Re: I'm frustrated- diverse finances
From: Lynn Nadeau (
Date: Wed, 8 Jul 1998 20:34:27 -0500

I'm glad my post gave you some thoughts. I still don't understand the 
situation entirely (nor, I suppose, do I have to). 

Whether or not there is a major economy of scale in group building is a 
good question. It's hard to compare apples and apples in the mainstream 
world, because most grouped construction is also spec housing which is 
done at the cheapest level of materials. Such housing is also cheap if 
done singly. The question would be relevant if you could find housing of 
a quality you like, that was constructed en masse. There are doubtless 
cohousing groups that are relevant.

Construction costs vary from area to area of course, but in the Pacific 
NW it certainly isn't necessary to spend anywhere near $200/sq ft. For 
one thing, a larger house is proportionally less per sq ft, as it still 
only needs one foundation, roof, heating system, etc. My house (and 
similar ones in our project) is about 2400 sq ft including a lower level 
rental apartment and finished workroom area, and two stories above. It 
came in at $85 a sq ft-- with oak floors, real linoleum, stone and tile 
work, radiant floors in the apartment, clad windows, a deck and porches, 
custom trim, and good insulation.  On a smaller scale, houses of 800 sq 
ft have been built here for about $70K for the house itself.

Building with shared walls also kicks in some extra expenses, due to 
increased fire code requirements. Fire-rated drywall, restrictions on 
channels through the walls for plumbing and electrical, I believe. I 
don't know if insurance companies also consider attached buildings a more 
expensive risk.

Perhaps you have a very special situation-- I can't imagine how one could 
have a 4 BR house AND common lands AND infrastructure installation 
(roads, parking, sever, water, power, phone, drainage systems, fire 
hydrants, sewer cleanouts) AND a common house for $80,000 in an 
unsubsidized situation. Here, our development budget (the above minus the 
housing) on 9 acres (blocks) brought our first 19 lots (no house) to 
$30-38K, with our phase two development area  (5-6 smaller lots) slated 
to bring in about $160K more, total.

If your group thinks that's do-able, even at low-grade construction 
quality, it wouldn't hurt to double check your figures. Have you looked 
at other groups' development budgets to be sure you are remembering what 
all needs to go into it? We did fairly well, considering we had no 
professional help, but still left landscape underfunded and had to add it 
as a capital item later, and also did not allow for inflation over time 
of some of our original projected costs, such as some paving which was 
delayed, and the construction cost of our common house. Remember 
contingency funds, for sure. What professionals do you plan to use and 
how much do they cost? What's the trade off in time and money for doing 
things yourselves, and what do you not even have that option 
on-----certain things require an engineer's stamp, or legal advice. If 
you plan to deal extensively with professionals, remember that they can 
charge $60 an hour or more.

We shaved the "non-profit" budget uncomfortably close, figuring to come 
out even once all lots were sold, but we would have done better to cut 
ourselves some slack. 

I've also heard professional advice, which makes great sense, to make a 
line item in your budget for environmentally-better choices. If it's 
something that just comes up within each item, you will probably again 
and again go for the conventional, as it is usually way less expensive. 
By giving yourselves a budget for eco-friendly upgrades, you can at least 
do that much.

Watch too for ways you can decrease long-term costs, in maintenance and 
energy costs, with strategic investments and choices of design and 
materials. A short-term higher expense for something like insulation can 
pay for itself and more, in the longer run. 

Sorry I don't have time to organize this better, but perhaps there's some 
additional bit of grist for the mill somewhere here.               Lynn 
at RoseWind

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