Detroit's Neighbors Wanted program is showing signs of success in turning around the city's vacant homes—some of which are more un-neighborly than others.
By all outside appearances, the house at 621 Clairmount Street would make a lovely Detroit home. It's a colonial, four-bedroom brick house just off Voigt Park near the Boston-Edison Historic District. At $19,500, it is yet another property priced for a difficult market marred by vacant homes.
Unfortunately, the House on Clairmount Street has a message for potential buyers.
The various real-estate listings for 621 Clairmount all feature a footnote: "previously was a Halloween haunted house." That's a reasonable explanation. It's also exactly what any seller would say to try to move a home regularly visited by a poltergeist. But what might be most remarkable about the house is that it is quite possibly underpriced, even for a home afflicted by terrible specters from the nether realms (or scary teens on a Halloween rager).
The House on Clairmount Street is being sold by its owner, but throughout Detroit, the scarier properties (from a real-estate perspective) are the ones that have been abandoned. The Detroit Land Bank Authority's Neighbors Wanted program is an effort to address Detroit's vacancy problem, and it appears to be gaining investor confidence. Back in May, the city launched its online auction for vacant and distressed properties across Detroit. Auction winners need to close on most properties within 60 days and demonstrate that someone's living there within 6 months. The site auctions homes for as little as $1,000, but many have sold for much more.
Late in July, the Associated Press reported that Talmer Bank and Trust had committed $1 million in forgivable loans for homes sold in the Marygrove area through the Detroit Land Bank Authority auction. Liberty Bank is also providing down-payment assistance and financing for home restoration through loans specifically geared toward auction winners. Those loans require applicants to complete a "homebuyer's education program" through a HUD-certified housing counseling agency—suggesting (although not demonstrating) that these loans are aimed at first-time, inexperienced, or low-credit buyers, yet not designed to exploit them. At the end of July, the city began adding a "Liberty Bank Eligible" ribbon to auction listings.
It's too soon to say for sure whether the Neighbors Wanted program is a success, since the 60-day closing period has only just begun to expire for the houses auctioned at the launch of the program. But several months into its existence, the auction website is still regularly showing strong sales—some of them well above the $29,400 median sale price for Detroit, even.
A vacancy auction site might turn out to be a proven tool for putting butts in abandoned and neglected residential properties, the single biggest factor driving blight in Detroit—especially if the site helps to link up would-be homeowners with credible bank services and financial products. Confirmed paranormal activity could always drive housing prices down, but the Neighbors Wanted auction is more likely to help push them in the other direction.