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Detroit = Real Estate

by Tim

Detroit is famous for a lot of things: Henry Ford and his Model T, the Arsenal of Democracy, Motown, Eminem, and more. It is equally as infamous for some others: race riots, corrupt mayors, and the largest municipal bankruptcy of all time.1 In the popular imagination, I think Detroit means one thing: blight.

The classic Detroit blight photo. What you don’t see is the row of beautiful, occupied houses just down the street.

Anyone who is at all familiar with the city knows what I mean: the vast sea of abandoned, beat-up, burnt-down structures that seems to cover all 139 of Detroit’s square miles. Every neighborhood in the city, from Brightmoor in the west to Indian Village in the east, has at least one of these eyesores. Not even Downtown is exempt; even now, the Wurlitzer Building continues its run as a black eye on the skyline. Blight is such an issue that Detroit has an entire Blight Removal Task Force dedicated to conquering the problem.

Take a step back, though, and you’ll see that blight is only one aspect of a greater whole: real estate. Real estate is a constant subject of discussion in Detroit, from blight and demolition to rehabs and construction. Take a drive down Woodward, Detroit’s premier avenue, and you’ll see what I mean: skyscrapers in Downtown, the Ilitch’s nascent entertainment district just across the bridge in Midtown, new construction all around Wayne State, and a whole hodgepodge of buildings up through Eight Mile. You can’t make that trek without thinking about the past history and future opportunities of real estate in Detroit.

The idea of real estate isn’t just in the city—it’s in the citizens, too. The status of buildings and neighborhoods is a constant subject of conversation. People at parties will speculate about what the old apartment building down the street will be in two years, or what the M-1 Rail will do for Woodward’s storefronts, or what neighborhood all the young people will flock to next.

The fabled $500 house is the keystone example of the imagination spent on property in Detroit. The price tag lures you in, tempting you to build a real estate empire in your mind. Of course, the unpleasant reality of a dirt cheap house is the expensive rehab to go with it, and your empire pops right out of existence again. Once you start investigating property in Detroit, though, the dream never fully leaves you. We started Rebirth Realty as part of that collective dream, and we’re working on Castle to help investors and landlords with dreams of their own.

Bit by bit, the dreamers are finding the true real estate opportunities in the Motor City and making an impact. The city’s renaissance is here, and real estate is the linchpin holding it all together. Here on the ground, Detroit means real estate.

  1. I won’t weigh in on which camp ICP falls into.

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