Re: Cost of living after move in
From: Sharon Villines (
Date: Mon, 26 Nov 2007 09:16:36 -0800 (PST)
On Nov 25, 2007, at 5:54 PM, Lisa Lackey wrote:

One of the most frequent feedback I get is that they cannot
afford it (even though we are priced at market rate for this area).

This is the standard experience for all cohousing groups. The sticker shock for buying new houses is hard for many people. I think it is also sometimes code for "I'm not secure enough to take the risk." That might be financial risk or personal risk. The more you can structure your project using professionals and establishing clear time frames, the more secure people will feel. People with young children are particularly vulnerable to uncertainty.

It seems to me that figuring out what you can afford in cohousing is more

than just the price of your unit.  Have there been any studies or
documentation of household costs going down after moving into cohousing?

I don't know of any studies but I think this very much depends on the community and the individual relationships formed within the community. What goals is the group forming around? How is the group planning on meeting those goals? What are your individual goals and what relationships are you forming within the group to help you reach those goals?

When I moved into cohousing I expected that there would be a group movement toward goals. That we would decide as a group how to meet the various goals we all espoused before move-in. After move-in, reality set in. We were all the same people we were before and had all the same habits. We were not transformed by cohousing. We did not have more hours in the day.

And we were now in charge if a large real estate development. I once had the idea that new housing was more error free than old housing. Forget it. All the kinks take a lot of time to work out. Maybe forever because we are still doing it.

Food: common meals, buying food in bulk with other households

The common house makes group buying easier because you have a central place for distribution. But like common meals, this will only happen if the group is committed to making it happen. Is there a consensus in your group about food quality? Organic or natural or standard American. Will everyone eat canned food and Wesson Oil? Will everyone pay the price and make the extra effort to obtain non-industrialized food? Will everyone take the time to cook fresh food?

Any solution doesn't doesn't have to be everyone but you need a critical mass in one of these categories. Do you have a cluster who will make this happen?

Utilities: energy bills decreasing because of unit clustering & sharing heat
bills, sharing internet & other communication bills

This is also happening in most new construction of condos so cohousing may do it better but this raises up front costs that people may not be able to afford. Moving out of an old single family home into a mult- unit dwelling may save money but in comparison with a new regular condo may not produce significant cost savings.

Car expenses, easier to carpool, easier to carshare

Again, this will depend on the area in which you live and the jobs people have. If you have a large number of 9-5ers, it may be possible. Particularly if you have mined a large industry and people actually work in the same place. The reality is that people have varied schedules that require them to work late or they want to go out to dinner, etc.

Car sharing is more doable, particularly if you are in an urban area where people do not take their cars to work all day.

A major issue for our community -- from my point of view as a person without young children -- is transportation of kids to school. We have 20 children who all go to different place everyday. But even with groups of 3 going to the same place, the parents have generally not been able to work out car pooling. The reality is that some people are more insular and like to be independent of the demands of others. Some have very different abilities to remember to inform other people that their schedules have changed and they won't be going in today or agree that "in the parking lot by 7:30" doesn't mean "7:50." Some think it is fine for kids to be late to school and others don't.

Much of this will not be clear until you move-in and can measure your expectations against those of other people.

Don't need to buy as much, sharing resources, so you don't have to buy everything yourself

This may or may not be true. Again, people have different expectations about the care and condition of tools and kitchen knives and ovens and grills.

We bought a central printer, for example, with more features like duplexing than most people have in their homes. Some had no printers so they could use this one on our intranet. I never use it and have bought my own because it never has paper or the settings have been changed from normal and my stuff prints out incorrectly. I have to go down and put in paper and then go upstairs and print, only to find that I have to do it all over again because of some setting that I didn't expect would have been changed.

We have satellite TV in the common house that some people love and won't part with and others find impossible to use and want a simple cable system with fewer settings. It will be a long conversation to get a consensus on how to make both sides happy.

So sharing resources takes a lot of work. Someone has to take the time to make it work by first working out doable standards and "enforcing" them by repeating them over and over. I decluttered the commonhouse almost daily for three years before it became habit for others to keep it decluttered -- to move the chairs back into position, not leave papers lying around, to wipe up spilled coffee, etc. Now it takes very little time to keep it straight but it took a lot of my attention -- not as much time as attention -- for a long time.

We did a lot of group purchases when we moved in. Buying washers and dryers at a 10% discount. Also window blinds. Also storm doors. But it was a lot of work on the organizer's part because it means individual communications with 43 households. Who wants what and collecting the payments and arranging delivery.

Do you have people who have experience doing this?

Entertainment -- not needing/wanting to eat out or go out as much, because of the meals
and events in the commonhouse

Some people spend a lot of time "at home" and others are rarely seen in the commonhouse or at community events. One household of four, for example, comes to workdays and meetings but has never attended a meal and never "hangs out" in the piazza in the summer or around the fireplace in the winter. Arranged events in the commonhouse are 'successful" in the sense that they are happy and enjoyed but less than half of our residents attend.

Is it true that expenses go down after you move into cohousing, making life
"more affordable" (outside of the original price of the home)?

This is very hard to gauge because your life style changes so much. One of our residents recently said his condo fee at his previous condo was over $400 a month and his current fee is less than $300. We have geothermal heating so his heating and cooling bills are probably half would they would have been. But in terms of his life, I doubt that there would be many other differences.

Personally, I think most of the differences are social, not economic, though there is the issue of shared values of thrift and simpler living. But not everyone interprets those the same way either. Recycling is not valued by everyone, nor are small cars.

It may be different for parents of young children who do have more available, familiar childcare. And a child-friendly place to live -- but again, it is a social advantage more, probably, than an economic one.

It will be interesting to see what others say about this.

Sharon Villines
Takoma Village Cohousing,Washington DC

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