When young couples come to Detroit searching for the perfect Tudor in Green Acres or a Victorian house in Corktown they often face bidding wars, bringing prices up to the edge of their budget.
“What makes the city appealing is its beautiful housing stock, its strong neighborhoods and that edgy sense of community,” says Austin Black II, owner of City Living Detroit, a real estate firm that averages $15 million in sales annually. “What hurts us is the lack of inventory in prime neighborhoods.”
Black, 35, has been involved in city boosting since 2003 when he was fresh out of college. He joined forces with a cheering squad of new graduates who would organize housing fairs, neighborhood tours and cocktail parties to trumpet city living.
Together with other stakeholders they assembled rolling teams of nonprofit organizers, mortgage brokers, real estate agents and neighborhood enthusiasts to welcome newcomers at these events, pulling out the stops to make deals affordable.
“Those people who bought houses and condos in those years were the true believers. They could see the city rising,” Black says. By 2005 he had a brokerage license and began selling the city in earnest.
Then came the recession of 2007-2010 when foreclosures hit the best and worst neighborhoods and sales slowed to a crawl. But the upside came and, with it, a shortage of inventory.
“People didn’t believe me, that the shortage started in 2010 when sales were still in a slump, but the best properties moved swiftly,” Black recalls.
The properties continue to get scarcer, even as prices rise to exorbitant levels in some areas. Austin recalls 10 showings for the former Tom Borman house in Palmer Woods, people coming out in the worst snowstorm of the winter in 2015 and bidding up the price on a quirky, well-renovated dwelling. The average house stays on the market just 15 days.
His biggest accomplishment is selling the Van Dusen mansion in Palmer Woods, a glorious 10,000-square-foot property angled on a corner lot with a living room big enough to hold a concert for up to 75 people. He brought an out-of-town buyer to the table who wanted the property for his family. He is the listing agent for the Willys Overland Lofts in Midtown, helping sell most of the 67 units in the former car dealership for $200,000 to $700,000.
Black, who lives in Sherwood Forest and focuses his sales on eight prime neighborhoods in the city, has been a civic booster since his mother, Rochelle Black, vice president of development for Oakland University, took the small boy to see the big skyscrapers.
“Adoration at first site, I wanted to be an architect or a planner,” he recalls. He begged his mom to take him back often.
Cornell University offered him the best chance for an undergraduate degree in urban planning and regional studies. Through a study-abroad program he visited more than 20 cities in Italy, constantly comparing ideas with his hometown, ideas he could put in action upon graduation.
He returned in 2003 to tackle Detroit in a big way.
With a global perspective on cities he devoted endless hours to making connections.
“To me selling real estate and running housing fairs is more about strengthening neighborhoods and creating communities than the sale itself. It uses my urban planning background,” says Austin.
His aim is to keep Detroit front and center as a place to live, work and raise a family.
Diligent efforts have won respect and appreciation from the city and its leadership. In 2006 he was in Crain’s Detroit Business‘ first class of 20 individuals in their 20’s making a difference. He also became one of DBusiness‘ “30 In Their 30s” He serves on the outreach committee for the Detroit Athletic Club and the board of the Downtown Detroit Boll Family YMCA.
Next Black would like to tackle development projects. While in college he had internships with Gary Torgow of the Sterling Group and David Johnson, who developed Bay Harbor outside Petoskey. He keeps looking at projects and dreaming of what he might do to create new, attractive dwellings.
“Right now I’m sticking with what I know. I like being a neighborhood expert and work to sell as much as possible,” Black says.