Architecture & Design, Construction, and Real Estate

MLM restores the glory

Dilapidated Heritage Hill mansion makes a beautiful comeback.

July 31, 2015
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Heritage Hill house
The apartments in MLM Property’s rehabilitated 14,000-square-foot mansion at 28 Lafayette Ave. NE and its 2,600-square-foot carriage house finally are ready for renters. Courtesy MLM Property

The rehabilitation of a historic mansion in Heritage Hill by Mary Mishler could give a TLC home improvement show a run for its money.

The before and after pictures reveal a night-to-day difference in the historic property that sits at 22-28 Lafayette Ave. NE, Grand Rapids.

The 0.83-acre parcel of land houses two buildings: 28 Lafayette is a 14,000-square-foot, three-story mansion built in 1880, and 22 Lafayette is the mansion’s 2,600-square-foot carriage house.

The two buildings are virtually unrecognizable compared to what they looked like when Mishler closed on the property in April 2012.

“I took a building in the area that literally was on its last legs and I breathed another 100 years of life into it,” she said. “We'd love to be able to show Grand Rapids what a small local company can accomplish to help bring the area added value.”

Mishler is the manager of the MLM real estate brand that is made up of three companies: MLM Realty LLC, a full-service real estate brokerage; MLM Property LLC, a real estate investment company that buys and rehabs properties to either re-sell or lease; and MLM Residence Leasing LLC, a real estate management company. She runs the business portion of the brand, and son Michael manages the project portion.

Mishler is no stranger to success in the real estate industry. She won the 2009 and 2010 Grand Rapids Association of Realtors Pinnacle Award for Pride of Ownership/Rehabs. She also was named 2010 Realtor of the Year by the Western Michigan Chapter of the Women's Council of Realtors.

But even with all her experience and success, Mishler said this project felt different.

“We poured our heart and soul into this project,” she said. “It’s been quite the project.”

Mishler began rehabbing houses in 2008, starting initially with single-family homes before moving onto multi-family residences in 2011.

When she bought the Lafayette property, she knew it needed serious work. It was listed by Blue House Properties, a real estate group with offices in Eastown. The former owner had died unexpectedly in October 2011, and his family did not want the property. It went into foreclosure, she said.

For the larger mansion, Mishler hired David Maxam of Grand Rapids-based Maxam Architecture, and for the carriage house, she hired Grand Rapids-based Artisan Craft Homes.

MLM served as designer for both buildings, and Bosworth Builders did a lot of the gutting, demolition and reframing.

The army of workers had their work cut out for them.

“The inside was in really bad condition. We ended up literally gutting it right down to the bricks, and we took out 600,000 pounds of stuff. And ‘stuff’ is everything from the infrastructure — even some of the framing — all of the plaster, wiring, plumbing, gas line, flooring … everything. On the second and third floor, we even rebuilt floors,” Mishler said.

“Outside, we completely tuck-pointed (the bricks); the mortar was so bad in some places you could see from the inside out. (We put a) new roof on the building, all new windows — a lot of arched windows — and painted.”

When Mishler bought the property, the mansion was divided into 14 units and the carriage house had four apartments. Reconfigured, the mansion now has 12 apartments, and the carriage house has two, an upper and a lower, she said.

For the mansion apartments, the rent runs about $675-$1,300 per month. The 12 units are made up of three studios, eight one-bedroom units and one two-bedroom unit. Every one of them is a different size, she said.

The two units in the carriage house are both two-bedroom apartments and are about 1,200 square feet each. Rents are $2,000-$2,200 per month, she said. The carriage house is about half-way completed and is currently in the middle of the finishing process.

In terms of leasing, the property is more than half filled, Mishler said, adding this kind of housing is especially designed for young professionals.

“I am in the process of taking applications and deposits, and as soon as we get our city certificate, which should be in the next 10 days, people can move in,” she said.

“We started with a waiting list. We didn’t go out and advertise it too heavily. We didn’t want it to be stampeded.”

MLM Property has held two open houses for the project, one on July 27 and another one for family and friends on July 30.

“We didn’t realize it would take this long, but until you get in and start doing it, you can’t see what’s behind the walls. I actually learned this from the city inspector. We found out the load points didn’t match up, so some of the reframing we had to do was to (fix that). … That’s very common for buildings of that age,” she said.

“It feels like a real accomplishment. When you start out, you think it’s going to be so simple, and then when you start doing it, it’s hard. But you’ve just got to do it.”

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