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Inside the House that Built Detroit Hustle, Part 2

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"You go broke in these houses $200 at a time."

Van Dyke detroit hustle Michelle & Chris Gerard


We all know renovations aren't quick like HGTV would like us to believe, or pretty like the after pictures turn out. Earlier this week, we took a look at the beautiful after pictures from Detroit Hustle, A Memoir of Love, Life, & Home by Amy Haimerl, which is out this week. Now we look at the not-so-pretty parts of renovations, mainly, the finances.

To recap, Amy Haimerl and her husband Karl Kaebnick bought the 1914 Georgian Revival home in West Village in 2013 for $35,000. "What we have is a pile of bricks with character," she says in the book. They had lived in Brooklyn, then Ann Arbor for a year while Amy was on fellowship, and decided to put down roots in Detroit. They originally thought they'd need $150,000 to make it a livable house again. They ended up pouring $400,000 into the house, which was assessed last summer for $300,000.

"The cost of acquisition isn't the problem with these old houses," says Amy. "It's the improvements."

When they bought the house, they knew they needed all the systems first - plumbing, wiring, etc., plus all the windows (42 in total). What they didn't know was that the roof also needed to be replaced. And when the roof needed to be replaced, the eaves and dentils followed.

These are dentils
Amy Haimerl

The windows ended up costing the most, since there were 42 of them that needed replacing. The roof, eaves, and dentils ended up being around $30,000. The 26 interior doors were $200 a piece, plus installation.

Amy says, "You go broke in these houses $200 at a time," as the little things start to add up. She got to be pretty good at salvage,, and various home stores.

The rear exterior
Amy Haimerl

They had to face some hard realities through the process, including the difficulties of getting a loan for renovation in Detroit. She says in the book,

"This city has no hope of recovering if middle-class couples like us, with $100,000 in cold hard cash, can't get a mortgage or a loan to buy and rehab properties. For the city to really revive, we must fix either the financing structure of the valuations." (Detroit Hustle, Amy Haimerl*)

To buy the house, they cashed in some of Amy's retirement (which created tax penalties). For repairs, they borrowed money from Amy's dad, a contractor who sold his business after a divorce. He loaned them that retirement money for a year (they've since paid her dad back). They also borrowed from her grandparents and aunt. They took out every kind of loan they could (Lending Tree, personal loans, credit card debt). They still owe their contractors (Cal and Christian Garfield) quite a bit.

They weren't flipping a house. They committed to a historic restoration in a house they plan to spend many years living. At the end of the day, she says, she wouldn't do it any different.

For renovators ready to take on a home, she offers a few words of advice: "Be thoughtful, be excited, and figure it out as you go along." Also, assume $100/square foot for a house that needs systems.

Here's another look inside the before pics, followed by the finished (for now) house. And if you really want a closer look, they Airbnb a couple of the rooms.

*Excerpt from "Detroit Hustle" used with permission by the author