Be it ever so humble - by
I don't have ruby slippers to emphasize the
point, but I can vouch for the fact that it took a Dorothy-like trek
to find our way home. The search lasted about a year and required all
the virtues that Dorothy and her companions sought from Oz.
Michelle and I moved from San Francisco, one
month after 9/11. Neither of us are huge breadwinners but we were fresh
from spending anywhere from $700 to $1,000 to rent a 'bedroom' in an
apartment or a 'basement studio' with rats and no direct sunlight in
S.F.. The idea of owning one of the huge and gorgeous architectural
gems from Detroit's rich past for a similar mortgage was more than enticing.
The way Michelle and I went about looking for
a home could easily be read as the how-not-to-manual for house-shopping.
We made a lot of mistakes, and hopefully if you're looking for a home
you'll be better informed than we were AND not feel too compelled to
call us 'dumb asses' when you see us on the street - at least not too
And in the end, the gods took pity on us and
we got lucky to find a place we we're really happy with.
"If I only had a brain"
First mistake, we didn't spend the time to find
a realtor we could trust. I thought you could just fill in the blank:
"Buying a home is like ..." - accept it really isn't. It's
unlike anything else. Buying in a city like Detroit, with its ever-changing
tides of economic development, is like trying to hit a moving target,
as you try to factor in issues like crime rates, schools and city services.
Add in the multitude of loan choices, the inevitable wrangling over
price and condition, the home inspections, the possibility of the seller
having liens on the property, the high-wire choices that swing decisions
based on thousands of dollars in a matter of minutes .... There were
many times we would have benefited from another's council. Here's the
catch, though: There's a good chance you won't be able to locate that
Most of the 'talent" are plying their trade
out in the burbs and aren't familiar with Detroit (and probably flat
out think you're crazy to buy here to begin with). Those we found familiar
with the city, seemed to have their be$t intere$t inevitably tied to
what they were showing. It's a rought way to start, but taking the time
to find a like-minded individual who knows what you want and what you
can afford - in dollars and time- will only help you. And it costs you
There are deals to be had, especially if you
can feign disinterest. People have been sitting on their property for
years in this city. Any sort of interest in their for sale sign and
of course they'll be looking to get P-A-I-D,. Given the decades of inactivity
in Detroit's real estate market, who wouldn't?
The first place we looked at in the fall of 2001
was a five-apartment building in the center of the then fast developing
mid-town. Without really knowing what we were looking for we called
the listing agent and set up an appointment to see the building. We
thought it would be unoccupied but it wasn't. There was a constant foreboding
question of "where was the dog", which we never saw and two
of the five apartments were occupied: one by a lone squatter, the other
by a family of 4 (with 3 kids). We made an offer but they asked $25,000
more than we offered. Even if they had accepted it, we wouldn't have
been able to put people out on the street anyway. As of today, the building
is still on the market.
The next place we made an offer on was in the
Woodbridge area and this one was unoccupied. At first the realtor seemed
incredibly accommodating. Michelle viewed the place with a friend and
despite its run-down condition she was interested in the property. She
did her best not to show it.
It actually required an enormous amount of fixing
up. No problem said the loan officer of our bank. We have just what
you need. A 203k! A what? A 203k, is a loan sponsored by HUD from the
federal government which backs the bank's loan to you for the purchase
price AND the fix up costs -- all wrapped neatly into one mortgage knot
and bow. Sounded great. But you know that saying - believe half of what
you see and none of what you hear.
After we offered less than the seller was seeking,
the listing agent suddenly couldn't be seen or heard. He missed appointments
and never called us back. It literally got to the point of my driving
up to his offices in Southfield to demand - on the spot - my initial
deposit money back. I was angry at the listing agent's continued indifference;
I may have mentioned the Better Business Bureau. Amazingly, my rampage
shook his secretary up enough to call the absentee listing agent's boss.
One I didn't know he had. It was his dad, the actual listing agent.
Crazily enough, through his Dad, we ended up
negotiating an acceptable offer. The experience harkened memories of
the principal's office where his son was offering an apology while we
were signing documentation for the accepted offer. In the end, I had
taken everything too personally and allowed myself to get caught up
in the emotions of buying.
Now all we had to take care of was the loan -
that 203k thing that sounded too good to be true. Which it was - sort
of. Because it's a government sponsored loan, you have a lot more hoops
to jump through: All the proposed fixes have to be itemized and accompanied
by detailed estimates from contractors (something their not always inclined
to provide for free).
Ironically enough for low income loan, it will
cost you more out of pocket money than a conventional loan to close.
Because of its specialized nature, the home inspection and property
appraisal (both required by the loan) were about $700.00 more than we
would have spent had we gone conventional. In the end, it was too much
of a project and we backed out of the deal. That house, too, is still
" ... there's no place like home."
During our search we were staying at a residential
hotel downtown. We had a gorgeous view of I-75, complemented by the
constant growling drone of cars streaming past our window. We had lived
there for about a year and it was time to move out - and on.
This time out, we 'employed' a realtor who was
integral and earnest (read, new to the job) and... completely unfamiliar
with the City. We had exhausted our options with classifieds in "The
Monitor" and by that time our mystically intuitive approach to
finding a house had begun to wear around the edges of our desire and
initiative. We had a friend whose place behind the D.I.A. we liked.
We offered to take it off his hands and, politely, he balked at our
Still, we liked the area behind the D.I.A. and
decided to look around for a place to rent. The area around our friend;s
place was blocked off for construction, so I turned to drive away when
Michelle, spotted a For Sale sign three house down. We called the listing
agent but because we weren't comfortable with the greenness of our current
realtor we decided to do our own negotiations.
This was the last example of why our first mistake
is the biggest. Had everything gone as planned, I probably wouldn't
be writing this article. Though, he had no incentive to be, the listing
agent turned out to be nice and competent. Unfortunately, it was the
seller that didn't have his things in order. Though we were ready to
close five days before our closing date it turned out there were numerous
liens on the property that had to be cleared up before it could be sold.
Again, we didn't anticipate that this could happen,
duh! It took us 55 days after our initial closing date to close on the
property. During that time, I called the listing agent or title company
every day for 3 weeks to make sure that the deal was being properly
baby-sat and not allowed to slip through the cracks. Meanwhile our Indian-summer-fall
turned into winter. Issues such as winterization became very relevant.
Because I couldn't trust the seller to take care of these issues on
his own, it was up to me to make sure that he had incentive to get it
done. What he didn't do, I knew, would surely fall back on us when we
did close. Having an agent to take care of this would of helped.
We finally closed in December, appropriately
enough on Friday the 13th. There's another entire article wrapped up
in what we've learned since becoming new home owners the last 2 months.
Still I'm knocking the heals of my plaid yahoo slippers together everyday
in thanks for what we've got. A home.