Analyzing Detroit Neighborhood Quality with Motor City Mapping

One of the most common questions we get from investors is, “What ZIP codes are good?”

But the thing about Detroit is that neighborhoods often succeed and fail on a block-by-block basis. ZIP codes usually encompass an area too large to generalize about.

For example, here’s an outline of Detroit’s 48206 ZIP code, just down the street from Castle HQ in 48211:

48206-640x406

And here’s that same area with occupancy data filled in (green = occupied, red = vacant):

48206-occupancy-640x406

Some areas, like the middle, have pretty high occupancy and look like solid investments; others, like the bottom right, have large patches of vacancy and should likely be avoided.

Even zooming in to, say, a two-block radius isn’t enough. If a block of twenty houses has eighteen occupied properties and just two vacancies, it’s a pretty good block. But if the house you’re looking at buying is sandwiched directly in between those two vacancies, you’re going to be pretty disappointed.

That’s where Motor City Mapping comes in.

In 2013, the Detroit Blight Removal Task Force partnered with our friends at Loveland to survey every single property within Detroit’s borders. The resulting data is available to the public on the Motor City Mapping website.

Here’s a step-by-step guide to analyzing the area around a property with Motor City Mapping:

  1. Load the Motor City Mapping site at motorcitymapping.org
  2. Click the search icon in the upper left to expand the search box, then type in a property address and hit “Go”
  3. The map will zoom in with the property you searched for outlined in blue. You’ll see a recent photo on the right, as well as four green tabs on top.
  4. Click the “Explore” tab and you’ll see options for four citywide data layers that you can overlay on top of the map.
  5. Click the “Occupancy” layer. Occupied properties will turn green, blighted or abandoned properties will turn red, and properties of unknown occupancy status will turn yellow. Vacant lots will remain uncolored.
  6. You can click on any individual property to see more details on the right, including photos through the years and an assessment of the property’s condition.

Generally, Castle likes to a see a block that’s no more than ~10% vacant, with no vacant houses directly next to or across from the property.


Occupancy around the Castle founders’ original rental property at 760 Virginia Park St. The immediate block is solid, with only three vacant properties.


A worse neighborhood, near 18700 Tireman St. Castle would not agree to manage this property given the troubled condition of the surrounding area.


A similarly challenging neighborhood, with too many vacant lots, near 3417 Longfellow.

Data on Motor City Mapping isn’t always perfect—it can be a year or two out of date—but it’s usually good enough to take a first crack at an area. (And if you notice any obviously incorrect data, you can submit an update yourself with the Blexting app.)

MCM is fantastic resource for anyone analyzing a deal in Detroit, especially for those who don’t live in Detroit. We use Motor City Mapping to analyze every Detroit property that comes our way, and we highly recommend that our readers do the same.

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