What Should We Be Afraid Of?

On Cohousing-L, a member of a forming group asked a smart question: "What SHOULD we be worried about?"

Philip Dowds, an architect living in Cornerstone Cohousing in Cambridge Cohousing replied:

Plan on delay. Plan on surprising cost increases. Plan on flogging your way past disappointments. Your group may have to deal one or more of …

    internal disagreements about location, design, pricing, membership, whatever;
    complicated local or even state permitting, waivers, and variances;
    members that come and go, and come again;
    litigation by your future neighbors;
    nervous bankers;
    bad cost estimates;
    incompetent or opportunistic professional services;
    and other problems …

All of which can morph your three-year, $9 million project into a five-year, $12 million project. You can, of course, succeed. Many groups do. Just be realistic, flexible, and go get expert input when you need it. And armor up.

Of course, Philip is correct but when it is all laid out like that it's a bit overwhelming. In reality each one of these things may occur but it may not. If it does, it will usually be months apart so you have time to adjust. Knowing surprises are probably coming is a great advantage, but not if it discourages you from getting started. (Would you every have become a teenager if you had known how hard it would be?) Just know that dozens of other groups followed Liza Minnelli's great advice: "Reality is something you rise above."

Early groups used to be surprised by each unexpected event and each one was a calamity. Since you read Cohousing-L, however, you will know all about them. You will hire a developer or a project manager. You will know to pin people down on cost estimates, for example, and do your own research. The web gives you access to education and information like no other cohousing group has ever had. You can research construction materials and costs until you are an expert. You can fly over land on Google Earth to search out properties and discuss them as a group, not on a bus tour or listening to your 3-person scouting team try to describe how many trees there are or how big 3 acres is.

Also know that this is fun and rewarding. At 14 years in my community with a lot of recent turnover and as an introvert who doesn't like meeting new people, I also find my mind wandering to a crisis or a new idea that would bring our community together as much as that hurricane that filled the mud pits that were supposed to become basements and delayed construction for two weeks. Or the last minute scramble with one day's notice to get all our purchase contacts and down payments in by 6:00 or the whole project would be lost. (We didn't all live in the same town!)

Or after move in when we didn't have mailboxes for 4 months and had to get special permission to sort our own mail or it would't be delivered. And none of the toilets worked and we bought plungers in bulk. And handed out toilet paper at midnight to guests in the guest-rooms because we forgot to stock them.

After the dust settles, all those catastrophes bind the founders in a way that it seems impossible to replicate.

So document it all. Someday it will be really fun.