NYT: In Debt For Detroit Dream


Many residents of high-cost areas entertain the dream, at least occasionally: Give up the rent or mortgage grind, liquidate assets and start over someplace cheaper, perhaps one that could use a few spirited new residents.

Amy Haimerl and her husband, Karl Kaebnick, fell hard for Detroit and thought they could make their own dream of financial freedom come true when they moved here in 2013. But this is what happened: They put more than $400,000 (including all of their retirement savings) into a 3,000-square-foot, 102-year-old home in the city’s West Village neighborhood that was most recently appraised at just $300,000.

They claim, however, to be 100 percent satisfied and genuinely happy. Which raises a question: Are they insane?

Ms. Haimerl’s book about their migration and renovation adventure, “Detroit Hustle,” will be out on May 3. It’s a love song sung to a house and a city, but it’s also a money memoir, one marked by ignorance at the outset and a triumph of feelings over financial facts. It does not end in ruin, but it does end in debt.

So let’s start with those facts. Ms. Haimerl, who is 40, and Mr. Kaebnick, 44, had about $10,000 in liquid assets when they decided to move. They settled on a house on a block where only two homes were boarded up.

They bought the smaller one, a wreck with no wires or radiators or doors or pipes, for $35,000, liquidating Ms. Haimerl’s retirement account to close without a mortgage. “There is essentially nothing left inside the walls,” she writes in her book. “What we have is a pile of bricks with character.”

For the renovation, they were counting on the $110,000 that would be left from Mr. Kaebnick’s accounts. The previous owners had figured it would take $150,000 or so to make it habitable. What could go wrong?

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