detroit home
Brittany Hambleton
Brittany Hambleton
March 23, 2024 ·  3 min read

A homeless Detroit man bought an abandoned house for $1,500 and spent 10 years renovating it for his wife. Here’s how he did it — and what it looks like now.

Not only did Michael and Cynthia Gray celebrate their 10th wedding anniversary, but they also celebrated the completion of their new Detroit house, which was almost unrecognizable from when Michael bought it a decade prior.

A Detroit House

In November 2009, Michael Gray was going through a rough patch. Despite having a college degree in English and psychology, Gray was having difficulty finding a job in Detroit. He instead was working as a day labourer and was homeless, living in his niece’s basement. 

After being hit by a car while riding his bicycle, Gray was able to use the money from the settlement to purchase an abandoned property for fifteen hundred dollars. Despite the fact that the house was in complete disrepair, he moved in right away and slept on an air mattress.

In Disrepair

The house was infested with mites, spiders, and mice, and nothing was working- not even the toilets. Since he had been working as a laborer for some guys who were fixing up homes to rent, he had begun honing his rehab skills, and so began renovating the house room by room.

“I tore everything out, all the way down to the studs,” he said [1].

At the time, Cynthia was his fiancee, and he promised her that he was going to give her a house that she would be proud to live in and show off. His vision was to “make it a family home forever”, and he did about eighty percent of the labor himself.

Helping Hands

He used the skills he had learned while working for a construction management company in Michigan to complete most of the work, and his friends helped out with any of the projects that he couldn’t do himself, like installing drywall, the electrical box, a new furnace, a hot water tank, and central air.

All the major parts of the renovation project were completed in July 2012, and the room has one renovated bathroom, three bedrooms, and a fourth bedroom that was converted into a walk-in closet. Gray says that his favorite task was tiling the floors.

“It was hard work, but I enjoyed doing the tiling because if you put a lot of love into what you do, your floors reflect a lot of who you are,” he said [1].

So far, Gray has invested about seventy thousand dollars into the house, but he is constantly working to make improvements to the home.

Read: Architect Turns Old Cement Factory Into His Home, And The Interior Will Take Your Breath Away

A Booming Housing Market

Nearly ten years later, the 67 year old and his wife are living in a lovely home that is almost unrecognizable from the house he bought all those years ago. Even better, the house sits in a now-booming housing market, making the value of the property much higher.

After the auto industry in Detroit began to decline in the 1950s, people began leaving the city in droves, and in 2013 Detroit had more than eighteen billion dollars in debt and was forced to file for chapter nine bankruptcy protection [2].

More than five years later, the city is no longer bankrupt and people have begun investing in the city again. Detroit got rid of about seven billion dollars of debt and wealthy people are investing in property in the city, which has led to a healthy housing market just in time for Gray’s home to be complete [1]. 

It was a long and tough ten years, but the couple is now able to enjoy the fruits of Gray’s labor, and have a comfortable home to stay in for years to come.

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