My place in Detroit

I recently read a thoughtful article by an 18-year Detroit resident about the folly of youth moving to a city down on its luck. Much hay has been made of the influx of young people to Detroit lately, and as a 28-year old home buyer (now 31), I fit fairly neatly into that pile. The author shares portions of an idyllic letter he wrote as a 25-year old to then-Mayor Dennis Archer and squirms as he tries to reconcile his present-day perspectives with the ones he brought with him in 1996.

I’m here because, like the author, I wanted to live in a place that wasn’t done being built. I am, at my core, a builder. A place like Detroit is irresistible because it just screams out the opportunities for a builder. And indeed, I quickly found my little corner on which to build. I have a grand vision for my little corner, and on this corner my ideas and efforts are boundless.

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The Unpackening

We moved into Detroit on Saturday, the 29th of September, 2012. I forced the issue by scheduling the moving van because the dual-house utility bill situation was untenable. We made two trips with the moving van and got nearly everything. As of today, there’s still a car load or two of things in the Warren garage plus a few electrical fixtures we need to retrieve. It was an exhausting, 12-hour day that was only possible because of the help of our awesome friends.

Our first mission was the kitchen. That’s the one room in the house that, as of last night, was basically finished. Everything is where it goes, and oh man, what a great room. There is tremendous amounts of storage space, plenty of counter room, and the coffee / microwave table from the Warren house has been repurposed as an island. It came with casters and side pot-hanging racks that I’d just stored in the basement the last four years. Well, they’re attached now, and what a transformation. It’s probably the most fantastic repurposing of a piece of furniture I’ve ever seen.

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Unwinding to refocus

I’ve been a massive ball of stress lately. We don’t know when eviction might come at the Warren house, and we don’t know how much notice we’ll get. The uncertainty creates massive anxiety for all of us, because there are a lot of steps to be taken before we can safely move in to the Sullivan House.

I didn’t really see how tightly I was wound though until I left town for the fourth annual Icrontic Rennfaire event in Maryland. Despite having no time to relax, the Rennfaire is, to me, non-optional. It’s the only time I get to visit my awesome friends Anne & Eli in Alexandria, VA each year, and I’ve never missed one. So, off I went. And when I came back, everything was different.

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Zero hour

It’s getting down to the wire. Renovations are ramping up to a fever pitch. As of this moment, we have calls out to Comcast, a plumber, a scaffolding contractor, a masonry repair contractor, and a roofer. The new boiler system is halfway installed, and the majority of the interior has been primed with at least one coat of primer.



The problems we had with primer peeling off in massive sheets are gone, as oil-based primer has solved the issue. The last “frighteningly high-up” surfaces have been covered with primer, and the kitchen is nearing completion (paint is done, sink is installed, light fixtures are up, and fan is installed). Continue reading

Gotta go fast

There’s an undercurrent of panic in my actions.

We have five weeks until eviction from our home in Warren will be looming over our heads. We have no firm date, only the knowledge that August is when our six months of foreclosure grace is ending.

The kitchen and bathroom are so close to completion, but so far away. We have dozens of gallons of paint in our immediate future. There are some major undertakings left, including siding and gutter repairs. The City of Detroit inspectors could conceivably stop me from occupying the house until every single thing is complete. I don’t see how it’s possible to reconcile that with our deadline.

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The school decision

Last year, when I first started hinting to friends and family about my intentions to move to Detroit, the reactions ran the gamut from fully supportive (Detroit is coming back!) to absolutely against (you’re completely insane).

Most reactions were somewhere in between those two extremes. Many friends and family members warmed up to the idea after reading this blog and spending more time (after their initial emotional and visceral reactions) really looking at what the City has to offer.

There has been one common theme among almost everyone, however—from diehard supporters to head-shaking detractors—everything will be okay as long as you don’t send your kids to Detroit Public Schools.

I can’t talk about DPS without bringing race into the conversation. The sad truth is, in my experience—and many have criticized me for “over-simplification” on this issue—when people say “Detroit is bad”, what they really mean but will not say is that “Detroit is black”.
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The excitement around the new house is high. Our whole family has been energized. The kids are excited to clean and contribute to their new home. Nicole is finally going to have studio space of her own. Lincoln will get the tower bedroom he’s always wanted. We’ll have new neighbors, enough projects to keep us busy for years, and lots of new experiences and friendships.

But right now, I’m sitting home alone. Home. My house. The one I bought in 2004. The one that represented the culmination of my adult working life, my hopes and dreams with my then-wife. The place I bought to raise my kids in and get a little bit older in. In 2004, life looked very different, and I would not have even been able to imagine what twists and turns my life was about to take.

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Comfortably numb

After closing on the house, I was pretty numb to the world. People would ask what my plans were for the house, and I’d shrug. My plans blew up. I have enough money to buy some supplies at the hardware store and that’s about it. I didn’t even bother calling the utility company for a day. Whatever.

We had a fun little adventure our first day, meeting the neighbors. Later that night I called my parents to tell them about the crazy I’d done. “You’re coming down from an incredible amount of stress and trying to let it go. It’s pretty normal,” was my mom’s reaction to my ambivalence. My parents offered to send me some money. I asked them to only get some furniture if they wanted to help out. I didn’t want them going into debt for my new money pit. At least I could take furniture with me if things fell apart.

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Everything goes to Hell

Closing day. My stomach knotted, I drove downtown to pick up the inspection documents. I was terrified to see the results. The money still hadn’t transfered to my checking account. It was now 11:45am with the closing scheduled for 2pm.

I checked on the money wire. After some back and forth with my family, it became apparent we had made a grave error. I had many thousands of dollars less available than we thought. My careful plans and budgeting evaporated, buffers transformed into impossible shortfalls. The knot got tighter. My resolve began to fade.

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The dark waiting

The closing documents are with my attorney. The city inspection is scheduled for tomorrow morning, and the closing is scheduled for tomorrow afternoon. The fund are being wired to my account in the morning. Thousands of dollars seem to have evaporated somewhere in all the transfers. My first round of desired fixes are off to the contractor for a quote. Agent still hasn’t sent me the final quote to start home insurance. Asbestos removal quote is higher than I’d hoped, but less than I’d feared.

I put on my headphones and try to concentrate on work. I decided to skip a visit to the house today. Every time I think of it, I feel tightness in my chest.

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A spark of life

I went down to the house with Nicole today to meet the electrician. “I used to come down here all the time,” the electrician told me in greeting. “I drove around the neighborhood for a while to check it out, and I just fell in love with this building. I saw it was for sale and almost called my brother-in-law to come down and check it out before I realized it was the one I was going to!”

Once inside it was a constant stream of “Oh wow, just WOW” and “What a treasure!” as we passed from room to room. We talked as much about the house’s potential as we did the electrical.

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A new hope

After a dose of reality, I wandered back to the house a second time. Soon, our contractor friend Andy showed up for a much-anticipated professional eye on the building.

Good news first: We confirmed the knob and tube electrical work is disconnected and is not what’s powering the house. There are already modern runs connected to the new circuit panel. He called an electrician to come by and get a better estimate of what changes are needed.

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A dose of reality

“I want you to be able to do this, but it will bankrupt you. It’s not that it’s a tight budget, it’s an order of magnitude more than you can afford.”

I know he’s right. My uncle has changed his plans to be in Detroit today for an hour and see the one in Woodbridge. He has a tremendous amount of experience in real estate and investing. This, he assures me, is out of my grasp. I counter with my community and friends, their offers to help. Just last night, a member of Icrontic offered to fly out with his father for a week to assist with renovations. “Even with free labor, the materials will easily exceed what you can afford, and you’ll need licensed electricians and plumbers. You’re looking at three to six months of renovation.”


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My first time alone in Detroit

Today’s visit to the one in Woodbridge was far more mundane than The Burgling, but all the more stressful because it was my first visit alone. I carried a larger sheath knife and a larger light this time, and opted to wear sneakers for running ability.

I went with the intention of replacing our haphazard barricades with sturdier fixtures, but the cold and near-dusk paranoia reduced me to another grounds inspection. I confirmed all our barricades were secure, and I added “tells” to the house to make it clear if anyone had passed thru the main hallway or either staircase. My uncle is coming to visit the house Friday, and I’d really like it if he didn’t get shot.

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In which I interrupt a burglar

I visited the house again today with a friend, expecting to give a tour and measure rooms. What I got instead was a stark reminder about what it means to rehabilitate a property in Detroit. After a meal at the pub, we arrived shortly before dusk.

I knew something was wrong when I saw the broken carving. The day before, it was injured but respectably resting on the stairs. Today, it was in several pieces on the ground. A few paces away, I saw it: broken glass, and a door ajar. Someone ripped the screen from the outer door, punch a hole in the door glass, and knocked away the plank that had kept it wedged shut.

Somewhere in the house, there was a faint thud. Was it our imagination?

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The one in Woodbridge

While I was in Vegas covering CES for a week, Lincoln and Nicole went house hunting. From my perch out in the desert, I followed along with their adventures via text message and phone calls.

They kept mentioning “The one in Woodbridge”. From where I was sitting, nothing really got me excited, so I was a bit aloof. I looked at the MLS listing, and it said “one bathroom”. I looked at pictures and it looked like it was falling apart. I wasn’t excited, and I couldn’t understand why they kept talking about it.

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The DJ goes first: Moving to Detroit!

Emerald CityMy road to Detroit was not paved in gold, with dancing fairies and singing elves leading the way. I decided to move to Detroit back in April of this year, and it has been a struggle for me to find the right home, get approved for it and come up with the money. There have been many setbacks along the way, so to say to you now that I will be a resident of the city of Detroit on Tuesday, October 11, 2011, is as great an honor as it is a relief.

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Longing for the D

Lake Orion AmusementsI grew up in the small town of Lake Orion, “Where Living is a Vacation!” It is located on the north end of Oakland County. There was a time when life in Lake Orion was a vacation (there was also a time when they pronounced Orion correctly) as its lakes, rivers and forests served as the perfect setting for a resort town. Not only did the wealthiest people from Detroit have property here, but people from as far south as Florida would come here in the summer to escape the intense heat, and probably the alligators too. There was an amusement park with a wooden water slide, and it was a very happening place for families to visit during the summer.

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