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Linn Brothers Scored A House For $21 K In Last Auction

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If you, dear reader, have good taste in homewares you know doubt have been to Nest, the midtown Detroit store that opened last fall. It's owned by the brother-sister duo of Andy and Emily Linn who also own City Bird just a few doors down. And naturally, with an interest in home decor, Andy Linn decided the best thing to do with a little nest egg funding last fall, was team up with his brother, Robert, to buy a home in the Wayne County tax auction of foreclosed properties. While they were at it, they took a vacant lot, too. The brothers were specifically interested in Woodbridge when it came to doing the research on available properties and looked into a few. The place they wound up with had, at one time, been listed by a bank for $40,000. After a bit of a bidding war (the starting bid was $500 and it got to 22 bids) they landed the place for $20,900, which was around the upper limit of what they were willing to put down for a place.

It's a fixer-upper to be sure, but they managed to score 2,500 square feet with seven bedrooms and three bathrooms. Their favorite details include the leaded glass doors, hardwood floors, and beautiful woodwork. They also totally won on location with a tree-lined block chock-full of architectural character. The house next door was also bought in the auction and they've had fun talking shop with that owner as they both work on renovations.

There have been a few surprises, but ultimately they are very positive about the process and happy with what they ended up with. They were not quite prepared for the amount of missing mortar between the bricks on the exterior and the work that will have to be done there, nor the giant water bill that came a week after they bought. (They are not responsible for it, legally, but the process of informing the city of that has not been so easy).

Here are their tips for other first-time auction buyers.

1. Do your research. They did not want a house that had current occupants and investigated to make sure the homes they were bidding on were vacant. They describe a "sophisticated method of peeking around and asking neighbors."

2. Investigate the block. Looking up and down the street, it is easy to see lots of other people hanging out on porches on this block of Commonwealth. It was a good sign.

3. Consider that there will be costs after purchase. The Linns got a tax bill pretty soon after they bought. They were not happy with the assessment and are filing an appeal to have the annual amount changed. This is something you can only do once you own the home.

4. Lots have taxes, too. Sure, the lot's purchase price was $500, but there was a tax bill for that, too. $1,300 per year.

5. Go to the Buildings Department. The diligent Linns found all the records for when work permits had been pulled for changes to the house. This told them it got a new roof in 2000 and a new furnace in 2007. #Linnwin

While the home's still a work in progress, it's certainly doing better than the previous winter (before they bought it) when several pipes burst and, according to neighbors, made an ice rink of frozen leaking water on the first floor. That, in turn, created a swimming pool in the basement in the spring. Andy and Robert have been making incremental progress, and learning a lot along the way; they've removed more than 20 yards of debris from the basement, scraped all of the loose paint, repaired all of the broken windows, got the electrical system working, unenclosed the enclosed front porch, and have begun taming the backyard.

Currently, the grand plans are to create two apartment units in the home and to develop that vacant lot into what (in our opinion) will be the next great Woodbridge amenity. They are playing with the ideas of a small putt-putt course, an outdoor movie theater, or some combination of the two, and calling it "Woodbridge Greens."

Which pretty much means you'd better stalk the Woodbridge tax auction offerings early this year. Linnsanity bidding, anyone?

· 4325 Commonwealth [Whydontweownthis]