Home buying suggestions in Ann Arbor
May 23, 2008 4:35 AM   Subscribe

Home buying suggestions in Ann Arbor, Michigan?

My wife and I are moving to Ann Arbor soon and are looking to buy our first home there. Never having lived in Michigan before, we're naturally a bit baffled by the whole process and are hoping for help from some kind Michigan MeFites. Among the many questions we have:

1. What are good areas in and around Ann Arbor to look for first homes? If it makes a difference, she'll be a grad student at the University of Michigan and I'll be working, um, somewhere. We've heard that, given our situation, homes in places like Ypsilanti aren't worth the extra commute they'd involve. True?

2. Anyone have recommendations for good real estate agencies or mortgage brokers in the area? Especially ones that are good at working with first-time home buyers and buyers not yet in the area?

3. If our plan to buy right away turns out to be unfeasable, any recommendations on rentals that are willing to do short-term leases?

posted by that_one_guy to Home & Garden (15 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I've never bought a house in Ann Arbor (and I don't even live there anymore), but I'd say that with the recent Pfizer departure, this is a good time to be a buyer, especially if you're looking for something on the bigger side. Michigan's economy's not doing so hot, and Ann Arbor's took a hit when Pfizer left, so I am under the impression that there are a lot of people looking to unload houses.

Good luck!
posted by srah at 5:20 AM on May 23, 2008

I lived in Ypsilanti for five years (2001-2006) in the same situation (wife was a grad and I was working). It was actually handy as I could more easily work in the Detroit area commuting from Ypsilanti. That gave me more options in my job search. That being said, I'd rather have been working in Ann Arbor as the commute from Ypsi to Detroit was rough. It would have been worse if I had lived in Ann Arbor, though.

Ann Arborites have a bizarre reaction to Ypsi generally. I found it was a great place to live and have friends who moved to Ypsi from Ann Arbor and quite like it. The distance between the two is minimal. Ypsi has a bit more diversity given it's greater economic range (people in Ann Arbor wouldn't want to admit greater diversity in Ypsi, but it's true). Ypsi has always been less expensive and I believe it is still. We lived in Normal Park in Ypsi which was a great old neighborhood right next to all the arterial roads leading to Ann Arbor. Ypsi has a coop food store, a farmer's market, two great pubs (Sidetrack and the new school-converted-to-pub), the best Mexican restaurant (Fiesta Mexicana!), great Vietnamese food, the Orphan Car Show (coming up!) and other fun stuff!

Ann Arbor has gotten more affordable during the economic downturn and if you want to live there, I say go for it. I just recommend taking Ann Arborites' opinions about Ypsilanti with a huge grain of salt. The only real difference is that Ann Arbor schools are better and more uniform. So that would make a difference if you had kids.

Our real estate agent for buying our house and selling it was Rebecca Zeigler at Edward Surovell. She really took care of us (we actually had fun with her).

Congratulations on your wife getting into UM grad school and good luck with your move.
posted by Slothrop at 5:50 AM on May 23, 2008

How long do you plan to live in Ann Arbor? Depending on the answer it might or might not be a good idea to buy in the area right now.

Friends who bought condos in the past 4-6 years have seen the values plummet, and those who left AA recently after graduating ended up selling at a loss. People who bought in new housing developments in recent years have also taken a hit. But, single family houses in traditionally attractive areas of AA, such as the Old West Side, seem to have held on to their value. From watching the "For Sale" signs in various neighborhoods, houses even slightly on the outskirts of AA are taking a long time to sell. I bring this up because if you are planning on selling your house and leaving the area after your wife finishes her degree, what may have seemed like a good deal on a house now may not be so if five years hence the house lies empty and unsold for a year.
posted by needled at 7:01 AM on May 23, 2008

To Ann Arborites, Ypsi is that drunken second cousin you'd rather not acknowledge as part of the family, but Gran would be pissed if you actually picked a fight at the family reunion (grew up 20 miles east, lived in Ypsi for a couple of years, now living 20 miles west).

If you're not sure where you'll be working, I'd go for something either close to campus or on a bus route -- you *know* she's going to be on campus a lot, and it'll keep commuting costs down if one of you is close. The best way to get to campus is bike or bus -- parking on either UMich campus (main or north) isn't easy. Unless you can find the perfect house in Ypsi, it's probably not worth the extra commute, even though prices are a lot lower in Ypsi. While Ypsi and A2 share a border, it's not as easy as you would think to commute from one to the other, especially if you're going to campus. (We lived in NE Ypsi (Prospect and Cross), and it took us 25 minutes to get to a church by UM's main campus on Sunday mornings in the summer; longer when school is in session.)

There's a plethora of housing available ATM, what with Pfizer leaving, although I don't know how much of it is starter housing....
posted by jlkr at 7:09 AM on May 23, 2008

Look at homes out on Geddes road as it spirals out into Superior Township. You're about 10 - 15 minutes outside of Ann Arbor (by car), yet housing prices are WAY less expensive.
posted by kbanas at 7:11 AM on May 23, 2008

It is definitely a buyer's market in Ann Arbor now. I have not bought a home here, I'm a poor renter but I know many people who have. I've had friends who have had good experiences buying and selling through Sean at ClickAnnArbor.com. I grew up in the Burns Park neighborhood, a fairly posh neighborhood just south of campus. If you can afford it, it would probably be a good investment.

If you want to go a little cheaper I'd hit up the north side of town. It was somewhat cheaper to begin with and I imagine it's been hit harder by Pfizer closing since Pfizer is on the north side.

My favorite neighborhood is the Old West Side. It has the coolest old houses and while it's a bit farther from campus and a bit more expensive than the other neighborhoods I've mentioned, it's a short walk to downtown, which I like a lot.

I hope this helps, and if you do end up buying a house through Sean, tell him Samph sent you. (Not that he'll necessarily treat you better, it's just that he might buy me lunch or something, hehehe.)
posted by samph at 7:19 AM on May 23, 2008

I can recommend an excellent realtor in the Detroit area. I mean, really excellent. Send me a MeMail if you want his contact information (I think I still have it). If he doesn't know Ann Arbor, he probably knows someone who does.
posted by Doohickie at 9:15 AM on May 23, 2008

I don't know your price range, but if you are looking for a starter home I would suggest Ypsi. The market here is pretty soft right now, but I wouldn't be surprised if home values continue to slide. In Ypsi there are a few enclaves of young families that have been priced out of Ann Arbor. In my half-hearted starter home search of Ann Arbor you really can't get into a decent starter home for less than $200K-$250K (which would be a sane mortgage for a young couple). Your money will go a lot further in Ypsi so long as you look in the right neighborhoods. I would agree that the Old West Side is the best location in Ann Arbor as you will have walking access to the University and downtown. The North side isn't too bad but it will lack a lot of the benefits of living in the Old West Side.

The commute from Ypsi isn't bad especially if you are near the bus routes (your wife can ride for free with your UofM student ID). As for apartments, it is really hard to find anything with a short term lease, all of the large property companies require a one year lease. Apartments in Ann Arbor are ungodly expensive. The average price for a decent two bedroom place starts at about $900 a month, note that your heating bill during the winter could run as high as $200/month.

Do you have any idea of where you will be working? What sort of industry do you work in? Is you wife an engineering/art graduate student or in the humanities and sciences? UofM has two campuses on different ends of the city. This may be worth noting in your selection of a house.
posted by kscottz at 10:02 AM on May 23, 2008

I'm an Ann Arbor homeowner, and it could be a good time to buy, unless things get worse. You never know. I also love Ypsi and you can get some great home values there, but a daily commute to UM campus from ypsi can be a drag, as the buses can take a long time and parking and driving is a pain. However, there's no doubt that you get more bang for your buck in Ypsi if you don't count your daily travel time, but I would look in Ann Arbor first and see what you think about the available values as it would definitely be a lower-hassle life for a UM student.

For an agent, call the Buyer's Agent. They were awesome when we were clueless first-time home buyers, and they are super nice and knowledgeable folks. Plus, since they don't list, you won't have to worry about what they might be pushing. They also jump on new listings fast, although that's not as important as it was in the bubblier days. If Ken Gaertner is still there, he did a great job for us almost 10 years ago and gave us very good advice.

There are fixer-uppers around that can be a good value too, but be absolutely sure that you want to get into that before even considering it, as it sucks unless it's your thing.

Good luck, and we'll see you soon around town! You may find Arborwiki useful as you're looking around.
posted by ulotrichous at 10:12 AM on May 23, 2008

Have you looked at Chelsea? You can get the small town charm with a short commute into Ann Arbor. I've lived in Ypsi, and I hated it. It's a long way from Ann Arbor in spirit, if not in distance (we didn't call it Ypsi-tucky for nothing). I grew up in the general area, but I've been gone for 17 years so, ymmv.
posted by The Light Fantastic at 10:42 AM on May 23, 2008

If Ypsi seems like a backwater, then you've never seen a backwater.


Look, there's a lot of territorial pissing that goes on in the area over some fairly small differences. Ann Arbor skews slightly more middle class, the surrounding towns skew slightly more rural or working class. Ypsi has historically had stronger ties to its own factories and to Detroit than the rest of the area. Both are college towns, while Dexter, Saline and Chelsea aren't.

But basically, the whole area is comfortable, pleasant, safe, open, liberal and pretty well-off (or at least, weathering the economic storms better than the rest of the state). You'll do fine anywhere in it.

(Another note: the North Side does sort of peter out into this unwalkable suburban morass. But closer in, it's a real neighborhood, and not that inaccessible from campus or anything else. I know some people who bought there recently, and I get the impression it's pretty affordable, although I don't know the details.)
posted by nebulawindphone at 11:46 AM on May 23, 2008

Pick up a City Guide, published by the people who put out the Ann Arbor Observer. There's detailed information about each of Ann Arbor's neighborhoods.

There are a lot of bargains right now. The southeast corner (Washtenaw to Ellsworth, Carpenter to west of Platt) has a lot of houses under $200K, built anywhere from the 1040s to the 70s. They're safe neigborhoods, and convenient as hell.
posted by still_wears_a_hat at 1:07 PM on May 23, 2008

Ypsi is definitely underrated, as far as I can tell. My girlfriend actually works at the Ypsi food co-op, and the whole downtown area is much nicer than you'd expect for a town that isn't famous (Rocket's is awesome, for example). Yes, Ann Arbor is more exciting, but Ypsilanti is definitely not a bad area.
posted by DoctorFedora at 1:41 PM on May 23, 2008

Don't forget to include the wesern suburbs (so to speak) of Dexter and Chelsea in your search. These are rural-ish bedroom communities for Ann Arbor, both are easy commutes and have excellent schools. They both have a ton of new development that completed at exactly the wrong time.

People look down on Ypsi for two reasons, crime (in comparson to AA) and poor schools. Ypsi can be OK but you must be very picky about the neighborhood.
posted by dzot at 4:07 PM on May 23, 2008

srah is right. I just moved out of the Ann Arbor area recently due to the Pfizer thing. My dad was laid off, then sent over to California. I lived in Saline, a nice suburb a little south of Ann Arbor. Basically, it's a great time to buy a house right now especially in the 'burbs; our house ended up being sold for 70k less than we bought it for, not including renovations and additions. There is also a Toyota plant opening up in Saline soon, so there's a big expansion thing going on and lots of new houses are being put up left and right.
posted by Geppp at 11:45 PM on May 23, 2008

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