On this site, you’ll find plenty of featured homes where the owner pours $100,000 or more to get the finest finishes and period-accurate hardware on their 5,000-square-foot (or more) property.
But you may have noticed a couple of homes we’ve featured recently for their tasteful, design-forward renovations. What made these renos particularly distinct was their modesty—cottages or bungalows around 1,000 square feet in lesser-known neighborhoods on the north side, like Pembrooke and Garden Homes. And they were pretty affordable, listing for between $70,000 to $100,000.
So who’s behind these designer renovations? A hardworking couple who recently came to the area from Denver, Colorado.
Evan Thomas and Keith Bynum haven’t taken a traditional path to real estate. The self-described home flippers both had stable jobs in Denver, but Bynum got into carpentry and woodworking—he’d make farmhouse tables which he sold on Craigslist. After fixing up their place, he decided to buy a home in a remote Rocky Mountain town to renovate and flip.
Working on the home was fun, selling it to wealthy and fussy Colorado buyers was not. “I cried during closing,” Bynum says.
Thomas decided to join the business, but they knew they wanted to work in another city with friendlier clientele and a lower barrier to entry. They scoped out markets around the country and felt that they could make it in Detroit.
In early August 2017, the couple drove across the country to move here, having only spent a few hours in the city looking at homes with a realtor. They knew the home they bought was rough, but figured it’d still be livable. Instead, it had no working plumbing, barely working electrical, and an unusable kitchen and bathroom.
In some ways, it was exactly the situation their friends—who called them “crazy” for moving from idyllic Denver to Detroit —had worried about. “We had no plans if the house didn’t line up,” Thomas says. “And it didn’t.”
For a couple weeks, they lived out of Airbnbs and hotels while working on the home. It took about a month to fix up, and eventually became the first one they sold in Detroit.
Their situation has gotten considerably better since then.
The couple have found success with their unique flipping model. Thomas and Bynum buy homes on the cheap, often through the Detroit Land Bank, for as little as $1,000. The homes require a ton of work, all of which they do themselves.
After gutting the interior, they build them back up, remodeling with smart designer features like cedar shake on the exterior, pass throughs on the staircase, and accented painting or wallpaper. They’re not above buying fixtures and materials from Home Depot in order to keep the homes affordable, but they match it with custom or handmade items to elevate the whole product.
“It’s all about how you pair things,” Thomas says. “You can buy the cheap item, but if you accessorize it the right way, it doesn’t feel cheap.”
“We feel that money shouldn’t stop you from having a great house,” Bynum adds. “All the stuff we do is budget conscious with style.”
They also opened Nine Furniture and Design, a furniture store in Ferndale, which they use to outfit the homes. All the furnishings they use for staging can be bought for an additional $3,000.
Business is now picking up. So far, the couple has sold four homes and are working on an additional seven. All are concentrated in the same area where they currently live between 7 and 8 Mile roads west of Livernois Avenue. They’ve even gotten to a point where they can hire Detroit contractors for some of the work.
It’s important for the couple to be place-based. There’s a number of vacant homes in the area, and residents so far have been excited and appreciative that they’re adding bits of charm and density to the neighborhood.
“We live in the neighborhood we work in and try to hire only in the city,” Bynum says. “Detroit has been so kind and generous to us. We don’t want to be looked at like we’re plundering and pillaging Detroit.”