Sunday, September 7, 2008

The $525,000 question

Just for fun, let's say you're in the market for a new home and have $525,000 to spend. Now let's pretend you're looking to buy in either Flint or San Francisco, a choice that confronts many people every day.

What would half a million get you in those two locales?

In Flint, you get the former Burroughs mansion, which sits at 925 Avon Street on the bank of Gilkey Creek. "Stone pillars mark the entrance of this home with circular drive that leads to an elegant stone mansion of Norman design," according to the Piper Realty listing. It features leaded glass windows, walnut doors and a garage that looks like Robin Hood's clubhouse.

This two-story home is situated on 3.29 acres and boasts 9,600 sq. ft., six bedrooms, four full baths, two half baths, and four fireplaces. The living room alone is 932 sq. ft., but who's counting?

And in San Francisco, you discover 1214 48th Avenue, deep in the fog of the outer Sunset District, where the aforementioned sun makes only brief appearances for weeks at a time in the summer. It has two-bedrooms, one bath, and a garage. Total square footage: 850. Ominously, it is described as a "fixer upper" on the MLS, which in SF usually translates into at least $50,000 in repairs, if you're lucky.

There are your choices. Now make your selection. But keep in mind that houses in Flint tend to sell significantly under asking, if they sell at all, and houses in SF almost always go above asking.

UPDATE: Here's the available sales information on the Burroughs Mansion, via the City of Flint Parcel/Real Property Look Up page.

12/27/2001 $437,000.00 WARRANTY DEED CONVENTIONAL
12/29/2006 $475,000.00 WARRANTY DEED CONVENTIONAL


  1. Wonderful home. I wish it were in the Woodcroft neighborhood though.

  2. Your question begs another question"

    1) What has been the price change track of both houses, in the past 20 years, and what will it be, best guess, in the next 20?

    I put my bet on SF..
    (I am a realtor, in SF.).

  3. Jeez---I'll bet you could buy 25 or more homes in the neighborhoods bordering St. Mary's in Flint for that kind of money, if you had good reason to spend it.

  4. One more reason why I'm a SF expat. I came back to the Flint area for affordable housing and family.

  5. Mary-

    I think about it a lot. My 1,300 square foot 3 bedroom mid-century house in Northridge (currently leased) was purchased for an even half mil...what would that get me in Flint?

    I'm thinking I'd be on Parkside Drive...

  6. Probably a 2-part question.

    One - if I had money and wanted to live out my days in the manner of a mid-western Great Gatsby, the bang for the buck is pretty clear. Let's face it for 1/2 mill, you are buying shelter in SF, and not a heck of a lot more.

    Two - If this was to be my biggest investment (as it is for most), i wouldn't touch the mansion with Gordie's little league bat.

    A third option... buy 21 mint condition 1953 Buick Rivieras ( ) . The back seat is basically a as big as SF living room, and you could sleep in a different one each nite for 3 weeks straight.

  7. Heads up... You have about one day to collect your pennies and buy the Burroughs mansion at auction.

  8. 10 year update -

    San Francisco house is worth $1,140,000 or about $1,341 per square foot.

    Flint house is worth $143,000 or about $11 per square foot

    1. It is a wonderful home in a lovely city. I call it my city of revitalization. A great place to call home!

    2. And that is why people keep buying in SF despite the outrageous prices...they'll be even more outrageous 10 years later and you'll regret not buying sooner. Plus, if I hadn't bought in 2004, no way I could afford it now. In fact, I'd have trouble renting now.

  9. And in case anyone was wondering, Zillow says the SF house is worth $1.3 million, or $3,750/mo on the rental market.


Thanks for commenting. I moderate comments, so it may take a while for your comment to appear. You might enjoy my book about Flint called "Teardown: Memoir of a Vanishing City," a Michigan Notable Book for 2014 and a finalist for the 33rd Annual Northern California Book Award for Creative NonFiction. Filmmaker Michael Moore described Teardown as "a brilliant chronicle of the Mad Maxization of a once-great American city." More information about Teardown is available at