Re: joint ownership agreement for a small cohousing group
From: Sharon Villines (
Date: Mon, 11 Dec 2017 14:42:15 -0800 (PST)
On Dec 11, 2017, at 4:49 PM, Mike Librik <mlibrik [at]> wrote:
> I'm delighted to talk about this with anyone that will listen.  The property 
> would be in Austin, Texas. The truth is that the final form is not 
> established, but the current idea is to add two dwellings to the back yard 
> and a second story apartment on the main house, converting the 2br/1ba house 
> into common space.

Have you talked to a contractor or architect? They are often well-informed on 
the current regulations as well as probable changes. And can suggest ways to 
convert the property.

> We are pretty sure we'll create an LLC that I'd deed my house to. I still owe 
> a little on the mortgage, like $45K, but once my associates started buying in 
> I'd get that paid off.  I expect I'd be building the second floor apartment 
> since I'm more willing to deal with the street noise and the public, which 
> the others would keep to the back.

Right off you need agreements on who owns what and pays for what. You didn’t 
mention whether some are singles or partners, children or not. Small shared 
facilities are sometimes harder to share than large because individual 
personalities are more — individual.

Important to keep having sharing meetings informally if not formally. Stay in 
touch with where people are feeling and thinking.

> A big variable is that Austin is in the middle of a major re-write to its 
> land development code.  Currently my zoning would allow a maximum of 2 
> kitchens on the lot.  We may do fine even with that restriction, but stuff 
> like tiny houses are not allowed, which is a part of our thinking.  The new 
> code should be more friendly to density, but nothing is decided yet.

A variance is often possible if you have an attractive plan. One favorable 
feature our historic preservation board likes is that the house looks the same 
from the front. 

Remember the old mansions that were in effect multi household dwellings in 
one-related family. Each assortment had it’s own bedrooms, bathrooms, sitting 
rooms, etc. Privacy in a large house with many amenities. They were designed as 
wings and floors in opposite corners of the building. Even separate entrances 
would create privacy. And everyone could still have their own microwave and 
coffee maker.

If you can only have two kitchens you might design two kitchens — one for 
dinners by a dining room, and a second on another floor that is smaller, more 
casual and good for hanging out.

A larger house that is designed with privacy but not separateness would be 
easier to sell if you decide to sell out and move to a different kind of space. 
A large Victorian house on the Hudson in NY that had been divided up as a Zen 
Center, sold easily to a large family. It was easy to understand as one living 
unit, a home, with private spaces.

> We're figuring that something like a condo association agreement is what we 
> need, but since we're a little more tight-knit than that I wanted to see how 
> that might affect our agreement.  We don't want to rely on our friendship for 
> an investment this big, and on the other hand we're not off living in 
> separate apartments like your typical condo dweller.  How we handle the event 
> of one person selling out is a big matter.

What you are moving into is more like a partnership than a condo venture. Even 
if you do end up legitimizing your venture as a condo, you might read some 
articles on successful partnerships and what partnership contracts should 

On buying someone out. You might consider establishing (1) a reserve fund and 
(2) agreements on selling price. By creating a special fund, you can buy people 
out. You want unhappy people to leave and much as they might want to leave. And 
the two remaining partners are taking a risk that they will find a third and 
would be in financial difficulty without such a fund. 

The sales price might be limited to funds invested plus interest or real estate 
growth. It may be very hard for a new person to get a mortgage. And harder to 
fairly price the value of the space—a bank appraiser is often stumped by 
cohousing — and yours would be more unusual. No comparables, no appraisal, or a 
very low one. In Austin there is probably a huge housing demand so finding a 
replacement may not be difficult but you never know.

This is a fun exercise. Thanks for posting it.

Sharon Villines
Takoma Village Cohousing, Washington DC

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