House hunters can have city life or square footage, but not both

By: Tiffany Esshaki | C&G Newspapers | Published January 21, 2015

 This home at 606 N. Wilson in Royal Oak features 2,500 square feet with three bedrooms, plus a study and 2 1/2 bathrooms. It’s listed with John Farhat Homes for $499,900.

This home at 606 N. Wilson in Royal Oak features 2,500 square feet with three bedrooms, plus a study and 2 1/2 bathrooms. It’s listed with John Farhat Homes for $499,900.

Photo provided

If you’re house hunting in metro Detroit, you’ll inevitably come to a point where you need to make a major decision — what means more to you, having a big house or living near Woodward?

That was the question Royal Oak native Karly Wingart had to ask when she started shopping for a home.

“We bought our house in September. We had only been looking for a couple of months, maybe three months,” she said.

Though she and her partner had plans to stay in Royal Oak, where Wingart still works, they also had a list of home “must-haves” that the Royal Oak housing market just couldn’t provide for their price range.

“We wanted a bigger-square-foot house with more property, because we have four dogs. (In Royal Oak) you’d be paying like $300,000. We looked at probably 10-15 houses in Royal Oak, Troy, Clawson — we even went out to West Bloomfield. We couldn’t find anything in our price range for around $180,000-$200,000,” she said.

So the pair expanded their search and eventually found themselves in Chesterfield, where they landed a 1,800-square-foot home on 28 acres of land for just over $230,000.

“Basically, we found the farther north or east we went, the cheaper you get. The farther you get from that central area, the more you get for your money,” said Wingart, who commutes back to Royal Oak for her job.

That’s not an uncommon tale, according to Keller Williams Realtor Mathew Belanger. As a Macomb Township resident himself, he can see why many of his clients prefer to buy in his neighborhood or nearby areas like Shelby Township or Washington Township.

“In the Royal Oak area, you’re going to be paying 200 bucks a square foot. In Macomb, you get closer to $100-$115 a square foot, depending on the home,” said Belanger. “In Royal Oak, you’re going to spend $180,000-$200,000 for a little bungalow, but I guess the appeal to that is it’s still a bit trendy and artsy over there. The downtown still has its thing going for it.”

Belanger does the majority of his real estate business in the areas of Shelby Township, Washington Township, Sterling Heights and his own neighborhood of Macomb Township. He said his clients find more home for their money in his neck of the woods because they’re a bit farther from the heart of metro Detroit.

To stretch those dollars even further, Belanger said he would encourage buyers to look at Sterling Heights. While Macomb Township is still a better value for square footage than some communities because of its location, it’s pricier than neighboring Sterling Heights because Macomb Township is a newer community.

“When I go to a Kroger, it’s a new Kroger. When I go to see a new movie, it’s a new theater. There’s a really nice new rec center there, as well. In Sterling Heights, the majority of the homes were built in the 1950s-’80s, so you could get something pretty nice in Sterling Heights for about $200,000 because they’re older homes,” he said.

Buyers shouldn’t be discouraged about moving away from the busier metro area. Traditionally, buyers have expanded north for decades, and with them, commerce follows. These days, he said he’s seeing new residential communities going up as far out as 32 Mile Road.

“That’s where the really big builds are,” Belanger said.

Coldwell Banker/Weir Manuel Realtor John Farhat said the rule of thumb, if you want to get more house for your money, is to steer clear of the famed Woodward Avenue.

“The Woodward Corridor is the strongest area — Royal Oak, Birmingham, Pleasant Ridge, Bloomfield,” said Farhat. “But if you go out east or north, or if you’re willing to go south to Ferndale or Detroit, you’re going to get a lot more bang for your buck.”

That being said, Farhat admits that about 75 percent of the homes he sells to families are in the Royal Oak area. There’s no denying the market is hot.

“I don’t think there’s a right or a wrong answer; it’s all personal preference. There’s the appeal of the downtown district. And it could be some of the prestige of being near Woodward. Travel is a part of it, too, and how easy it is to get to expressways and freeways,” he said.

Farhat said that Royal Oak is one of the most expensive cities around for homebuyers — second only to perhaps Birmingham, in his opinion — in terms of square footage. Yet demand is high, which keeps supply low — and that only drives prices up.

“Some of the hotter cities have come back strong because there’s this natural human instinct to want what other people want. There’s a snowball effect of, ‘This is the place to live, so that’s where I want to live,’” Farhat said.

Belanger said many people are willing to pay the price to live in the middle of the bustling metro area. In fact, he just leased a 1,200-square-foot home in Royal Oak to a renter for $1,800 a month. While he said he wouldn’t pay such a price for such a home, he had no problem finding a tenant who would.

“I would much rather have 14-foot ceilings, daylight windows in the basement, granite countertops — that’s what they’re going to get in the new builds,” he said.

Wingart’s Chesterfield home was built in 2003 and has many of the amenities Belanger mentioned. It might make for a longer commute each day, but for her family, saying so long to life along Woodward was the right decision.

       “It comes down to whether you want to pay the money to drive or pay the money for your house,” she said.