Economy
4:23 am
Sat April 21, 2012

What's It Worth?: Historic Detroit Mansion For Sale

Originally published on Sun April 22, 2012 5:40 am

Even before the financial crisis, Detroit was known for its undervalued real estate. Now, a bad situation is even worse.

Michael Bradley and his sister Annette Foreman have spent the last several months cleaning their mother's home. She died on Christmas Eve last year, and they're putting her house up for sale.

The four-story house, known as Stone Hedge, was originally built for Walter O. Briggs in 1915. Briggs was in the car business. His company built auto bodies, and he owned the Detroit Tigers.

Stone Hedge is large, about 10,000 square feet. There's a room just for linens and a two-part kitchen. There's an elevator, a solarium and a cold closet for fur coats.

Bradley and Foreman's parents were active antique collectors, too. They filled their home with collectibles and they enjoyed entertaining in their ballroom.

The late Joseph and Gloria Bradley bought the house 1976 for about $65,000. It sits in Boston Edison, a neighborhood that attracts Detroit's richest and most important people. Motown mogul Berry Gordy and automaker Henry Ford both called the neighborhood home. With its tree-lined streets and its Tudor Revival mansions, it looks like it could be any wealthy neighborhood — another Greenwich, Conn., or Beverly Hills.

A comparable house in Silicon Valley is selling for $15 million. Yet the Bradley's home, with its stained-glass windows, servants' quarters, coach house — all on one of Detroit's most historic streets, runs for less than $450,000.

Sometimes in Detroit, housing prices don't seem to make much sense at all. The median Detroit home price in 2011 was about $54,000 — more than $100,000 less than the rest of the country.

Walter Maloney, with National Association of Realtors, says the Bradley family is facing the same problems that millions of Americans are.

"This is perhaps an extreme example of a home being worth really a mere fraction of what it would cost you to build that property," he says. "In fact, in most of the country today, we are seeing homes selling for less than replacement construction costs. This is really an over-correction of the housing boom and bust cycle."

In 2000, the Bradley family had their home appraised, and at the time, it was worth $1.5 million. The question for them is, why sell now?

Bradley and his siblings are all underwater on their own homes. "We have homes of our own that we can't get rid of because of their upside-downness and ... I'll be quite honest, this is not a cheap house to run, utility-wise," Bradley says.

For Foreman, there's much more at stake than the price tag.

"I'm going to miss it from the historical point of view. To have something that is a living antique," she says. "I'm going to miss baking in the kitchen with my mother. My mother and I, for the holidays, would start baking in October. This was a part of my mom."

Foreman and her brother say they're looking for someone who wants to take care of the home. They don't just want a buyer who's looking for a sweet deal. They say they've already turned those people away.

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Even before the U.S. financial crisis, Detroit was known for having undervalued real estate. Now, a bad situation is even worse. The median Detroit home price in 2011 was about $54,000. That's more than $100,000 less than the national average. Sometimes in Detroit, housing prices don't seem to make much sense at all.

NPR's Sonari Glinton reports.

(SOUNDBITE OF STREET NOISES)

SONARI GLINTON, BYLINE: If you were rich and important and lived in Detroit, at some time you probably lived in Detroit's Boston-Edison neighborhood. Think Berry Gordy or Henry Ford. Both Motown moguls called the neighborhood home. With its tree-lined streets and its Tudor Revival mansions, it looks like it could be any wealthy neighborhood - think Greenwich, Connecticut, or Beverly Hills.

Hello.

ANNETTE FOREMAN: Sorry about the glove.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

GLINTON: Annette Foreman and her brother, Michael Bradley, have spent the last several months cleaning their mother's home. She died Christmas Eve last year.

FOREMAN: (Calling) Michael!

MICHAEL BRADLEY: Yeah?

(SOUNDBITE OF DOG BARKING)

FOREMAN: We have visitors.

GLINTON: The house they now have up for sale is the home that was originally built for Walter O. Briggs in 1915. Briggs was in the car business. His company built auto bodies, and he owned the Detroit Tigers. Michael Bradley agreed to show me around.

BRADLEY: This is a two-part kitchen. There's this part of this kitchen and then there's this part, which is the butler's pantry. The room that we were just in is the working kitchen. Those ovens down there - about 15, 20 feet away - those are actually little warmers for plates.

GLINTON: This four-story house has about 10,000 square feet. There's a room just for linens. There's an elevator, a solarium, a cold closet for fur coats.

Bradley and Foreman's parents bought the house in 1976 for about $65,000. They filled their home with collectibles, and they enjoyed entertaining.

So what would this room be used for?

BRADLEY: Ballroom.

FOREMAN: This is the ballroom. You are standing in the ballroom. You want to two-step, or you want to waltz?

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

GLINTON: I assume the band would be over here somewhere? Oh, the band would - that's the bandstand.

BRADLEY: Yes.

FOREMAN: Yes.

GLINTON: Oh.

BRADLEY: Yes.

GLINTON: Oh.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

FOREMAN: Up here is where the band would be.

BRADLEY: Little did they know, but behind the doors were walk-in safes.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

FOREMAN: That is an actual bank vault. And right there is the silver vault for the house.

BRADLEY: Yes, the silver vault.

FOREMAN: That's where you would lock up all your silver.

GLINTON: So what do you think all that costs - stained-glass windows, servants' quarters, a coach house; all that on one of Detroit's most historic streets? Well, it'll run you less than about $450,000. A comparable home in Silicon Valley is selling for $15 million.

Walter Maloney is with the National Association of Realtors. He says the Bradley family is facing the same problems that millions of Americans are.

WALTER MALONEY: I mean, this is perhaps an extreme example of a home being worth - really - a mere fraction of what it would cost you to build that property. In fact, in most of the country today, we are seeing homes selling for less than replacement construction costs. And this is really an over-correction of the housing boom and bust cycle.

GLINTON: In 2000, the Bradley family had the home appraised and at the time, it was worth $1.5 million. The question for them now is, why sell now?

Bradley and his siblings are all underwater on their own homes.

BRADLEY: We have homes of our own that we can't get rid of because of their upside-down-ness. And we don't, you know - I'll be quite honest; this is not a cheap house to run, utility-wise.

GLINTON: For Annette Foreman, there's a lot more at stake than the price tag.

FOREMAN: I'm going to miss it from the historical point of view. You know, to have something that is a living antique. I'm going to miss...

BRADLEY: Dinners and things that we had here. We had a lot of...

FOREMAN: (Voice breaking) Baking in the kitchen with my mother. My mother and I, for the holidays, would start baking in October. This was a part of my mom.

GLINTON: Annette Foreman and her brother, Michael Bradley, say they're looking for someone who wants to take care of the home. They don't just want a buyer who's looking for a sweet deal. They say they've already turned those people away.

Sonari Glinton, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SIMON: This is WEEKEND EDITION, from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.