By Megan Ockert
Andrew Chambers, a 28-year-old studying early elementary education at UM-Flint, has a lot to celebrate. On Oct. 1, 2016, he was finally able to move into his own downtown Flint home he bought in July.
Chambers is one of a number of young Flint home buyers combating skepticism from others while finding surprising benefits by taking a chance on the city.
Hoping to buy a house at an affordable price from the Genesee County Land Bank, he had taken a short-term six-month lease on an apartment near Kettering last year. Eventually he found a property he wanted—a 2,700-square-foot house on Lapeer Road, built in about 1925. It’s a three-story layout with 10 rooms, including six bedrooms.
He paid less than $10,000.
The Genesee County Land Bank is a government organization that manages tax-foreclosed properties in Genesee County. According to their website, www.thelandbank.org, they strive to put those properties back into productive use, which includes selling and renting properties, managing blight, greening, and revitalizing the neighborhoods that surround these properties.
The house did not come without needs. Chambers has repaired a leaky roof, and sanded and refinished all the hardwood floors. He repaired large holes in the plaster and repaired drywall, painted the house inside and out, fixed electrical issues , and even returned old belongings the previous owner had left behind.
“I’ve always liked the downtown area.” Chambers said. “With UM-Flint and Kettering expanding, and MSU opening a building downtown, there have been many improvements. I think it’s a great investment and as the community continues to grow and improve, the investment will pay off.”
Despite his own positivity, Chambers admitted he faced a lot of opposition for deciding to move downtown.
“Everyone but my father told me not to buy the house,” he said. “My family is pretty down to earth; they weren’t necessarily worried about the crime reports, but instead, the fact that the house sat vacant for many years and needs a lot of work deterred them from thinking purchasing the house was a good idea.”
Regarding the Flint water crisis, Chambers said the challenge has proved to be “interesting” but not a deterrence to his investment.
“Growing up, we couldn’t drink the well water at my parents’ house, so we always had to buy water in five gallon jugs. I guess the bigger issue is overcoming the hype. I feel like it doesn’t matter where you go, if you tell people you live in Flint, they immediately apologize. We have our issues, but I think the downtown life offers some great events and opportunities that everyone needs to experience.”
In fact, the water crisis proved helpful when Chambers finally bought his house in July.
“It eliminated a lot of competition to buy the house I dreamed of owning for over a year. The water crisis is a horrible problem for Flint residents, but it may have contributed to my getting the house so easily and not being outbid by another investor.”
Mark Fisher of Weichert Realtors, who works primarily in the College Cultural neighborhood, said he has not noticed a decline in sales due to the water crisis. “At this time there is about 30 percent fewer homes on the market now than there were last year, but there are buyers ready and willing to buy now as more houses come on the market.”
Fisher noted every house he sells gets water tested so that buyers know the water is safe before closing on the house.
Aimee Pintoski, 26, a nurse at Genesys Regional Medical Center, bought her Flint house for $40,000 in May 2015. “I grew up in Flint, but moved away after high school. I wanted to explore other parts of the country, so I lived in both Nevada and Virginia. I decided to move back to the Flint area to be closer to my family,” she said.
Pintoski said that once she knew she was back in Flint for good she decided to buy a house in the College Cultural neighborhood. She too faced some doubts from others about her decision.
“Some of my family was skeptical about my decision to buy a house in Flint, but I think their skepticism came from them worrying about me living alone in a city and the financial obligations that come with owning your own home.” Despite the initial opposition she faced, Pintoski felt it was important for her to return to her hometown.
“Living in different cities made me realize how much I love and missed Flint. Some of the experiences I had while living away from Flint made me learn that Flint is what you make it. If you want to focus on the high crime rates and contaminated water, then you are going to have a miserable time here,” she said.
“I came back to Flint and chose to focus on the new restaurants and bars, the expanding bike trails, the Flint Farmers’ Market, art walk, and all of the positive things Flint has to offer. I invested in a house here to help Flint grow and prosper.”
Pintoski said after coming back to Flint, she had a new outlook on the city itself. “After being away from Flint I realized I wanted to watch the city make a comeback. I want to be a part of Flint’s comeback.”
In Pintoski’s case, another adventure is calling her out of town. Despite her dedication to the city, Pintoski, a lover of travel, admitted it’s time for her to move on. “I feel like I’ve gotten too comfortable living in Flint, and it’s time to discover a new city,” she said. “I plan on moving to Grand Rapids to focus on new opportunities with my career.”
But realtor Kelsey Kerr of Legacy Realty Professionals, said now is a great time to buy in Flint because the prices of homes are down. She said 1,095 homes were sold in Flint in 2016 and said that number is expected to grow this year.
She said current residents in Mott Park, Woodcroft, and College Cultural areas are experiencing the highest appreciation and that home values are rising throughout the city.
Kerr, 23, who began her career as a realtor in 2015 stated that Flint has been one of the most watched and discussed markets since she started working with Legacy Realty Professionals. She recently moved into Flint’s College Cultural neighborhood herself.
“The biggest question I always hear is why did I move to Flint? Non-Flint residents have a hard time hiding the judgment from their voice when they ask it, but I never tire of answering this question,” Kerr said.
“I was born here and grew up on Franklin Avenue in the College Cultural community. While my family did move while I was in high school, I found myself back in Flint for four years while completing my education at UM-Flint. When my time there was up…I didn’t want to leave. I know this is where I was meant to live.”
Flint has a lot to offer its residents, Kerr said, including universities, cultural centers, races, arts programs, diverse restaurants and unique businesses. “Flint feels like home to me,” she said.
Kerr is not the only one who has grown to appreciate the active downtown scene that Flint offers. “Without question I am going to miss the people of Flint the most,” Pintoski said. “I’ll miss the small town vibe of Flint and all that it has to offer. The bike trails, the Flint Farmers’ Market and Soggy Bottom Bar are just a few places I’ll miss frequenting,” she said.
Pintoski said she doesn’t feel like she’s going away forever. “Flint will always be home, and it’s only a matter of time before I come back.”
Staff writer Megan Ockert can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.