‘Bargain Block’ Recap: Zen and Dollhouse

Jason A. Michael

Personal and professional partners Keith Bynum and Evan Thomas are on a mission to convert Detroit one block at time. In this week’s episode, the couple finds themselves buying a house next to the very first house they ever renovated. The tiny Northwest Detroit house is only about 700 square feet with two bedrooms and one bath.

Like a lot of the houses the two take on, this one is in miserable condition. There are trash heaps in virtually every room and, as they soon discover, there’s a hole in the living room wall. To make matters worse, the house has no gutters, resulting in severe water damage to the living room walls.

Then there’s the yard, which Thomas said reminded him of the jungles of Puerto Rico. Among the horrifically overgrown trees, shrubs and grass, Bynum finds an anchor, a paddle and other unusual trash. In short, it’s hard to tell which is the bigger mess: the inside or outside of the house.

The house cost the couple only $4,000 and they set a strict reno budget of $45K. They hope to sell the house for $85,000, leaving them with a profit of $36,000. Bynum admits that “the margins aren’t great, but we’ve already done three other houses on this block, and I’m determined to bring back every house we can here and finish what we started.”

Despite the condition of the home, Bynum dubs this one the Zen House. His plan is to finish it with “soothing warm tones, sleek, simple tile and natural wood accents on the walls and throughout the house. It should feel understated and serene.”

But as work on the house gets underway, Bynum and Thomas find out just how difficult it will be to bring the project to a Zenlike state. They discover a carpenter ant infestation on the exterior of the home and mold that has seeped into the interior walls, which will require replacing. In the end, their reno budget reached $60,000, leaving them with a reduced profit of $21,000.

The couple’s second project this week is a duplex with two bedrooms and one bath on each floor. But they don’t plan to flip this one. Instead, they’ll keep it as a rental property to provide some stable monthly income. Sounds like a great plan, but things soon goes awry.

The house sounded like a good deal at $25,000 with a reno budget set at $80,000. But the couple soon learns they are in over their heads when they discover the house had not been previously set up as a legal duplex. They will need to install separate electrical boxes, furnaces, water heaters and HVAC units.

Soon, the couple puts a pause on the work at what Bynum has dubbed the Dollhouse.

Still, there’s still lots to keep them busy. The pair turn to working on an open house for their new showroom inside Nine Design, located within a warehouse space on Grand River Avenue. Bynum’s original art and vintage secondhand furniture fill the 1,500-square-foot space with his unique design style. Response at the open house event is, not surprisingly, overwhelmingly positive. With this opening, Bynum and Thomas have invested themselves even further in their new chosen hometown.