Almost a decade ago, I bought an abandoned house in Detroit for $500. I fixed it up with my own hands and live there with my dog. The city has changed immensely since I moved in, and I wrote about the experience for BuzzFeed. My book based on the piece comes out today. AMA!$500-House-in-Detroit/Drew-Philp/9781476797984


More proof:

Edit: alright folks, it's been real, and I had fun. I have to run, but I'll try to stop by in the next couple of days and answer some more of these questions. If you missed it, here's the Imgur link to photos of the house:

And some more "after" photos I took this afternoon when I got back home today:

Comments: 3202 • Responses: 39  • Date: 

cpt_fuzzyboots2501 karma

Do you have any before/after photos that you could share?

DrewPhilp845 karma

Here's the Imgur link:

There's a few in there. Aside from a new front porch and all of the windows, the outside of the house looks pretty much the same. The siding will be just about the last to be done.

DrewPhilp213 karma

And here's a few more I took with my phone when I arrived home today:

doingitfortheoutline1644 karma

How much money have you paid in taxes and do you feel that you received adequate services for the money you spent?

EDIT: I'm asking this question because I had property in Detroit, probably paid over $60,000 in total and the only reliable service we had was trash. Grass would go uncut for months (we called it "murder high"), roads never got plowed when it snowed, and the one time we actually needed the fire department it took about an hour for them to get to the neighborhood and four houses burned down while we waited.

DrewPhilp1522 karma

I pay relatively little in taxes compared to some of my neighbors, but the mayor is working on trying to get them lowered, as they're artificially high throughout the city. I also pay income tax, twice, both because I live and work in the city. But it's the water bills are the killer. They're about twice the national average, which is ironic AF considering we literally live directly on the planet's largest source of freshwater. Those are going up drastically. Recently the city shut off water to ~80,000-- a population the size of Buffalo, NY.

As for services, they've started plowing the roads this year (they didn't before and it was a nightmare-- 4WD was a must) and now I have streetlights which is good. Obviously, these are basic city services and it's great we have them now, but I guess it's good only in comparison to what came before. But part of the allure to the neighborhood for me, is that we-- and by we I mean the neighbors and community-- do a lot of the work ourselves, like tree trimming. I feel like it gives me more agency in my neighborhood and life, and makes it easier to have a say and stake in where I live. I find it unconscionable though, that they would shut off water to that many people.

QBer900985 karma

I live in Buffalo and the population is actually about 260,000.

DrewPhilp587 karma

Pardon me. Thanks for the correction, I had my stats mixed up.

green_tea_good719 karma

1)Most houses sold so cheap in detroit because of the back taxes, you didn't have to pay any of that for the house?
2)Not worried about getting robbed/shot yourself or having to pull a John Wick?
3)Do you have any legit neighbors? And if so did you talk to them before buying/moving in?

DrewPhilp1337 karma

Because it had been abandoned for more than a decade before I bought it, I was able to purchase the house at the base price they sell them for in the county auction-- $500, so I didn't have to pay any of the taxes.

Sometimes. Detroit is a dangerous city, and someone did try to kick in my door one night-- It's a story I tell in the book. But I think what makes me the most safe is a good relationship with my neighbors. They look out for me, and I for them. I can't say it won't ever happen, as almost all of my neighbors have been broken into, but not a lot of people want to steal the tools from the guy fixing the elderly lad's fence down the block-- that's someone's auntie or grandma. So it helps to help people out. I also have a giant dog and do own a gun and I'm a boxer, so there's that too.

As mentioned above, my neighbors are great, wonderful people. I really do love them. Many have owned their houses for decades or generations, and it takes a lot to have made it through the 80's and 90's in that neighborhood during crack and mass incarceration and devils night, etc. They are some of my favorite people in the world. And yes, I made sure to speak to everyone to see if people were OK with what I was doing. They looked at me funny at first, but then saw I was for real and accepted me.

Alpha-Trion125 karma

How giant is the dog?

DrewPhilp239 karma

100 LBS give or take

TheBigGame117394 karma

Probably doesn't even lift

DrewPhilp106 karma


the_pleiades629 karma

I know a lot of neighborhoods like the one you moved into are basically "food deserts" without access to reasonably priced groceries. How/where do you and your neighbors shop?

DrewPhilp634 karma

This is a good question. And, yes, it is considered a food desert. I have to drive quite a ways out of the neighborhood to get to a good grocery store. Mostly I shop in the enclave city of Hamtramck, or at a local Grocery store in Southwest Detroit.

couchiexperience164 karma

Do you get mail? Would Amazon prime make sense or would those packages take too long to get to you?

DrewPhilp435 karma

I don't generally order packages to my house for fear of theft.

SlickNick103 karma

La Colemena?


DrewPhilp137 karma

Oh yeah. And Bozeck's in Hamtramck

ventsyv427 karma

Did you move in right after you bought it or did you renovate first? How much of the work have you done yourself vs contractors?

DrewPhilp682 karma

The only thing I paid to have done was the roof, because it was cheaper paying a pro to do it than paying my friends to help me, although I have done a number of roofs.

I worked on it for about a year before I actually moved in.

madcaplarks355 karma

Tried to read everything so far, but my main curiosity is what is it worth now?

DrewPhilp440 karma

Excellent question. In what someone would pay me for it in good green dollars today? Not much. But I don't have a mortgage. I never pay rent. It's a roof over my head, and a basic necessity of life. To add up all the money I've saved on rent, and moving and such I'd imagine is considerable.

The neighborhood and the city are changing considerably though. While my neighborhood resembles prairie land with some stalwart holdouts dotting the landscape, it's rife to be developed in a large, conventional way. I tell my neighbors to hold on to their houses the best the can. Because in 10-20 years, the land (not particularly the houses), the land will be extremely valuable.

eZCoffeE229 karma

Is it still possible to buy a house in Detroit for $500 today and would it be worth just to have and possibly fix in the future?

DrewPhilp532 karma

It is still possible, but much more rare. The best thing, if you want to do something like this, is to do it now. There are many people in Detroit, myself included, that have a hard time with houses that are purchased and then nothing happens to them, for a while, if ever. It keeps the people in the neighborhood from dealing with an abandoned house if it's owned and sat on, so I don't recommend it.

For example, an LLC used to own the abandoned house next door to me-- I shoveled the snow, I cut the grass, because they didn't care and I had to live next to it. The water runoff from the roof was ruining my foundation, so I had to put gutters on it. Suffice to say, I'm not particularly happy with the former owners, and it's not a good way to build community. The city owns it now, and I'm trying to purchase it from them.

Lazarus21218 karma

How's your internet?

DrewPhilp332 karma

Aside from on my phone, I don't keep it at home because it's a distraction. I spend a lot of time reading. I'm at a coffee shop now.

DrewPhilp190 karma

And a few more after photos I took this afternoon when I got home:

LudovicoSpecs141 karma

If you met someone and got married, would you stay there? What about with kids?

DrewPhilp181 karma

Oh, yeah. This is my home. I can't see being in love with anyone who wasn't into Detroit, and making things, and living a slightly unconventional lifestyle.

As for kids, many of my friends do it, and I would do it as well. It takes more effort, I think, but from my view it seems to be worth it.

cupreous133 karma

What are your thoughts on how Detroit has handled recovering from the outright devastation of the auto industry's pullout with the issue of gentrification? I read an excerpt of your book where you bought your neighbor's home at auction to keep them from being evicted by real estate profiteers. Apart from caring about your neighbor's fate, was your purchase motivated more out of cultural preservation or as defiance against twenty-something upstart community "revitalization?"

DrewPhilp183 karma

I just didn't want my neighbors out on the street. They've been really good to me, and it was just one small thing I could do to try and improve the world, just a little bit. I forget the years exactly, but the county foreclosed on one in four houses in Detroit. This is wild (and also where the Buffalo statistic comes in-- in home foreclosures, not water shut-offs), and I just can't stand by and watch things like that happen.

And pretty much everything decent I do is in defiance of something.

PawNsJayce113 karma

Is it haunted? It's probably haunted.

DrewPhilp123 karma

You know, I've never seen an actual ghost, but sometimes it does feel like something is there when I'm all alone. My dog also bites this one spot on my wall, which is weird and unexplainable. It's had such a long life that it's almost certain people have been born and died in there, so there's a lot going on spiritually.

thor207793 karma

How did (or didn't) your background and education prepare you for your time in Detroit?

DrewPhilp149 karma

This is a good question, and a tough one. On one hand, I had a basic understanding of how race and class work in America-- but most of that came from books and the classroom. What wasn't obvious to me then, when I was 21 or so, was this doesn't always equal actual understanding. I never stopped reading, but I try to allow experience to guide me now, rather than be the soul teacher. I think people are the experts on their own problems, and I do my best to listen closely and carefully.

I can't say that I grew up in a particularly diverse area, but my parents worked very hard with what they could to provide me with a broad worldview. I didn't understand it at the time, but they would do things like send me to visit NAACP meetings in my small town, or save their pennies to take me to places like the Capitol or Colonial Williamsburg, so I had a sense and history of the world. I was extremely lucky in that respect.

vac_the_aw62 karma

Was the split on occupied vs non-occupied houses on your block when you moved in? What is it now?

DrewPhilp100 karma

When I moved in, including my house, there were five abandoned houses and two occupied.

Right now, there is one abandoned house, right next to mine, and now three occupied homes, including the same two and myself. Originally there would have been 12 homes on the block.

In the eight years or so I've been there, there have been four significant structure fires within just one block of my house, though. There aren't too many abandoned homes left in the neighborhood actually, due to fire and demolition.

coryrenton61 karma

what's the largest lot of adjacent houses do you think could have been gotten and rehabbed on a budget of $100,000?

DrewPhilp69 karma

Depends on what you're going for. I just wanted a place to live myself, but renting is a whole different story. I imagine if you're just looking for something for yourself and a friend or two with some land surrounding it to farm or whatever, and you're willing to do the work with your own hands, you could do extremely well for that amount of money. Maybe 3-4 if you're willing to scrape.

Cromium_kate18 karma

I just read an excerpt from your book. I will definitely be buying it. You so beautifully captured the dual nature of destruction and rebirth that is encapsulated in Detroit. I am originally from Michigan and when I graduated from college I moved to Detroit. You worded my intentions so well; I had similar aspirations.

Unfortunately, I was worn down by seeming futility of what I was doing. Eventually I felt like sisyphus pushing back against forces I couldn't move. I left.

Do you plan on staying indefinitely? Do you ever feel overwhelmed by the negative aspects of living in Detroit?

Thanks for doing an AMA!

DrewPhilp9 karma

Hey, thank you!

Yeah, Detroit is my home, and I'll never move away completely under the current circumstances, although I may have to spend time out of town for work or another book, etc. I doubt anyone would want to buy the house, and I don't want to leave.

As for the negative aspects of Detroit, for me, the positives greatly outweigh them. I love my neighbors, I love my community, and I love this city, even thought it breaks my heart sometimes.

MattBaster6 karma

Did you have to arm wrestle any squatters for it when you went to kick them out?

DrewPhilp14 karma

I was looking for a place where I wouldn't need to kick anyone out. At the time I was buying there were plenty of foreclosures, but I didn't think I could profit off of someone's pain like that. My house had been abandoned, just left like a shredded tire on the highway, for more than a decade and had no windows and was filled with 10K LBS of trash. I made sure there wasn't anyone living in it before I boarded it up and bought it.

DrewPhilp2 karma

I was looking for a place where I wouldn't need to kick anyone out. At the time I was buying there were plenty of foreclosures, but I didn't think I could profit off of someone's pain like that. My house had been abandoned, just left like a shredded tire on the highway, for more than a decade and had no windows and was filled with 10K LBS of trash. I made sure there wasn't anyone living in it before I boarded it up and bought it.

millerswiller5 karma

I just read this excerpt from your book --> LINK

After reading it, I wanted to know: How are the Terrys doing today? Are they still in the neighborhood?

Also - I just wanted to stop by and say what a wonderful thing it was for you to help your neighbors in their time of need. Best of luck with the house and the book!

DrewPhilp6 karma

Hey, thank you! Much appreciated.

Yep, the Terry's are still in their house and doing well.

snbrd512-3 karma

How does it feel knowing the value of your house has gone down since the recession?

DrewPhilp9 karma

I don't think of the value of my house in dollars and cents. The real value, as I see it, is a roof over my head, shelter, a place to be in the world, it's in the hard muscles I've gleaned from the lifting, the mental keenness from the figuring, the grit from living without heat for almost two years. No matter what dollar value someone places on that, nobody can ever take any of that away from me. Of course I don't really want to, but I know that if I have to I can build my own dwelling again.

bomi3ster-11 karma

Would you sell it for $3.50?

DrewPhilp5 karma