There seems to be a growing interest in investing in Detroit real estate this year, which has kept me busier than usual. Not only do I buy, renovate, and sell properties full-time here in the Motor City, I occasionally mentor up-and-coming investors who want to do the same. It’s rewarding work and, as long as it helps to get and keep this city’s revitalization on track, I’ll keep doing it. I feel especially inspired when I meet new investors like Jackson. That guy is full of energy and ambition, always asking questions, eager to build his portfolio while helping to rebuild our city. Just yesterday he asked where he could buy abandoned houses in Detroit as well as why I didn’t. After all, he said, there are thousands of them here and they’re usually cheap to purchase. I laughed and told him that only half of that was true.

Abandoned Houses For Sale in Detroit: A Good Investment Opportunity?

Where to Find Abandoned Houses for Sale in Detroit

In fact, there are thousands of abandoned houses in Detroit. And, this reflects the number of homes that have not already been demolished or bought, renovated, and sold to new homeowners or other investors in the years following the housing crash. At one time, there were so many abandoned homes in Detroit that some of today’s up-and-coming neighborhoods, like Westwood Park and Petosky-Otsego, resembled ghost towns. But, the fact remains that a staggering number of houses remain vacant and abandoned, contributing to neighborhood blight, depressed property values, and potentially dangerous living conditions for those who reside nearby.

Not all of the abandoned houses around town are actively for sale, however. But, that doesn’t mean you can’t get a hold of one. If, like Jackson, you want to know where you can find those that you can buy, renovate, and sell for a profit, here are your some of your options:

The Detroit Land Bank Authority (DLBA)

The Detroit Land Bank Authority (DLBA) has been auctioning abandoned homes since its creation by the city in 2014. To date, the government-funded program has sold more than 1,700 properties to be renovated or demolished in an effort to help eradicate neighborhood blight—sometimes for as little as $1,000. You have to qualify to participate in bidding and the guidelines for performing renovations are fairly strict if and when you do win. But, with bids starting and often staying so low, the potential for realizing good returns after the rehab look strong.

Unfortunately, like a lot of county land bank programs that offer foreclosed, vacant, and abandoned properties up for cheap, there are several issues with the DLBA that might work against your bottom line. Sifting through the red tape alone just to get qualified to buy can be grueling and time-consuming. Even if you are cleared to bid, you can’t go for more than one property at a time. You also can’t renovate more than one at a time. Since the average timeline to get most fixer-uppers in marketable shape can be as long as nine months, working on one house once a year isn’t going to work for your business. And, the abandoned homes sold by the DLBA are major fixers that require a lot of cash to rehab—which is why a good chunk of them get demolished instead.

The Department of Administrative Hearings

Detroit’s Department of Administrative Hearings (DAH) maintains a database of blight violations reported around the city and provides that information to the public on its website. Since many of the violations are levied against vacant homes, the probability you might find one that’s been abandoned is good. Even better, if you can reach the homeowner before they lose their house to the DLBA, you won’t have to unravel any red tape or get tied up with only one project at a time. Of course, reaching the homeowner, and convincing them to sell, is the trick—one that is possible to pull off if you do enough digging.

But, digging for abandoned houses and their homeowners on the DAH’s website isn’t as easy as it might sound. You’ll have to furnish some of the details yourself, like a home’s address, in order to get more information. If you don’t mind cruising the streets of Detroit to note the location of every potentially abandoned property you see, your research could pay off—or not. First, you can only enter one address at a time into the city’s website. So, you could spend at least as much time researching a homeowner’s contact information as you spent searching for their home. And, it’s possible the information won’t be in the system at all or that it will be out of date if it is. Assuming all goes well and you do find, and connect with, the owner of an abandoned home, the chances they’ll sell to you are slim. If they were even somewhat easy to find, you won’t be the first investor who found them. But, you may be the last one they want to deal with.

Customized Lead Lists

Most lead lists are customizable, which means you can create a filter for abandoned homes and target your efforts on contacting their owners. What’s great about these lists is that someone else, either a real estate agent or a third-party vendor, has already done a lot of the legwork for you. So, you can forgo the fishing expeditions through Detroit’s 139 square miles to find an abandoned house, then, hopefully, it’s owner through the DAH. You can also skip the hassle of dealing with the Land Bank. In fact, buying lead lists might be less of a bother than dealing with either the Department of Administrative Hearings or the DLBA—especially if the end result is that you end up with a property.

Customizable lead lists, however, aren’t without their problems. Too often, they’re inaccurate or out of date—both of which can, and do, alienate homeowners who aren’t interested in selling or who may have already sold. It’s especially frustrating when the list you’ve purchased has been bought by every other investor in town who wants to start flipping houses in Michigan too—and not just to the homeowner who’s embarrassed, and tired, of being on someone’s list. Your own annoyance can grow in proportion to the rate your portfolio isn’t when you spend your money and time on lists that lead nowhere.

The complicated, and time-consuming, process of finding, and buying, abandoned houses in order to make a living out of investing in Detroit real estate can actually slow down your business-building endeavors. And, because these homes tend to be in terrible, even dangerous shape, the cost of bringing them back to life could easily eat into your potential returns, leaving you with nothing on your plate but debt and regret.

But, getting good leads on fixer-uppers that you can afford to rehab doesn’t haven’t to be difficult. If you’ve got a good way to drive motivated sellers of older, smaller, “ugly” houses your way, it might even be easy.

Helping Homeowners Before They Abandon Their House

When I was a younger man, I was a lot like Jackson—full of big ideas. I wanted to spend my working days saving the world while making a living. And, as an investor in Detroit real estate, I believe I get to do just that. But, it was by becoming an independently owned and operated HomeVestors® franchisee that I really started to have an impact on my circumstances and on those of others.

Thanks to the national, widely trusted “We Buy Ugly Houses®” ad campaign that helped to put HomeVestors® in the minds of Detroit homeowners, I get to deal directly with people who need to sell their homes fast. There are a number of “ugly” situations, like death and divorce, that can put homeowners in distress. And, when they need relief from the burden of a home they can no longer afford, they know who to call— a HomeVestors® franchisee like me. So, finding distressed investment opportunities that are potentially great for my bottom line and for my city is as simple as it can be.

Got more questions about how you can find the kind of investment opportunities that can also help to build our city? Contact HomeVestors® about becoming a franchisee today.


Each franchise office is independently owned and operated.


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