them for sharing their space and then was off to explore more of the market.

In one of the stalls, I found a man named Ron, his wife and their good friend Cynthia offering free samples of fresh bread.

Free samples! Fresh bread! (Two combos nearly impossible to resist.)

So of course, I had to ask them about the market, “Is it always like this?”

Ron told me it was Flower Day, so there were a few more people than normal; but yes, pretty much the market offerings were there every week.

And then, because they were raising money for a food bank, I bought a loaf of their awesome rosemary and olive oil sourdough bread.

Consider me duly impressed by the Eastern Market.


The rest of the day I spent driving around Detroit looking at neighborhoods (my realtor gave me a list of properties to drive by so I could see which ones I might want to see inside).

Keep in mind, I was looking at things $20K and under (mostly under $10). But out of 70+ listings, I only found two that I thought looked promising. And these were just in the five zipcodes I’d picked (out of about 20).

My criteria? The street needed to have 20% or less abandoned/dilapidated houses. Unfortunately, most of the ones I saw had over 50%. Sometimes closer to 90%. Truly very sad.

You just can’t imagine the sheer number of fixer uppers here. It boggles the mind.

And probably less than 5% of them are listed on the MLS.

On the agenda today: lunch with a colleague (I’ve been promised a Coney Island dog) and then meeting the agent to look at those two properties.

Here’s one of them:

Grand Blvd, Detroit

Grand Blvd, Detroit

This is a 5 bedroom brick Colonial owned by Fannie Mae. The offered price is $21K.

The other house is listed at $7200, and it apparently needs a lot more work. But it’s in the right ‘hood.

Until tomorrow, my friends…thanks for reading!

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Big D Day 3: Meeting the Local Business Community

Green Garage Detroit
What do you get when you cross a triple-bottom-line entrepreneur with an old warehouse?

The Green Garage, of course.

This 5000+ square foot building located in mid-town Detroit was once a Model T showroom. The beautiful rehab means it’s now a net-zero energy building that houses a co-working space (nearly 40 micro biz owners use this as their office). The new owners opened the doors in 2011 with the aim of helping the community develop triple-bottom-line businesses.

And yesterday (thanks to an invite from Jessica of Pill Pouch — a former Word Chef client I’ve kept in contact with via Facebook), I had the pleasure of attending one of their Friday Community Lunches. These weekly gatherings are just one way that GG works to build awareness in the neighborhood about what they have to offer.

Among those at my table was a young woman named Adrienne (early 30s?). She grew up here in Detroit, but left to live a bigger life (she thought) in Los Angeles. Ten years in Venice Beach, she knew she’d never be able to afford to buy anything, so she decided it was time to come back.

Adrienne’s working on a business plan for a sustainable pet retail store. She was thrilled to share with me that she’d also recently purchased not one, but two homes in the mid-town area — plus an adjacent vacant lot — all for less than she paid in rent for one year in L.A.

When I asked about a real estate agent, she laughed. “Nope. I just rode my bike through the neighborhoods until I finally found something that worked for me.” She’d purchased just one home to begin with and then researched the owner of the house next door (an investor who lived in Texas). She was able to convince them to sell it to her for $1000. That’s right One Thousand. There’s also a program here in Detroit that helps folks buy up adjacent vacant lots so that they’ll be maintained properly and help eliminate blight. And that’s how she came to own three pieces of property.

Besides their forward-thinking ways, this crowd of entrepreneurs was a very friendly group. They made such an impression on me that I asked the owner, Tom B., if they were a typical reflection of the wider business community here, or if they were quirky outliers.

He assured me that there were many, many more people like them here in Detroit.

After lunch, there was a round of introductions, a short presentation on the new roof-top garden (they’re growing food for a restaurant next door), and then a tour of the building where we got to learn about the rehab and how they created a net-zero energy building. Heating AND cooling costs for the entire year of 2012 never broke $1000 (for the YEAR). The key? Insulation!

Anyway, here are a few pics of the Green Garage for your enjoyment (courtesy of their Facebook page):

The lounging area in the loft above the ground floor. Often used for naps for those working long hours.

The lounging area in the loft. I was told this area is often used for naps by those working long hours.


The communal dining room — where we all had lunch.

One of the conference rooms available for private meetings and brainstorming.

One of the conference rooms available for private meetings and brainstorming.


Chad’s workshop (his business is called Dickinson by Design) – this is just one of several manufacturing spaces available in the building.


Original use (circa 1920s) – when the space was used as a Model T showroom

Inside the showroom (circa 1920s)

What the building looked like before the rehab. Note the windows were bricked up — something done after the riots in the 60s as a hopeful deterrent to crime. Bricking up the windows actually made crime in the neighborhood worse.

The Green Garage exterior today.

The Green Garage exterior today.

When the tour was over, I headed out to find my next bed for the night: a funky little apartment you can rent by the night on Airbnb.

This is the neighborhood where I stayed:

Van Dyke Ave., West Village Neighborhood of Detroit

After my dinner of pizza and beer, my new real estate agent, Dawn stopped over so we could discuss the realities of buying property here in Detroit. Three and a half hours later, I had a new friend and a long list of addresses to go look at (on today’s agenda, after I scope out the big Eastern Market scene).

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