Home Rehab and Renovation Success Stories from Detroit and Elsewhere
Many prefer to push aside the old to make way for the new. That’s especially true when the old thing in question is a century-old home that is falling apart, be it in Detroit or the rural Northeast. But not all homebuyers follow this maxim.
Some homebuyers treasure old and forgotten homes. Renovating and rehabilitating these properties offers several payoffs: preserving history, providing buyers a sense of fulfillment, revitalizing neighborhoods, and increasing property values – not only for the subject property, but surrounding properties as well.
In this post, we take a look at recent success stories, from those reclaiming distressed homes in Detroit to conservationists saving historical landmarks from Beverly Hills to the Hudson River.
Many are familiar with the “$500 house” program in Detroit, officially, the Detroit Land Bank program. However, the program entails much more than a $500 investment to end up with a livable home and a valuable asset. Property taxes, renovation costs, labor efforts, and passion are needed for success.
Still, the Detroit Land Bank is creating many success stories, including the recent renovation of 3420 Harrison. The North Corktown home was built in 1890 and has the touches of history to prove it. Bill and Nsombi Aro, self-financed renovators who manage a small rental portfolio, managed to save an original Art Deco vanity and a card from a Hastings Street pharmacy from the area’s 1920s heyday.
The renovation took months to bring the partially fire-damaged home of the Aros up to speed, removing nine years of accumulated trash and restoring the 1,200-square-foot home inside and out.
The Detroit Rehab that Became a Book
Another Detroit renovation began in 2013 when out-of-state homebuyers purchased 7840 Van Dyke Place for $35,000. More than $13,000 of the purchase price was back taxes. The property was still a great deal for an academic and writer who’d just finished her fellowship at the University of Michigan.
Since buying the 1914 Georgian Revival home in the West Village neighborhood, Amy Haimerl and her husband Karl Kaebnick have not only invested a reported $400,000 in renovations, but this summer, Haimerl published a book, Detroit Hustle: A Memoir of Love, Life, & Home, documenting the process.
Curbed Detroit details how there were no interior doors and 42 windows needed replacing, but the original floors were able to be refinished. Trim molding came from an abandoned church. The center point of the home is the sunroom, which has become a music studio for Kaebnick, a jazz pianist, complete with grand piano and a cat bed, for a snow-white cat the couple found living on the abandoned property.
Many natives of Detroit are old enough to remember some now-abandoned properties as they once were. Some, like Stephen Henderson, a Detroit Free Press editor and Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist, even decided to do something about the situation.
Nearly 30 years after his father’s death, Henderson made plans to reclaim the house where he was born and where his father had lived at 7124 Tuxedo. When Henderson decided in 2012 to save the Tuxedo Street duplex, he didn’t own the property and didn’t know how he’d finance it.
Four years on, the Detroit Free Press reported in December that Henderson had secured backing from nearby Marygrove College and the John and James L. Knight Foundation to turn the property into a university writers’ center and an upstairs apartment for a local English professor. Henderson has now formed a nonprofit and received further support from the Michigan Economic Development Corporation and the University of Detroit Jesuit High School and Academy to rehab not only 7124 Tuxedo, but 12 other distressed properties on the same block as well.
The Rehab and Restoration Trends Spreads
The last few years have seen the housing trend of revitalization and reclamation spread far beyond Detroit’s city limits. More homebuyers are appreciating the past and looking to preserve elements of local history, whether that history is humble or more grandiose.
Earlier this month, Richmond, Ind. residents celebrated the renovation of an early 1900s home that was listed for sale on Craigslist. Elwood McGuire, a business magnate credited with creating one of the first automatic lawn mowers, built the house at 1903 E. Main Street at the turn of the century. Richmond Neighborhood Restoration, a local nonprofit, bought the home and spent seven months restoring it. Now, the fully restored, 3,722-square-foot home is for sale at $247,500.
New Yorkers are also celebrating the restoration of their local history. In January, the owner of a restored Victorian dollhouse in the Village of Sea Cliff, a tiny Long Island village along the north shore of Nassau County, celebrated the home’s designation on the New York State and National Registers of Historic Places. The home dates to 1878, when photographer Stephe Harding built it as a home and studio and is reportedly an excellent example of Vernacular Queen Anne homes built during the era.
Only a few hours west, a Nyack, N.Y. home steps from the Hudson River has undergone an extensive renovation. The home at 143 N. Broadway is likewise a Victorian from the 1880s, complete with scalloped wood shingles and clapboard siding. The home was of historical significance, too, serving as a Red Cross office for nearly 50 years. The rehabilitated home is now listed for $1.1 million.
Still, even older homes are undergoing significant renovations by dedicated homebuyers. A beautiful antique stone house dating from 1781 was recently listed for $1.1 million in Bucks County, Pennsylvania. The main house, a 1,824-square-foot, two-story Colonial style, at 44 Permanent School Road, occupies six acres of countryside along with a restored stone barn, an outbuilding-turned-gym, and a large guest house. The interior has been carefully restored, preserving rough-hewn beams, wide-plank floors, and multiple hearths, while updating other elements.
The rehab trend is so strong that one can even find celebrities taking on projects. Just a year ago, pop superstar Taylor Swift purchased the Samuel Goldwyn mansion at 1200 Laurel Lane for a reported $25 million. Last month, the Beverly Hills Cultural Heritage Commission took the first step towards recognizing the property as a historical landmark. Swift reportedly plans to painstakingly return the home to its 1934 condition, working with architects and the local commission to recreate historically accurate oversized windows, an original wood fencing design, and pool cabana columns.
While the luster of newness still attracts many buyers, others are finding purpose and pride in preserving a piece of history. The differences in projects abound. Still, whether an old duplex, a Red Cross station, a farmhouse, or a Hollywood mansion, all such renovators share something in common. There’s a sense of passion for the craftsmanship of these older properties and a clear connection to the homebuilders and homeowners that came before.