Re: Building modifications
From: Mac Thomson (
Date: Fri, 22 May 2020 08:11:38 -0700 (PDT)
From our experience building at Heartwood Cohousing, I would agree with Sharon. 
Do not allow customization of any kind. Customization leads to more potential 
construction mistakes, increased costs for everyone (not just the customizers), 
and a longer construction timeline. 

If possible, create homes that are flexible enough for modifications and 
customizations AFTER move-in. For us, one of the main opportunities of that 
kind was to include unfinished basements, which about 2/3 of the households 
have since finished in the 20 years since move-in.

Mac Thomson

Heartwood Cohousing
Southwest Colorado

"That government is best which governs least."
        - Henry David Thoreau

> On May 19, 2020, at 12:46 PM, Sharon Villines via Cohousing-L <cohousing-l 
> [at]> wrote:
>> On May 19, 2020, at 12:11 PM, Carolyn Dyer <cdyer1621 [at]> wrote:
>> Here at Prairie Hill Cohousing in Iowa City, folks are beginning to propose
>> modifications  or extensions of their homes.
> Is this after move in? I read your site but it isn’t clear exactly where you 
> are in building.
> If you read the archives you will find that interior modifications (except 
> perhaps leaving something out or unfinished) will both extend the time for 
> construction and the cost for everyone. Building 35 unique units vs building 
> 35 that are all similar except in size or number of bathrooms means all your 
> cost savings will be gone. Literally gone. Construction will take longer 
> because workers and supervisors will have to double check plans while 
> building, stock a greater variety of materials, and tear things out and redo 
> them because no one looks at the plans. 
> Tell people to renovate after everyone is moved in. No delays. 
> Exterior modifications will probably bring all those same problems plus more. 
> They will require extra construction plans and possibly re-permitting. Down 
> the line it increases maintenance and repair costs for those extensions or 
> elaborations. Those units will use more common space than other units and 
> possibly do things like block sunlight to other units. Should that unit pay 
> more for roof replacement or painting if it is extended another 10 feet?
> One of the things that I learned after living in cohousing is why standard 
> condos are standard. All similar units can be proportionately priced and 
> condo fees and repair costs divided equivalently.
> Unfair apportioning has a different effect on households with budget issues 
> over $15 and households that laugh about even bothering with a $15 disparity. 
> Having a clear formula that is as accurate as possible is the only way to 
> avoid obvious fee imbalances. 
> The disparities in features and the size of the condo fees will also affect 
> unit prices forever. 
> It is much, much easier to make all the units identical. Or to have 2-3 
> sizes, all with equivalent Limited Common Elements. Then differences in 
> resale prices are more likely to be the result of interior upgrades.
> In DC the costs of maintaining LCEs are supposed to be charged to unit 
> owners. I’ve been working on a way to do this equitably since about 2004 — 
> over 15 years. I have a lot of research and have learned a lot. I have 3 
> possible alternatives and no agreement on any of them. The default is always 
> do nothing so that is where we are—still. 
> The community has to get permission to spend common funds on replacing or 
> maintaining LCEs each time. Each time we agree that these funds can be spent 
> but we have to have an alternative before anything else is done. We have a 
> wide range of LCEs. Balconies of unfinished wood vs iron fencing and 
> unfinished wood. No balcony vs 3 balconies and a front wrap-around porch. An 
> open backyard that floods or a dry fenced back yard large enough for a small 
> garden. All these “little" things can build up resentments. 
> I have looked and looked for some guidance on a logical and ethical way to 
> charge the monthly condo fees. Since each unit has 1 front door, should they 
> pay equally for front door painting ($50 each), or follow the formula on 
> which condo fees are based. Should the 5 units with fireplaces pay extra for 
> gas? How much?
> Please take this seriously and don’t try to exercise your 
> but-cohousing-is-different-muscles. The most important thing is to get built 
> as economically and quickly as possible with simple, solid construction.
> Sharon
> ——— 
> Sharon Villines
> sustainablecohousing [at]
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> sustainablecohousing+subscribe [at]
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