From: Sharon Villines (
Date: Sat, 24 Jul 2004 05:50:39 -0700 (PDT)

On Jul 23, 2004, at 9:40 PM, Linda Gluck/Treehouse wrote:

Just had a long talk with a coho developer about the pitfalls of
self-development of a coho community. She recommended that I ask you all if you know of cohos which were self-developed (without a developer) and which
came in time and on budget.

We've discussed and discussed this one on the list so you should search the archives. I'm afraid that others who have responded to this thread will not respond again -- the responses get shorter and shorter as they tire of the subject.

There are several questions here and the responses will vary depending on how you define "developer". Some people mean a big development company that is currently doing housing projects other places in your area and some people mean a developer who specializes in cohousing, does not live in the area but hires subcontractors from your area. And some mean a single person who specializes in real estate development and manages your project.

Multi-unit real estate development projects are huge, specialized, and very expensive. Unless you have people in your group who can underwrite a multi-million dollar project you will need a bank to support you. Banks trust people who have experience and proven track records. These people are developers. They have experience. They know where the bodies are buried. They know which subcontractors can be trusted and which can't. They know how to get permits through the long laborious permitting process at town hall. They have working relationships with lawyers and architects so these services don't cost you an arm and a leg. They know up front what might be doable and what is probably not doable.

Not all developers are good, not all understand cohousing, but they do know more than anyone in your group probably knows about planning, costing, and executing a multi-million dollar construction project. Construction is a nightmare of details and coordination and oversight and rip it out and do it again. It is a constant full time job for several people to just watch what other people are doing to get it right. Under the best of circumstances, it never comes out as you had dreamed and rarely on time.

Certainly some groups have self-developed but from what I've heard on this list it took them twice as long (at least) and they spent tens of thousands of dollars more than they needed to spend to get built. And they lost members all along the way, thus constantly replacing members on top of trying to get built.

The worst I've heard -- 10 years to get built and only one of the original group actually got moved in. almost 100% turn over. A million delays and the project costs were astronomical.

With an experienced developer we had a million problems with subcontractors, contractors, city permitting offices, poorly executed plans, repeated violations by subcontractors of green building specifications, and many frustrations with move-in dates but still, from the very first "apple in your eye" meeting to move-in, was less than three years. And there was comparatively very little turn over.

Look around and hire a developer. I would also hire a cohousing professional, like Ann Zabaldo, to help with marketing and group formation and working with the developer. Having someone around who has done it before helps enormously with anxiety and details and big picture. You will still have tons of work to do yourself -- this doesn't mean you will be closed out of the decision-making or lose control of your project. It means you will have better control.

Sharon Villines
Takoma Village Cohousing, Washington DC

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