Robertson Homes

In Metro Detroit, a unique inner-ring of neighborhoods draws home buyers closer to city

Ashley Zlatopolsky
for Robertson Brothers Homes
Home buyers are prioritizing location and legacy over size of home.

In the 1920s, Detroit saw a period of rapid growth where population soared, and only continued to soar into the World War II era thanks to a booming automobile industry and recognition as the “Paris of the Midwest” that brought more and more families to the Motor City. It was during that time that home buyers began fanning out into newly-built suburbs located 30-45 minutes outside of the city center, aided by a freshly-constructed freeway system that could transport them from the first and second rings of inner neighborhoods – downtown Detroit and the outer-lying metro area – to suburbia and beyond.

Building new homes in Michigan since 1945, legacy home builders Robertson Brothers Homes have seen a shift in metro Detroit: As this unique inner-ring of neighborhoods continues to look inwards, people are steadily coming back to the city center, instead of moving away from it.

“There’s more of a vibe in a downtown environment,” said Jim Clarke, President of Robertson Brothers. “It’s all the things: it’s walkability, it’s transportation, it’s density of entertainment and proximity of everything [that draws people in]. It’s inherently more authentic.”

Whereas size of home and square footage, often situated on a larger lot, were top enticements for previous generations of home buyers, these traits no longer hold the importance they once had. Now, as Millennials enter the market and empty-nesters downsize, people are giving up size for location and a legacy-like feel within the neighborhood of their choice. They opt to live in places with history, in places with vibrant culture rather than a quieter suburbia setting. For many, those are the very inner rings of Detroit and the neighborhoods that are being developed immediately outside of the city.

Historically, homebuyers would move away from the city to settle in the suburbs. Now, they’re moving closer to Detroit and surrounding neighborhoods like Birmingham.

“You find authentic, old-town [communities] all throughout Michigan,” Clarke explained. Royal Oak, Birmingham, Plymouth, Ferndale and Northville are just a few examples of classic locations home buyers are gravitating towards, as metro Detroit’s inner-ring of neighborhoods continues to pull closer. “There’s still activity in these outer rings, but the push has been for people to be closer to communities that have downtown areas.”

In 1990, when Clarke joined Robertson Brothers Homes, the home building company was primarily focused on suburban condominium developments up and down the Adams Rd. corridor in locations such as Bloomfield Township and Birmingham. More suburban developments were happening in the Canton area, but soon they began seeking space in Troy, which at the time was only substantially built-out with property available. It was the first of many moves that would bring the builders back in.

As the city slipped into its 2013 bankruptcy, home builders saw little-to-no building activity in Detroit’s inner rings. Yet post-downturn, everything changed. “Millennials and empty-nesters slowly started coming in,” Clarke recalled. The Motor City was thriving thanks to new retail, restaurants and increased walkability, plus availability of jobs for young professionals, which spiked a demand in housing. Because of that, Clarke continued, Robertson Brothers Homes made the decision to actively pursue smaller infield projects in these more first-ring, urban areas.

“It’s all about lifestyle,” he explained. Historically, those looking for new homes would drive outwards until they found a location where they could afford a house to buy; now, potential home buyers are buying bungalows and fixing them up. They’re also specifically seeking out townhome condominiums. “Outdoor maintenance and keeping up a big yard is less desirable to a lot of young professionals who have international obligations,” Clarke continued.

More compact homes are easier to take care of for busy young professionals on the move.

Less space equals less stress for young professionals, who find that smaller homes are easier to take care of. This same living situation is equally attractive to empty-nesters or pre-retirement couples who are ready to ease into a home life that is more compact and accessible. “Having a smaller yard and smaller house works with these lifestyles,” Clarke added.

Those seeking new homes will be able to find space in a variety of developments Robertson Brothers Homes currently has on its radar. On the corner of Normandy and Delemere Blvd. in Royal Oak, just east of Woodward Ave. and north of 13 Mile Rd., 10 acres are being developed into a mix of single-family homes and townhouse condominiums, with proceeds from the sale of the property to Robertson Brothers Homes being used to improve the Normandy Oaks Golf Course into a citywide park that will be outfitted with new amenities including a sledding hill, splash pad, soccer fields and more.

As Ferndale’s first major housing development in decades, the Parkdale community (rendering above) will feature 72 townhouse homes.

In Ferndale, meanwhile, two developments are in the works. The first is a traditional single-family community similar to the one being built on Normandy, and the second is a 72-home townhouse development in the Dales, which is south of 9 Mile Rd. and west of Woodward Ave. “We’re hopeful that as we build these new houses, [the investment in the neighborhood] will stimulate additional tear-down, rebuild and upgrades,” said Clarke, who noted this is Ferndale’s first major new community development in nearly 60 years. The city, with its unique restaurants and shops, which range from locally-crafted retail to barber shops, is an enticing option for many.

Then, in Detroit’s inner-most ring, an exciting development that will pique interest of sports fans: In partnership with developer Eric Larson, Robertson Brothers Homes will be building on the outfield of the old Tigers Stadium at the corner of the service drive to I-75 and Trumbull Ave. “The field is still there, so these homes will overlook the stadium in the heart of Corktown,” described Clarke. “You’ll be able to have a rooftop deck. It’s fun. It’s exciting to be there.”

For Robertson Brothers Homes’ next move, they’ll continue to keep their focus on Detroit’s inner-ring neighborhoods, which shine as one-of-a-kind, each different from the other. “We are always looking for something unique,” Clarke said, “where we can either repurpose and/or use vacant land.”

Searching for a new home in a prime location? Speak to a Robertson Homes representative today to explore your options.