Re: Exercise in custom home design or exercise in community?
From: RowenaHC (
Date: Sat, 19 Feb 2000 06:54:19 -0700 (MST)
In a message dated 2/18/00 9:52:26 AM Eastern Standard Time, 
zabaldo [at] writes:

<< > Is it really taken as a given by most cohousing group members that they
 > will be able to have their own custom-designed house? Was this ever
 > discussed among the prospective members before joining the group? Or was
 > just taken as a given? >>

At CambridgeCoho we thought we had reached an understanding.  The members had 
a lot of input into the original design.  The size and type of units 
reflected the needs of the group - ranging from studios to large four bedroom 
town-houses with basements.  Costs were estimated on a basic unit which 
included wall-to-wall carpeting, painted kitchen cabinets, etc.  and we had a 
wide variety of "upgrade" options available for floors, cabinets, kitchen and 
bath, hardware, built-in light fixtures, etc. which could be changed at fixed 
prices.  Everyone consensed that minimal modifications would be permited and 
each homeowner got an hour with the architect to settle on those changes and 
that if people wanted to make major changes they should buy the basic unit or 
an unfinsihed unit and carry out the modifications on their own nickel later. 

Well, of course, initially a few people pushed and took up hours of the 
architect's time.  Others saw changes being made so then they wanted changes 
too.   As a result our design completion was significantly delayed to the 
point where we missed the weather window and lost most of a year of 
construction (this is New England).   Several of us had sold our homes and 
ended up camping out in rooms or apartments with all our stuff in storage for 
up to seven months!  

The architect felt put upon with 40 households demanding customization and 
didn't put as much time as he should into checking things such as working 
drawings and oversight - BAD news.  The developers who were also members 
allowed this to go on - partly because they wanted to change their own unit, 
I suspect.  I put a lot of the blame for our cost overrun and other problems 
down to the failure to enforce the "no changes" rule.  Even though we tried 
to charge individual unit owners for the cost of changes there was no way to 
monitize the increased costs to the group.  There is no question that 
permitting substantial changes other than to fit and finish kinds of items 
will result in increased costs and delays and will stymie any attempts at 
affordability (if that is still a goal).

And then, after all, several of the households changed units, dropped out, 
new ones came...  In the end,  I don't think there is any difference in 
satisfaction between those who demanded total redesign and those who made 
only minor changes.   I love my unit, even though it has several design flaws 
which one of these days I may get around to redoing  (as a member of the 
Development Oversight Committee I obeyed the rules and fought a hopeless 
rearguard effort against the wholesale changes that the architect and 
developer were permitting!)

If you are dealing with a lot development (we are urban, dense, connected) 
and have a lot of members demanding customization, maybe you should just go 
with custom built.  That would not preclude those with more limited ambitions 
and budgets from getting together to hire a builder to do a few "standard" 
units and reap the savings.



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