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Buying In Detroit: Do You Really Want A Mythical $100 House?

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Curbed University delivers insider tips and non-boring advice on how to buy, sell, or rent a home or apartment. Additional questions welcomed to our tipline.

By now, most people have heard of Detroit’s infamous $100 home. There’s a pretty good chance that it’s the reason you ended up on this site. You want in. You’re a struggling starving artist yourself and Patti Smith and David Byrne said artists should leave New York City and move to Detroit and you’re going to do it. You’re going to stake your claim and create a new Detroit that is governed by art. Art!

Turns out all your artist friends have been calling Ryan Cooley over at O’Connor Real Estate Development, inundating him with $100 home inquiries. Dude sounds a little frustrated. Says Ryan:

“I spend a lot of time getting people to understand that a $100 house is not a house that is habitable! The ‘$100 house’ ended up needing $20,000 in repair and it was done by people that did a lot of the construction themselves.”
It doesn’t have to be a $100 home, of course. It can be a grand or three grand or whatever. The point is that there are plenty of homes here that can be had on the cheap—you just have to be willing to put the time and energy into restoring them. Unless you’re an incredibly handy person, you’re going to end up paying tens of thousands more than what you bought the home for. A home that’s selling for $1,000 is almost assuredly nothing more than a shell sitting on a foundation. There’s probably a giant hole in the roof and a crumbling porch. There’s a very good chance it’s in a less than desirable neighborhood.

If you’re not scared off yet, you may have the right attitude for this. It’s going to take a lot of work but for some people that’s one of the reasons they’re interested in the idea. If you want the opportunity to completely re-define a home and a neighborhood, the $100 house is a viable option. Within reason, of course.

“Whether it should be a consideration, I actually think so for some people but definitely not for a first time home buyer that’s looking for a move-in ready home,” says agent Ryan Cooley.

First, do your research. Any search through Detroit real estate listings will bring up a number of ‘$100 homes’ but don’t just go snatching up the first charred building that you see. Look into the neighborhood. See if it’s somewhere you could live. Hire a home inspector to come with you and look over what’s left. A professional home inspector should be able to give you a very realistic estimate of what it will take to get this home habitable again. A bad foundation alone can cost more than $20,000 to repair.

Homes that are priced seriously low have some serious problems. We’re not saying that buying one is an awful idea but be prepared—financially and mentally—for all the work necessary for restoration.

If you’re not willing to put the work in before you’re even able to move in, agent Cooley has a suggestion:

”As far as a price point that people should look at, it comes back to being dependent on which neighborhood the person is interested in buying in. Some neighborhoods have move-in ready homes for $25,000 while others are $150,000 to $200,000.”

Location, location, location.