By Joani Blank
One of the best introductions to cohousing is visiting existing communities. The easiest way is through one of the cohousing bus tours that take place with some regularity in Northern California, the Seattle Area, Massachusetts, Colorado and in and around Washington D.C. – the places that have six or more completed communities reasonably close to one another.
But many folks cannot practically participate for one reason or another. So here are guidelines for visiting a cohousing community on your own.
- Do not “drop in.” We’re sure that you’d never walk up the front path, across the porch and into a single family home in your neighborhood unannounced. So please don’t wander onto a cohousing community’s site without arranging your visit beforehand. Every community in our Community Directory lists an email address and usually a phone number of the resident who has been designated as the contact person by the community.
- Call or email as far in advance as possible. Occasionally the contact person will get right back to you and can arrange to have you visit “this afternoon.” But please don’t count on it, and understand that he or she usually has a busy life just like you.
- Some communities have a regular (usually monthly) open house for visitors. Check the community’s website for information before calling or emailing. It’s generally okay to just show up unannounced for those open houses. If it is possible for you to visit at the time of the open house, please do so, but if you cannot manage that, courteously explain your reasons to the contact person and see if an alternative time can be arranged for your visit. If you are planning an individual visit, let the contact person know if it is just you, or if your spouse, your six children, your grandma or your best friend will be coming with you.
- Unless attendance at a common meal is offered to you when you first contact a community, wait until the end of your first visit to ask if you can return another time for a common meal. If you do eat dinner with a community, expect to pay for your meal, and don’t wait to be asked for your payment. Your offer to pay may be declined but don’t assume that the community is treating you to the meal.
- In addition to seeing all the common land property and facilities, usually you will be able to visit one of the private residences, typically the home of your host. However, from time to time an individual unit will not be available for viewing. Just in case you don’t get a chance to go into a private home, know that the only obvious difference between the inside of private homes in cohousing and those in a conventional condo complex are first that the kitchen is commonly close to the front door with the kitchen sink placed under a large window which opens onto the pedestrian “street” or courtyard and secondly that fairly often the kitchen, dining room and living room are combined in one open space sometimes called a “great room.”
- By all means, take all the pictures you want of the site and the buildings, but ask permission to shoot photos in a private home. Also, do not take any pictures of your host or other people, even young children, without getting permission first.
- Do not smoke anywhere in the community, even in the parking lot.
- If you travel a lot for business or pleasure, remember to check whether there is a cohousing community where you might make a daytime visit and/or spend the night in the area you are visiting. All of the larger communities (and some smaller ones) have one or two – sometimes even three – community guest rooms in their common house, where you can stay for an overnight or several days often for as little as $10 a night or for a voluntary contribution.
- Remember that the only “stupid” question is the one that isn’t asked, so ask away.
- If there is something you particularly appreciated about the manner in which you were welcomed and guided through the community, or if you want to share your (positive) impressions, be sure to express those to your host before you leave.