August 14, 2014
Thanks to our friends at TernPro for making this fantastic video.
Transforming an abandoned house in Detroit into a communal living and working space for Venture for America Fellows.
Follow us on Twitter: @rebirthrealty
Thanks to our friends at TernPro for making this fantastic video.
It’s been one hell of a month (okay, six weeks) since our last update! We’ve got tons of exciting news to share.
Let’s start in the same place we began over a year ago, when we launched our first crowdfunding campaign: money. As you may recall, our original plan was to fund construction with a 203k, a government-backed loan designed for home restoration. Unfortunately, despite months of work, we weren’t able to get a 203k. The full story is long and complicated, but ultimately banks were hesitant to lend to a group of unrelated twenty-somethings.
So we turned to Plan B. Unfortunately, our sexy “Men of Rebirth Realty” calendar didn’t sell enough copies to cover our construction costs. (Editor’s note: this is a joke.) So we turned to Plan C.
I’m excited to announce that with the help of a private investor group, we’ve raised enough money to bring the house to completion! This brings our lengthy (seriously, over a year!) fundraising process to a close. We can now devote our full energies to rebuilding the house.
And lots of rebuilding has happened these past six weeks! We’ve put in a beautiful bathroom:
We’ve gotten electricity hooked up:
And we’re even preparing to paint some of the bedrooms!
Unfortunately, while Max was away for the weekend his bedroom was subject to some appalling vandalism:
But that didn’t stop him from moving in, along with Tim and 2013 Fellow Taylor Sundali. Here’s a peek at their totally decked-out room:
With our tenants planning to be all moved in by September 1st, we’ve got a lot of work ahead of us. But we’re making progress, and we couldn’t be more excited.
Next, we set ourselves up with some home security from ADT:
We also started repairing our windows. Here’s our general contractor, Phil Apollonio, hard at work on the very task:
The forced air heating system is in:
Since plumbing is next, Phil has been framing the bathrooms:
Once the rough plumbing wraps up, electrical will soon follow. We’ll also be trekking to Traverse City next month to pick up some sweet cabinetry and appliances for our kitchen—thanks to the Hershey family for the fantastic freebies! We’re also excited to announce that we’ve acquired our final three tenants. Besides housing the four Rebirth cofounders, 760 Virginia Park Street will be home to Brian Bosche, 2012 Fellow and founder of TernPro; Brian Rudolph, 2012 Fellow and founder of Banza; and Taylor Sundali, 2013 Fellow and coworker of Sean at Rock Ventures. With a house full of builders, we look forward to creating a virtuous cycle of value-creation and entrepreneurship that will endure for years to come.
For months, when we’ve gone to “work on the house,” that’s meant cleanup and demolition: hauling out trash, ripping up carpet, knocking down walls (and finding expired antidpressants inside them). Don’t get us wrong, there’s nothing four early-twenties males like better than breaking stuff (or at least, nothing that’s appropriate for this email)—but still, at times it could be frustrating to have months and months of restoration work actually make our house look less restored.
In the last few weeks, that all changed. March has been a month of building. We’ve installed headers, framed walls…
…and, most exciting of all, built a new roof for our front porch:
Last week, the Detroit Historic Commission gave us the go-ahead to tear off our destroyed slate roof and put in a shiny new asphalt one (metaphorically speaking—the roof will not actually be shiny). The roofers are beginning their work this week, and we expect to be freshly-roofed within the next ten days or so.
Once the roof is complete, it will no longer be possible to do this.
Of course, it wouldn’t be a Rebirth Realty update if we didn’t share something disgusting we found inside the house. This month it’s a weird animal head. Max wanted to save it and mount it on a plaque on the wall, but Scott vetoed that idea.
Finally, last week our friends at TernPro put together an awesome video of the gang working on the house. Check it out:
The real building is just beginning, and we’re excited to have even more progress to share next month. Stay tuned!
The beginning of March is near, and all around the country the first hints of Spring are peeking through the grey—except here in Detroit, where it’s still butt-numbingly cold all the time. It’s been a while since our last update, and the team has been hard at work. Just hours ago, we dropped off a broken piece of slate from our roof with the fine people at the Detroit Historical District Commission, and soon we’ll have official permission to replace our chipping, leaky slate roof with a brand new asphalt one. (We wish we could keep the slate, but the current roof is beyond repair, and installing a new slate roof could run upwards of $80,000—just slightly out of our budget.)
And while we’re on the subject of money… after a long, hard slog, funding for the house is finally coming together. We’ll be financing the majority of the repairs with a 203K loan, a federally-backed program that lets you borrow not against the current value of the house, but against its estimated future value. This is pretty essential for us, since the value of our house as it currently stands is around $8,000. Navigating the bureaucracy and paperwork that comes with a government loan can be challenging, but we’ve been lucky to have the help of Alex DeCamp at Flagstar Bank, our excellent 203K consultant. (Shoutout to Detroit Venture Partners partner Jake Cohen for connecting us with Alex.)
Since the 203K loan won’t close for another month, we’re also raising a smaller amount from private lenders to jump-start the construction process. We can’t say too much here since most of this fundraising is still in progress, but we’d like to give a major thanks to our first lenders, the father-and-son team of Neal Persky and Alex Persky-Stern. A second, smaller thanks also goes to Alex for contributing to the trend of most of the people helping us with financing being named Alex.
We’ve also settled on a general contractor for the house to help us coordinate the major repairs like electrical, plumbing, and heat. We’ll be partnering with Phil Apollonio, a master builder who’s worked on a number of houses like ours in the Detroit area including 100 Virginia Park St., Rebirth member Sean Jackson’s current residence. Unfortunately, Phil doesn’t have a website for us to link to right now—but we may be helping him out with that problem in exchange for a discount on our bill. Stay tuned.
Phil has already made a number of great suggestions for 760 Virginia Park, including the suggestion that we knock out a wall in order to make the kitchen bigger. We took him up on that one and began wall demolition this past weekend.
Tim works on the wall
This coming week, Phil plans to begin work on our front porch. Here’s a sneak peak at what the final result will look like:
All in all, things are coming along, and we’re optimistic that the house will be livable by the time Max and Tim’s lease expires in mid-July. In fact, we’re 100% certain we can meet this goal, by adjusting our standard of “livable” downwards if we need to.
Contractors, loans, Historic District Commission approval—things are getting real. The great work begins!
Well, it’s Christmas Eve Day, which means Santa is putting the finishing touches on his pile of gifts up at the North Pole. And we know how he feels, because now that we’ve entered into the depths of winter, the inside of the Rebirth Realty house is about as cold as the North Pole. But that hasn’t stopped us from finishing up the demolition work, though we may be shivering while we do it. And in another Rebirth-Christmas coincidence, the house, like Santa, has provided us with presents. Just this past weekend, Tim found this treasure trove of goodies hidden within one of the walls:
Floppy disks, business cards, and some expired Zoloft. What more could a man want?
Of course, random belongings from the house’s former owner are a nice gift, but the greatest gift of all is fame. That’s why we were so excited to be featured in a column in the Detroit Free Press. If you missed the article when it came out a few weeks ago, be sure to check it out. A big thanks to Free Press columnist Tom Walsh for telling our story.
Now, for those of you who haven’t yet seen the house, you’ll probably be able to picture yourself inside it when you read the article. But you know what’ll make you really be able to picture yourself inside it? Our second video walkthrough! This video was filmed a few weeks ago, so it’s already slightly out of date, but it should give you a good glimpse of most of our progress thus far:
What was that? You say the video walkthrough is cool and all, but you won’t be satisfied until you have an interactive floorplan and 3D rendering of the house? Well, you’re pretty demanding in this hypothetical conversation, but you’re in luck! Our one and only Sean Jackson put together exactly that. Check it out here.
We’ve got big updates coming in January, as demolition comes to a close and we begin to bring in contractors to start the major repairs. Stay tuned, and happy holidays!
Well, the final days of summer have left us, and Detroit—and the inside of 760 Virginia Park—has become a lot colder. Although we don’t yet have heat, electricity, or plumbing, we’ve still been spending our nights and weekends working on the house. Who needs heat when you have long underwear and winter coats? Who needs electricity when you have battery-powered tools and boomboxes? And who needs plumbing when you—well, never mind on that one.
Over the past few weeks, we’ve completed a significant portion of the necessary demolition work, ripping out old carpet, tile, and linoleum to reveal the beautiful (or at least has-the-potential-to-be-beautiful) hardwood floor underneath. The best part? Removing the ten thousand staples that were holding the tile in place. After a few long and arduous weekends, our hands are sore, but our floors are staple-free.
Staple: 1, Hammer: 0
Last week, we also attacked the madness that is our house’s backyard. There’s nothing as beautiful as fall foliage… chopped down and lying in wait for the wood chipper!
Max: 1, Foliage: 0
One fascinating aspect of demolition work is that it provides a window into our house’s past. Like counting the rings of a tree trunk, stripping away the layers of cheap flooring reveals the many times our house has been redone—usually as poorly and cheaply as possible. Last week, Tim wrote a post on our blog about how our house’s history parallels that of Detroit. In case you missed it, check out his post: “It Takes Time to Build.”
Now, a lot of you have expressed your interest in seeing more of the house, and though we’d be happy to give each and every one of our supporters a personal tour, we understand that making the trip to Detroit may not be feasible for all of you. That’s why we put together this four-minute video tour of the house’s interior. This video was filmed a few weeks ago, so it doesn’t reflect the full extent of our progress, but it should still give you a glimpse of what’s to come:
We’re excited about the progress we’ve made so far, and we have even bigger things in store. Stay tuned. And as always, a big thanks to all of you, our supporters, who’ve helped us come as far as we have. We literally couldn’t do it without you.
It’s easier to sit back than stick out your neck /
It’s easier to break things than build it correct
I have never been one for quick fixes. When presented with a problem, I strive to find a complete solution, not a simple patch. Often, the strongest and most durable fix takes more work upfront, but the final product is always well worth the effort.
When walking through abandoned houses in Detroit, one generally does not come across such a mentality embodied in the handiwork. I recall several instances during our inspections of possible acquisition targets where we would come across shoddy, sloppy work: extra walls placed with little regard to the usability of the impacted rooms, pipes and wires crisscrossed due to poor planning or simple neglect, and tacky add-ons to cover up broken innards.
The house we bought, 760 Virginia Park, had one shining example of such paltry forethought. A large living room on the first floor had been divided into two rooms with a new wall in the somewhat recent past. The wall itself was merely a questionable floor plan decision, but the low ceiling that came with the wall hid a sinister secret. Upon demolition of the ceiling, we discovered another, higher ceiling — one in desperate need of repair.
The drop ceiling removed to reveal the original
The reason for the new ceiling was clear: the owner at the time wanted a short-term fix for a hard problem. The owner had left us a message. He was telling us, “Fixing the house is too hard for me. Someone else can address the real issues!”
The story of 760 Virginia Park parallels the story of Detroit. The house dates to 1913, a decade in which the population of Detroit was doubling due to an influx of workers and the geographical outgrowth of the city itself. Now, the house sits in semi-ruin, a shell of its former self, having suffered the injury of the quick fix. Similar schemes have come down on Detroit, such as the fortress-like Renaissance Center or Kwame Kilpatrick’s award-winning debt restructuring deal.
Now, after hitting rock bottom, the city is truly ready to build. Considerable construction creates new spaces in the greater downtown area, with formerly shuttered buildings coming back online at an impressive pace. In our own way, we at Rebirth Realty are helping to make the rebound real.
It took almost 60 years for Detroit to go broke. Nobody knows how long the recovery will take. Previous attempts have done little to nothing, or worse. This time, though, we’re going to do it right.
Well, it’s been almost a month since our last update, and what a month it’s been. Since the purchase of our house at the end of September, we’ve been spending most of our free time hard at work. We’ve cleared brush, knocked down walls, removed carpets, hauled away old toilets, filled a thirty-yard dumpster with trash, and so much more. Here’s a small preview of our progress:
Tearing out an ugly old drop ceiling
Sean is the lord of the hammer
Goodbye wall, hello open floor plan
We’ve also begun the process of meeting with contractors and getting estimates for the repair work we won’t be able to do ourselves, like fixing the roof and doing the plumbing, heating, and electrical. We hope to commence with this work soon.
Of course, not all of this past month’s work has been the kind you do with your hands—unless typing, calling people, and filling out forms counts as using your hands. (Actually, I guess all three of those things do involve using your hands, so please disregard this tortured segue.) This month, we had our first run-in with the magic that is Detroit city government, when we discovered that our house was placed on the city’s demolition list mere hours after we purchased it. Luckily, getting off the list is as simple as filling out a form (and paying the city a few hundred dollars).
And speaking of making payments to the city government, this month we also payed our property tax bill, a process which involved physically going to the city government building downtown, going through security, waiting in one line to get your tax bill, going back through security in a different part of the building, and then waiting in another line to actually pay. And they wonder why nobody pays their property taxes in this city…
All in all, it’s been a productive month, with a lot more to come. We’d like to close by giving a big thanks to the supporters who’ve gone above and beyond in helping us so far: Stephen Piazza and Jon Zemke for their suggestions and advice, and Ben Plum, Ben Hershey, Jim Kahmann, Brennan Crispin, Alex Persky-Stern, Chris Kim, and Brian Beaulieu for their sawing, hammering, cleaning, and staple-removing abilities. We couldn’t have come this far without you guys.
And there’s a lot more to come! Stay tuned as the adventure continues.
Scott’s safety gear doing double-duty as his Halloween costume.
Next steps: trimming the shrubbery, mowing the lawn, and cleaning out the trash inside the house. Then it’s on to locks, water, and electricity. If we’re really feeling adventurous, maybe we’ll even put some plumbing in.
We’ll update this site with more photos of our future home once we’re able to really get inside and take a look around. Stay tuned!
760 Virginia Park St. This is from Google Street View—better photos coming soon!