Analyzing Detroit Neighborhood Quality with Motor City Mapping

One of the most common questions we get from investors is, “What ZIP codes are good?”

But the thing about Detroit is that neighborhoods often succeed and fail on a block-by-block basis. ZIP codes usually encompass an area too large to generalize about.

For example, here’s an outline of Detroit’s 48206 ZIP code, just down the street from Castle HQ in 48202:

And here’s that same area with occupancy data filled in (green = occupied, red = vacant):

Some areas, like the middle, have pretty high occupancy and look like solid investments; others, like the bottom right, have large patches of vacancy and should likely be avoided.

Even zooming in to, say, a two-block radius isn’t enough. If a block of twenty houses has eighteen occupied properties and just two vacancies, it’s a pretty good block. But if the house you’re looking at buying is sandwiched directly in between those two vacancies, you’re going to be pretty disappointed.

That’s where Motor City Mapping comes in.

In 2013, the Detroit Blight Removal Task Force partnered with our friends atLoveland to survey every single property within Detroit’s borders. The resulting data is available to the public on the Motor City Mapping website.

Type an address in the search box and click the “Explore” tab on the right, and you can turn on mapping layers for ownership, occupancy, condition, use, and more. But if you’re assessing an investment, there are really just two main layers to look at:

  1. Occupancy. I like to a see a block that’s no more than ~10% vacant, with no vacant houses directly next to or across from the property I’m looking at.
  2. Lots with dumping + houses needing boarding. A lot with dumping isn’t the end of the world, but a house that needs boarding is an invitation for vandalism and crime. One alone on the block shouldn’t necessarily scuttle a deal, but generally speaking you don’t want to be anywhere near an abandoned, non-boarded house.

Lots with dumping for the area around Castle HQ. It’s pretty clean, but there are a couple troublesome spots on the block behind us.

Data on Motor City Mapping isn’t always perfect—it can be a year or two out of date—but it’s usually good enough to take a first crack at an area. (And if you notice any obviously incorrect data, you can submit an update yourself with the Blexting app.)

MCM is fantastic resource for anyone analyzing a deal in Detroit, especially for those who don’t live in Detroit. We highly recommend that our readers check it out!

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