A Renovation On Mars

Some of you might remember the old movie “The Money Pit” with Tom Hanks; well, let’s hope the project that my partner and I are about to emark on together over the next year or so does not become a reenactment of that film. You see, recently, we were looking to find a place in Lakewood we could completely renovate and make “ours.”  First, we looked at retail spaces, warehouses, even old churches, but they were all just over our budget. Then one day, at an after-work party for a departing employee, a person heavily involved with LakewoodAlive mentioned two old boarding houses in Lakewood they were selling with certain strict guidelines and deed restrictions. I was interested, so I drove past both houses that evening.

Only one house was in the exact spot we wanted to relocate….near Lakewood Library. It’s a central location within downtown Lakewood, walkable to everything, including my office. The next morning, I set up an appointment to view it. Although the house was a complete disaster, it had some great historic features and plenty of space. It was time to pull my partner into this and see if he was interested in pursuing this Bidding Process. A few days later, we both visited and both decided we would put all our efforts into winning the Bid, which we submitted on January 10th, 2014.

The Bidding process was required by all parties involved, which included the City of Lakewood, Detroit Shoreway Community Development Organization (DSCDO) and LakewoodAlive. This process is used to ensure that the home goes to the right individuals who have the ability to bring it back to single family use and rehab the structure to bring it back into compliance with code. The major benefit to this multi-stakeholder program is that it revitalizes the neighborhood in which the home is located by acheiving each of the following: increasing surrounding home values, returning taxes to the city, and in many instances, adding jobs or strengthening local businesses.

Of course kudos need to be given to the City of Lakewood for having the forethought, determination and initiative to gain control of the two historic boarding houses. For 10 years before the City purchased these properties (Grace & Mars), there were over 200 safety forces calls, one of which was an armed hold-up in our house (Mars Avenue). These were a heavy burden on the City and those neighbors surrounding the homes. The City, on March 28th, 2012, approved the budget to purchase these homes from the original owner and give notice (and relocation assistance) to the existing tenants. By August of that same year, the City gained legal ownership, turned off the utilities and locked the houses up, all while initiating a game plan to sell them, ensuring their renovation and introduction back into single family owner occupied ownership.

This is where LakewoodAlive came into the picture. City officials and LakewoodAlive's team met to discuss the best way to save the structures and ensure their renovations. LakewoodAlive was familiar with DSCDO, which has a similar process and has saved over a hundred homes in the Tremont/Ohio City neighborhoods. Both parties joined forces with DSCDO to jumpstart this program within the City of Lakewood.

In early December, LakewoodAlive began viewings and marketing of these properties. Those individuals interested in bidding to be owners had to submit a detailed proposal which included (but not limited to) their physical plans/designs for the homes, contractor cost estimates and personal financial power to make this all happen. Submittals ended mid-January and on January 23rd, those winning bidders were notified. Closing was Valentine's Day on both properties. The responsibility to bring these homes up to code and back into their neighborhoods as assets then shifted from the City to the new owners. Start of work is required by Mid/late April.

A few weeks after submitting our bid, on January 23rd, we found out that we were the winning bid for 1446 Mars Avenue. You would think my first reaction would have been joy, but to be honest, I think the first words out of my mouth were, “Oh sh&$”! For some reason, fear of the work ahead, not to mention all the costs and unexpected issues became real. In some way I knew we would win the bid, but those initial fears were so far from my mind. Needless to say, I have not slept very well since that day. Luckily for me, my partner and I are very different and think in completely different ways. He’s more analytical and graphical. I’m more visual and creative. Together, hopefully we will cover all our bases.  

On Valentine's Day, we closed on the property, which we bought from the City of Lakewood. So we are now the owners of a 1905 American Foursquare home, with (currently) 9 bedrooms, 4 bathrooms, 2,641 square feet and a two-car garage.

My partner and I shifted into high gear, quickly consulting with contractors, architects, interior designers and some of the subtraits needed for renovating our home. It was important to us to hire a Lakewood General Contractor for our home. After some investigation and meetings, we decided on Scalish Construction, located on Madison Avenue. His experience with working with DSCDO in the past, plus visible experience in handling a project of this size, were great determining factors. (Not to mention their ability to work digitally and the ease of electronic communication, which is necessary for us.)

It’s been a whirlwind of activity and choices since we've taken ownership. We unfortunately have a very large tree in the front yard, which has seen better days and is a threat to the neighborhood power lines, not to mention the neighbors’ and our own home. It will be coming down in early April, as a sort of christening of the start of renovation.

Follow our journey through my articles in this newspaper (The Lakewood Observer). Every few weeks, we’ll go through the process of renovating a very needy old home together, and all the details and work involved.

I’ve provided some photos of the house, in it’s current exterior condition. These are our BEFORE pictures. Follow along and see the changes, as we make City of Lakewood and our new neighbors proud (hopefully)!

Christopher Herzner

Local Lakewood Resident for 11 years. New property owner of a 1905 American Foursquare under extensive renovation.

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Volume 10, Issue 6, Posted 5:05 PM, 03.18.2014