Old and new suburbs top Metro Detroit area in home sales

Posted on March 11, 2013

Metro Detroit’s housing recovery has sparked renewed buyer interest in the region’s older, inner-ring suburbs — Warren and Livonia, for example — and in the far-flung suburbs and townships of Oakland and Macomb counties.

The highest growth rate in new and existing home sales in the four-county metropolitan region last year occurred in outer-ring suburbs such as Oakland County’s Novi and South Lyon, according to data provided to The Detroit News by Farmington Hills-based multiple listing service RealComp II Ltd. It’s a sign, analysts say, that suburban sprawl is again picking up, as the economy continues to climb out of the muck of the housing collapse that stopped new housing developments in their tracks.

“It sounds as if a lot of the communities that (were growing) six, seven years ago before the market crashed may be cranking up again,” said Kurt Metzger, director of Data Driven Detroit, which analyzes city demographics and trends. “The popularity of those suburbs has come back.”

But the far-out suburbs represent only one side of the housing coin. On the other side are the old, inner-ring Detroit suburbs. Some of them, too, are experiencing increased interest among homebuyers who are drawn to their reasonable prices, proximity to new jobs and established neighborhoods.

Among the older, inner-ring suburbs, Warren, Livonia and Royal Oak ranked first, second and fourth, respectively, in total sales during 2012, a sign of work opportunities, according to one analyst.

“Suburban sprawl is picking up but it’s also about job opportunities,” said Darralyn Bowers, a real estate analyst and president of Southfield-based Bowers & Associates. “People follow economic trends in terms of employment. Where the jobs are, so will the people go.”

Building booms

Josh McDonough and Drew Drummond — both recent homebuyers — fit the emerging pattern.

McDonough wanted to give Detroit a chance, but after briefly inspecting a low-price rehabilitated home in the city’s Boston Edison neighborhood, the 25-year-old and his wife, Arden, instead chose a 2,000-square-foot house about 30 minutes away — in Novi.

Drummond wanted to live in his hometown, Plymouth, but the 35-year-old teacher ended up choosing a more spacious single-family house farther afield — in South Lyon, at Oakland County’s western edge.

“It seemed like a lot of people were moving west, away from where everything is,” Drummond said.

Home sales soared 45 percent in Lyon Township — which surrounds South Lyon — in 2012, compared with the year before, according to Realcomp, ranking the municipality third in overall growth among Metro Detroit communities. Construction began on at least three new subdivisions within the past year, and several existing ones are expanding, according to a building department spokeswoman.

Drummond and his family were drawn to new construction in the community but he was surprised how built-up South Lyon had become. “It used to be a lot more rural,” he said. “We saw all the new construction and we really liked the style of the house and the builder.”

He said his decision was based on proximity to jobs — he and his wife are both teachers — and the ability to raise their two children in a good neighborhood with good schools.

Springfield Township and Independence Township — both in the far reaches of Oakland County — followed Lyon Township in Oakland County with sales gains of more than 27 percent. In fact, half of the top 10 growing home sales regions are found in Oakland.

Before choosing his Novi home, McDonough said he also briefly looked at South Lyon.

“The farther out you got, the more land you got,” he said.

Chris Courtney, a Realtor with Remerica Real Estate whose territory is in the western end of Wayne County, said that’s a draw for a lot of his clients.

“Everybody has their own personal reasons, but I think for a lot of people the prices have come down and the price of some land has come down,” he said. “I think it’s part of suburban sprawl.”

Fixing up older homes

Warren led all Metro Detroit cities in the total number of 2012 home sales with 2,095; Livonia came in second with 1,535, according to RealComp.

Bob Jakowinicz, a Realtor with National Realty Centers, said Livonia is experiencing “rapid price growth, shortage of inventory and very high homebuyer demand.”

But unlike communities such as South Lyon, a majority of available properties aren’t new construction.

Jakowinicz said flippers — people who buy cheaper homes, fix them up and sell for a profit — dominate the area.

“As quick as you can put homes up for sale they’re gone,” he said.

A slew of young professionals have moved into areas of Detroit such as Midtown, Corktown and the central business district, but the city remains a sore spot for families, Metzger said, and inner-ring suburbs dotted with modest bungalows just don’t have the space some families seek.

“Chances are if the economy turns around and people see they’ll have a job … they’re going to continue to move out,” he said.

Michael Martinez, The Detroit News.