A Detroit homeowner is building a rental portfolio and revitalizing his block one house at a time.
Jeff Cowin moved into Detroit’s Virginia Park historic district in 2010 when the area was still full of abandoned homes, blighted buildings, squatters, and crime. At the time, neither Cowin nor the neighborhood had any idea just how positive the new homeowner would be for the area. Today, Cowin’s street is fully renovated thanks, in large part, to his efforts. In addition, he owns a thriving rental portfolio within walking distance of his home.
“I’ve personally managed renovation of 12 of the homes, [and] other folks have come in and renovated…at least eight other homes,” Cowin explained. The process started shortly after he moved in when the BMW dealership employee began using his savings to purchase and renovate blighted properties. As Cowin successfully located former owners, took out private loans, and, eventually, began receiving community support as well as grant-based financing, he began to accumulate an investment of nearly $3 million in Virginia Park Street. He usually buys houses himself using private loans, such as a $50 million loan from a neighbor and taking personal responsibility for the debt.
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“People trust me to repay them,” he observed. Other neighbors have stepped up to fund Cowin’s projects or start their own. Of the homes he has renovated, he rents six of them to tenants who are now also his neighbors. Others have sold for as much as $395,000 after extensive remodeling. That project netted the investors about $60,000.
Because the homes are located in a historic district and Cowin bought in that district himself because of the allure of living in the period homes, it is a labor of love to bring these properties back to life. “I work all the time, all my waking hours, but it’s my passion,” he noted in 2014 after restoring a famous Detroit mansion that “starred” in the movie “Only Lovers Left Alive.”
Cowin personally has insisted on cedar shingles and French tiles on the roofs when appropriate, which makes the properties look the part. On the interior, however, things are fully modern with new wiring, new plumbing, new kitchens and bathrooms, and modern layouts. His most recent project will is listed at $599,000 (after about $560,000 for purchase and rehab) or can be rented for about $4,000 a month.