She has been recognized by the White House as a “Champion of Change” for her work in strengthening the local economy and helping to create jobs in her hometown of Detroit. Torya Blanchard, who left her job as a French teacher to open up a creperie in 2008 called Good Girls Go to Paris Crepes, is also looking to buy a house in blighted areas of Detroit as part of her effort to revitalize the city. Torya was born and raised in Detroit and left for a time to live in Paris. Girl’s Guide to Real Estate founder Joda Mize spoke to Torya about her real estate experience, life as a business owner in Detroit, and her hopes for the city’s future.
You lived in Paris for a year. How did that experience influence your contributions to your hometown?
I was 20, 21 years old. I saw people making crepes on the street. It was magical. I returned home and became a French teacher and taught French for five years. I had a 5-year-itch. I wanted to do something I was completely passionate about, so I quit my teaching job and opened up a 48-square-foot crepe stand in downtown Detroit to pursue my passion.
What changes have you seen in the local housing market and the economy?
Five years ago, you couldn’t give houses away. Houses that now would cost half a million dollars, people were trying to give them away for $50,000 cash. It was a very scary time across the country in 2008. We didn’t know what was going to happen. Now, everyone is coming back to Detroit and wanting to live in certain neighborhoods. It’s a very interesting time. In certain areas like the downtown area, the rent is very expensive for rental units. Everybody is investing in the housing stock. People are eyeing the market again and looking at the tax options. People are buying great houses, and less than great houses, buying up whatever they can.
What can you share about holding off on buying a home while funding your own business?
A few years back, the money I was going to buy for a home, I put into my business. Now, the housing market right is so varied. You can get a mansion, something on the high end, something on the low end. I personally like the more up-and-coming neighborhoods where you can still get a good deal for cash. I found a really cute house in Brightmoor, one of the more blighted neighborhoods in Detroit, but it’s very interesting because they knocked down a bunch of old houses as far west as you can get in Detroit. I found an interesting house over there for next to nothing. I also found a house in a neighborhood called North End, outside midtown Detroit. It’s an up and coming neighborhood as well. Lots of old Victorian-style houses. At same time, it has some blight, some abandoned houses, but the time is now to invest in those neighborhoods.
What are you currently experiencing as buyer in the current Detroit market?
The house in the North End is owned by a friend. He bought the house during the last tax option and is talking about him selling it to me. The house in Brightmoor, that is a pending sale, I guess. It’s not a very expensive house. It’s being sold through the city. It’s not so direct that I can just buy it. In a blighted neighborhood, you can either A, figure out from taxes who owns the house and approach it that way, or B, wait for the tax option. Or C, houses are usually so inexpensive; they are not represented by a Realtor.
What business and real estate opportunities do you see for women in Detroit?
It’s not just for women, but for everyone. There’s a lot of talk about people who have moved to Detroit, empty nesters living in more expensive places in downtown… I would suggest not just looking online, I would suggest coming here and giving yourself time to scope it out, feel out Detroit, feel out if Detroit is the place for you. It’s not for everyone.
What is your vision and hope for Detroit in the next 10 years?
We always imagine what the future is going to look like; it’s not much different than what we’re doing now. Will it be crazy different? No. The downtown will be more built out. It will spread. Certain neighborhoods hopefully will get the attention that they need. The historical neighborhoods are off and running. Those are coming back. I think Detroit is going to be different. It has changed so much in the last five years I’ve been in business. People said to me: “You’re crazy. Why would you open up where there’s no parking, no people?” Now, everyone is walking around in front of the business. There are a lot of people on the street compared to what it was five years ago. Detroit is emerging.