Thanks to Laura Breisch for providing the photos of her home. Interior designer Laura Breisch bought her first Detroit home through the Wayne County auction with help from the Why Don't We Own This? site. Despite her best efforts to scout out the properties, a lot of variables remained: Would the property she end up with even be livable or, perhaps more immediately important, would it already have people living in it? What type of surprises would she find when she peeled back the plywood and entered her home for the first time? This is Rookie Roosts: Horror Story edition, after all. There's gotta be something, right? But what's worse: werewolves or scrappers?
Laura on the bidding process:
I used Jerry Paffendorf's "Why Don't We Own This" site to zero in on available houses in areas that I was interested in, then put on my breaking and entering gear and got to exploring. I looked at the surrounding area, the bones of the house, the condition of the plumbing/electrical/heating systems if applicable (many houses were stripped), and knocked on neighbors doors to get as much information on the home as possible. I took extensive notes and photographed each home. I'm an interior designer, so I suppose I have the ability to look beyond the current state of the home and see it's potential. I got my super-handy able-to-fix-anything partner-in-renovation Dad involved at this point, and brought him to each of the finalists. Once again, armed with flashlights, we scaled fences, navigated through bushes, climbed through windows and explored the dark uninhabited (legally, at least) homes. I posted some of my findings on WDWOT, and was actually interviewed by Donna Terek as part of her piece on the auction. Laura on winning the bid:
My winning bid was around $5000. There was another house across the street from mine in the auction, so I contacted the winner to say "congrats neighbor" and to suggest possible collaboration on our rehab efforts, and the first thing he did was apologize for racking up my bid...apparently we were bidding against each other in the end. Oh well, fair's fair. Though that extra $4500 would be nice about now, this rehab is getting expensive! The horror! The Horror!
The day that I won the house, I headed over to say hello to it and give it a kiss on my way to work, and my neighbor came by and helped me get in. (He does a good impression of me stomping around the muddy jungle of a backyard in my heels that day, I wasn't expecting to get in, I just wanted to introduce myself to the home.) So I found a lot of damaged plaster, an absence of plumbing/heating/electrical systems, evidence of squatters (clothes, tiny baggies, human feces), an improperly constructed two-story addition that was falling off the back of the house, a fire-damaged garage, etc, etc. BUT, I was still excited!!! So after securing the house with a door that I can open with a key (for the first few visits I had to unscrew boards and climb through the window), I started the quest to get the utilities hooked up. The house had been vacant for almost 30 years, so all of the utilities were nonexistent; no gas, water or electricity was coming to the house, there weren't even meters. That's when I found out my house was on the Detroit Demo List....ACK!! I spent days at the Coleman Young building navigating the ridiculous maze of "go to this dept, no that dept, not MY dept, pay this fee, now that fee, oh, and don't forget these fees............" until I finally got the piece of paper that said I'm off the demo list (I hope this bit of info makes it to the wrecking crews). Oh, and attention all Wayne County Auction buyers: you were racking up the late fees on your Detroit City Property Taxes before you even won the auction, so if you haven't paid your 2011 taxes yet, you'd better get on that! So next set back, dealing with the Water Deptartment, which, of course, is run by the city. Seriously, if I heard "not my job" one more time I was gonna...I don't know, hang up and call back and hope to get someone else, because that was MY ONLY OPTION. I am now full aware and completely understanding as to why people steal utility services. I was trying to get meters installed on my house so I could PAY for my utilities, WHY WERE THEY GIVING ME SUCH A HARD TIME?? Craziness, seriously. I could go on and on. And don't even get me started on the roofer that I hired. Oh man. Despite all that, Laura would to it again. And she wants you to, too:
Come be my neighbor, there are a few houses on my street just dying for some TLC. But really, meet your potential neighbors, they'll make all the difference. Check the status of your home if it's vacant, just so you know what you're getting into. Knowing what I know now, I still would've bought my house, but it also would've been nice to have a little heads up on the demo list business. Check the bones of the house, while everything may be fixable, it all depends on how much money you want to shell out. If you have trouble visualizing the future of a fixer-upper, see me! I would love to provide you with a design consultation, wink wink. · Easy Auction video [Detroit News]
· Why Don't We Own This? [Why Don't We Own This?]
· Rookie Roosts Week and Curbed University [Curbed Detroit]