Students Invest in Detroit

Detroit - armed with paint buckets, garden trowels and vacuum cleaners, 15 graduates of a real estate course at Wayne County Community College recently helped a fellow student update her 17-unit apartment building on LaSalle.

Together they washed graffiti off the gold brick walls, planted flowers, painted kitches and hauled out trash. Neighbors from all sides came to watch the transformation and ask how they could become part of the action.

"We're taking the class to the streets, demonstrating how to beautify a neighborhood and make money doing so," said Herb Strather, the multimillion owner of Strather and Associates, a Detroit firm that owns or manages 3.5 million square feet of real estate in Detroit. Strather has taught more than 200 students the basic Real Estate Investing 101 class where students buy actual property after learning assessment and financial leverage tools. The real estate mogul expects to double that number this coming school year.

Selialue Porter, a former student who now coordinates the WCCC course for Strather and Associates, bought a decrepit apartment building on LaSalle for $65,000. The class taught her how to seek contractors and monitor quality and how to prioritize a $25,000 remodeling effort. Her fellow students helped restore it to grandeur.

"This building was so ugly no one would rent there," says Porter who bought the building in 2003. Now she charges rent of $485 for a one bedroom apartment and $585 for two bedroom and has 70 percent occupancy.

On a recent Saturday she invited class members to practice their renovation skills by placing signs all around the building to show where extra attention was needed.

"Our class really bonded," said Vinnie Petre of Southgate. "We will take turns helping one another beautify their properties. Eventually we could resurrect whole neighborhoods."

Students learn the Strather method of surveying property. They check titles to learn who owns the property, assess the operating cost of utilities, the potential rent the surrounding neighborhood would pay and the amount of cash needed to restore the unit. Class members hare names and phone numbers of reliable plumbers, roofers, painters, and landscapers.

Some real estate deals can be managed with little or no money down, according to Strather. One student, Piper Simmons of Detroit, expects to gain 95 percent financing on a $80,000 multiple unit building. She will finish negotiations this month, with the help of Strather's contracts.

"Assessing the property was the key to acquiring it," Simmons said.

Strather has taken a visible role in Detroit's redevelopment. His firm coordinated the renewal of the former Brewster Projects land on Detroit's near east side, creating the $110 million Woodbridge Estates.