Building Purpose with City Living Detroit & Founder, Austin Black II
On March 2, 2021, Mammoth! Brand Studio had the opportunity to talk with Austin Black II, broker and owner of City Living Detroit.
Black, after discovering a love of Detroit's architecture at the early age of 7, pursued studies that would allow him to learn more about what a city is built of and how it functions. After obtaining a degree in Urban Planning from Cornell University in 2003, Black returned to his hometown in Detroit, Michigan, with an understanding of how cities work, and it is with that same understanding that he has built up Detroit during his career as a realtor over the last sixteen years.
From highlighting the human aspects of buying a home and working with people in real estate, to presenting his personal vision for how buyers and sellers should relate to one another, Black believes there are numerous reasons why anybody should consider living in the city of Detroit.
In the following interview, you will see the depth of Black's commitment to the community of Detroit and why he believes that this city is a unique place to live. Most importantly, you will get to know the man: this is Austin Black.
"I want to show people the Detroit that they may not think of"
The Bonds Between Neighbors in Detroit
Even after leaving the city, and coming back to visit my grandmother, the communities that I either lived in or my grandmother lived in—it was that tight-knit closeness that I never experienced living in the suburbs. So, for example, some of my grandmother's neighbors were as influential to my own life as some of my family, and some of those neighbors are like family now, even many years later.
Moving into the city, as an adult, I found that same sense of community that I remembered as a kid, and I think that's one thing that makes Detroit unique. It's not New York, where you're more anonymous in your life there—it's more that your neighbors are going to look after you, and I think that's really important and also special, which can draw people to the city. There's often a saying: "You move to Detroit for the architecture, but you stay for the community."
Breana:Why did you want to go into real estate, with your degree in Urban Planning?
Austin: When I majored in Urban Planning, my intent was to gain an understanding of cities, how they work—the challenges of cities—and apply that to real estate development. When I graduated from college in 2003, jobs really did not exist for a recent college graduate wanting to go into real estate development.
I finally found a job in real estate development—it was actually a suburban developer—building luxury homes in Bloomfield Hills, in Northern Detroit, and at the same time I started City Living Detroit as a non-profit organization to promote living in the city. At the time, we produced housing fairs, we did bus tours throughout the city, and we published a magazine all with the intent to show people the Detroit that they may not think of and to dispel some of the misconceptions about the city.
Over time, I was recruited to start selling real estate, and I really did not see myself as a sale's person. I wasn't interested in sales—being on commission was scary—so I initially turned that opportunity down. As the Michigan economy started to get shaky, I was laid off from my job—the company focused on luxury real estate and that market started to be impacted—and I used that as an opportunity to try it out. I thought it was a great opportunity to try it out, to see if I liked it, and almost sixteen years later I'm still doing it and I still love it.
Being a Real Estate Broker Means Being Flexible, Pivoting, and Learning New Things
Breana: So, you started doing real estate during the market / economy crash?
Austin: Yes—I have been doing real estate for the last sixteen years and I can tell people that I have never experienced a "normal market." Either the market was down, like when I first got into the business, or the insanity that's happening now with the real estate market.
Breana: Do you think that makes you more flexible and more excited during the uncertainty that comes from times like right now?
Austin: One thing I've learned because I haven't been in a "normal real estate market" is to always be flexible, always be open to learning new things, pivoting your business, and pivoting your strategies. I think that's really helped me compared to others who have been in the business a little bit longer, who have experienced a more comfortable, steady market. I think when you get comfortable in this business, you can fall behind your competition.
Understanding the Vulnerable Aspects of Buying a Home in Detroit
Breana: Business and competition aside, how important is it in times like this that you're able to help people?
Austin: I always think about this in terms of if I were to go back to college, asking myself what classes I would take and what classes I would recommend to kids going into college, and I think that psychology is a very important class. You really have to understand people to be in real estate, and to be compassionate in terms of their needs and their concerns because most people are making the largest investment in buying a home that they'll probably ever make.
The concept of the home—and living in the home—means so much to so many people. That's the place where you're going to be creating memories; that's the place where you'll watch your kids grow up; you'll watch your kids eventually leave the house; that's the place where you'll have family gatherings. There's so much that's surrounded by home, and I've learned through being around clients—for example if a client has been in a house for twenty or thirty years—experiencing and having that compassion for them because they're detaching themselves from a lot of memories, and I've had situations where clients are crying at the closing table because, to them, that's the end of the memories they've had in that home.
Breana: With a background in psychology, you're good at being able to be there for people, and especially in times like right now, with providing home ownership when we're most vulnerable.
Austin: Yes, and in the market we have, particularly people who are looking for a home—and it's a very competitive market. They're stressed, they're anxious, and they're concerned that they won't be able to find the home that they want to live in, and as a realtor, you have to balance all of those needs and those concerns, while at the same time making sure that your clients don't make the wrong decisions. You have to be able to dive into that process, hoping that they make the right decision and that they're happy with the home that they've purchased.
The Need to Have a Home Creates a Lasting Relationship Between the Seller and the Buyer
Breana: You sound like a real estate Doctor, where someone comes in for their first check-up and you have to get to know them and ask questions about them, "how are you feeling, what do you want, how would you like to feel?" and then you say, "here's your prescription." And you really take the time to diagnose what they need, and then you tell them what they need next, in order to get them the home they want.
Austin: One thing I like about my job is the people. I've been there for clients during pivotal moments in their lives, whether it's that they just got married and they're looking for their first home—and during that process they found out that they were having a baby. Sometimes I'm the first one to know what's happening in their lives because we spend so much time together. They may pivot in terms of what they need if for example they find out they're having a baby, and I'm the first one that knows.
One of the neat things that happened during covid is that I was working with clients that, although they were very isolated from their friends and family, I was one person who they could see on a regular basis because we were going to look at properties. Even after closing, I have a lot of clients that I become close friends with, so that relationship, however different, continues many years after closing.
Small Businesses in Detroit are the Fabric of a Community that is Largely Moving Online
Breana: Where does your passion for small businesses come from? With City Living Detroit, you went from Urban Planning, to now real estate, and you're still building up the city.
Austin: I'm very passionate about small businesses, particularly in the city of Detroit. Small businesses make cities unique. A lot of times you won't see those businesses on every street corner in every major city in the United States. They also bring a passionate owner, who's not only passionate about the business but who is passionate about the community that they serve. As we're moving toward more online commerce, I think that makes small businesses even more important because they essentially become the fabric of the community. What makes a place unique if everything is the same, everywhere? —and that's one of the things I like about the city of Detroit.
I think that passion for small businesses really comes from a time in the city when we did not have a lot of options for places to eat, places to shop, and in the early 2000's, you had business owners who were starting to take risks of opening up in the city. A lot of people thought it was not a great idea to do so, and those business owners went through tough times to build their businesses, and promote their businesses while also promoting the city, and as things are starting to get better in the city, it's great to see those businesses finally see the fruits of their labor.
Continuing to Redefine Urban Living in Detroit
If you or someone you know is looking for a home in the city, feel free to reach out to City Living Detroit at 313.242.7800, or check out their website, City Living Detroit, you can also find them on Facebook, Instagram, and Youtube.
Interested in buying a condo in Detroit?! Here are the top 5 reasons why you should!