Answer to Meg about build-your-own-house cohousing
From: Joani Blank (
Date: Wed, 18 Feb 1998 01:14:23 -0600

If anyone on this listserve lives at Vashon Island CoHousing, I expect they
will let you/us know that the situation you refer to--someone building
their own house in cohousing--happened in that community. (For those in
other parts of the country, Vashon Island is across Puget Sound from
Seattle.) I feel sure the Vashon Islanders would welcome a call from you to
arrange a visit there. I had the privilege of visiting when at the Seattle
conference. What a treat.

Building a unit oneself or using a lot of sweat equity in finishing out
individual units is close to impossible in many cohousing communities. The
reason for this is that as far as condominiums are concerned, the planning
department won't give an certificate of occupancy for any part of the
project until all units have been built out sufficiently to assure that
everything is up to code.  That means that if even one household ran out of
money, or hired a contractor who took much longer to complete the work than
promised, or did something with the construction that did not meet code
requirements, no one could move into to their ready houses.  As a
condominium homeowner, I own an undivided share of all the joint property
which includes the land and all the buildings up to the wallpaper in the
individual units. I solely own my own space from the wallpaper in. A
cohousing group who owned their property as a condominium would not want to
take the risk of having one of the units built in such a way as to
potentially incur liability for the whole group (for example, if one unit's
electrical system was not up to par and posed a fire hazard).

Now at Vashon Island, all the units are single family houses, as they are
at Sharingwood or New View in W. Acton, MA. (New View, sorry I can't
remember your new name.) In more urban locations, or perhaps I should say
less rural, it is more likely that cohousing residences will be all or
mostly attached. 

I have expanded on your question, Meg, because I often heard the following
question when we were marketing Old Oakland: "Couldn't I just buy the raw
(loft) space and build it out myself?"

Joani Blank
Doyle Street and Old Oakland CoHousing,  (along with Berkeley, SF bay
area's finest)

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