Shared Housing & Co-Housing

Parent Q&A

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  • Buying a Multi-Family Home in Berkeley?

    (6 replies)

    Hello, 

    We're considering buying a multi-family home in Berkeley and would love advice on others who have done the same. We're considering a multi-family home for a few reasons 1) We love the idea of living with another family but everyone having their own space 2) We're hoping that this might get us more square footage and backyard space for our price-point and also share the cost of maintenance and taxes, while still remaining in the BUSD (we've got 2 kids) 3) Long-term we would like to have a unit that my mother-in-law could live in. 

    We're considering either buying a multi-unit property by ourselves and becoming landlords, or purchasing a multi-family with our close friends who are also a family of 4. We would love to learn from anyone who's done something similar!

    Do you have any experience with being a landlord? Do you feel comfortable going into business with close friends? (that is what buying a property together would be) Have you thought about what happens if one family wants to move or sell, but the other does not; or what happens if you own both units and want to move your MIL into the one occupied by your tenants/friends? It is all complicated; a few people do it, most commonly as TIC and then do a condo conversion as a way of divorcing the property. You sound like you are just beginning to think about this, so I'd encourage you to do a lot more thinking before commiting to a project.

    We have just purchased a duplex with another couple in Oakland. We had started looking in Berkeley, but the economics did not work. A few thoughts:

    -It took us much longer to find a property that worked for everyone than we'd originally anticipated. Bear in mind that the more people involved, the harder it will be to find a property that works for everyone.

    -There are a good number of duplexes in Berkeley (and more in Oakland) but very few of them have two relatively equal units -- most have an owner's unit and a smaller in-law unit that's clearly a rental. Often the second unit is a dark basement or a very small ADU. So none of these properties worked for us -- you may run into a similar issue.

    -Financing requirements are different for a multi-family than a single-family -- multi-family properties are considered higher risk, so they usually require a higher down payment and also have a higher interest rate.

    -Also factor in the expense of hiring a lawyer who specializes in co-owned properties: you will want to have a contact with the family you co-purchase with, and there are many legal details you will encounter relating to ownership structure, title, etc. that you will want a lawyer's advice on.

    -You will find that a good number of duplexes that interest you have current tenants -- this is another issue and expense to factor into your budget.

    -The properties that would work for you as landlords renting vs. couples co-owning will likely be different properties. Before you begin your search, you will need a clear idea of which one you want.

    -If you choose to co-own with another couple, you will need to apply for a mortgage together, and will essentially be business partners, with legally linked finances. This is a big deal -- make sure you are comfortable with this before you begin.

    I am very happy with how things have turned out for us, but it is definitely harder and more complicated that I knew going in. Good luck with your search!

    I agree with the answers you've received already. First and foremost, before starting a genuine search, decide whether you want to partner with another family to jointly purchase a property together or be willing to be a landlord, owning the entire property. I know this is your question, and I suggest not trying both on for size. Make an informed decision after considering what suits your needs. If purchasing jointly, everything involved in a mortgage loan will be shared with this other family, and can be complicated since both of you will have credit reviewed, financial information shared in the approval of the loan, etc. Also, if your goal is to have your MIL move in eventually, she would be moving into the unit that is owned by someone else - there would be an entire process of buying out the other family, or somehow coming to an amicable agreement that the family would be willing to depart a unit they own. Financially, it's helpful to have another partner share in maintenance and taxes, but can be complicated at the start of searching and when you'd like your MIL to move in. 

    It is simpler to purchase a multi-family property on your own in terms of securing the mortgage loan and all title will be in your name; however, you would not be able to charge your tenants for maintenance fees and property taxes as their landlord, something to consider. In addition, as mentioned, prices of duplexes vary because often there is one vacant unit and one unit that is tenant occupied (and more often than not, a well-priced duplex is because that tenant is a long-term tenant paying very low rent), which you'll want to factor into how much the tenant will offset your mortgage. Look carefully at disclosures. Your ideal scenario is to find a vacant duplex, but those are far more rare, and you would be paying a premium in the purchase price of the property since you can set the rent for the other unit at current market rent. 

    Also, an important thing to consider - if you do purchase a tenant occupied property and intend to do so with a partner/family, you would need to consider the challenges of an eviction process. I believe in Berkeley, the eviction process is one of the strictest in the Bay. I don't know the provisions of Berkeley's laws, but you will likely have to buy out the tenant and ensure all the legal processes are met before you can evict. Another thought about whether you want to be landlord v. partnered in a property, if a tenant-occupied property. 

    If a reasonably priced property is a consideration (and I use "reasonably priced" loosely, this is the Bay Area!) - Berkeley properties are going for a significant amount over asking. You may consider a multi-family property in Oakland/North Oakland, depending on how strongly you want to be in Berkeley. Know that whatever the list price in Berkeley, expect to offer over asking. You are likely to offer over in Oakland as well, but the list prices do not start as high as in Berkeley. Be patient--it may take some time to find the right one--and look for something that's right for your family. Good luck!

    Hello, 

    You have gotten good advice about the legal aspects of this, and that's clearly so important.  I love the idea of some kind of co-housing arrangement (with separate living spaces) and considered purchasing a duplex with another couple many years ago. These were dear friends whom I trusted completely.  In the end, we did not find a good place to buy together and ended up buying separately.  I'm so grateful that it worked out that way.  The couple I was planning to do this with ended up getting divorced and having financial difficulties that I never would have anticipated.  I am still dear friends with the wife, but the husband also had significant mental health issues that contributed to the end of their marriage and my friendship with him.  If I had purchased with them, I would have been tied up in this, and they would have needed to sell their portion of the house. I think that the issues about this would have been damaging to our friendship and possibly also to my finances, and certainly to the planned co-housing arrangement.  At the time that I was thinking of doing this, there was no way to predict that this would happen.  It's true that anything can happen to any of us in life--and unknowns are part of what we all have to deal with.  But in buying together, you will be tied to this couple and their relationship and financial fortunes.  That may be just fine, or it may be a risk worth taking.  In my case, I had really not thought through the implications before hand. 

    We have a multi-family property in Oakland, and previously lived as tenants in a multi-family property in Berkeley. We loved our Berkeley setup as tenants, but buying our own property and being landlords is very different.

    We bought our property in Oakland with all the units occupied and had to do what is called an owner move-in in order to be able to live in one of the units. This required additional cash and a lawyer to execute correctly, so that is an additional consideration to think of when looking at properties with tenants.

    Another thing to be mindful of is that the tenant rights in both Berkeley and Oakland are very progressive, which is good for the tenants but not great for landlords. Once you rent a unit out, it is typically very difficult to get tenants out, because of the nature of the laws. Just something to keep in mind.

    Many years ago, I purchased a three unit building in SF with a friend.

    - We knew that our lives would eventually change and agreed to an exit plan. Our goal was to convert the units into condos, which would lower our financial entanglement, ease the process of selling individual units as well as increase the value of each unit.

    - We used a lawyer who was familiar with the condo conversion process who also provided CC&Rs (Covenants, Conditions & Restrictions) for our little HOA (home owners' association). The CC&Rs were the rules we agreed to and codified many, many, issues such as, not allowing short term rentals, division of common expenses, how work would be managed, etc... The most important thing that the attorney said to us was that it was important to communicate and work with my friend on the issues and the moment we had to pull out the CC&Rs to force the other person to abide by the rules was when the relationship starts to fail.

    - Fortunately neither of us were totally maxed out financially to buy this building, remodel our units and keep up with the maintenance. We recently spent $50k to replace the roof. We also spent another $40k to fix dry rot and paint the exterior. I know of other small HOAs that struggle to do maintenance because one or more of the parties can't or isn't willing to pay.

    - We both married (other people), had kids and moved to the suburbs. All the units are being rented and despite some stress, it has been worth it. Once all the kids graduate, both my friend and I, hopefully with our respective spouses, plan to move back. If we decide to sell, it'll be easier to sell individual condos.

    - It was really terrific going though the process of buying a home with a friend vs doing it alone. While we lived in the building together, we had so much fun! When we were single, we had our own places but a friend always nearby. Even when we married and had babies, we could share that experience and it was just so easy and fun to hang out and support each other.

    - I think that it helped that we were both financially secure, and partly because of that we could be generous with each other and not have to make everything "fair" (because what's fair to you might not be fair to me). It also helped that neither of us always needed to win. The fact that there were just two of us at the start made things much easier. The more people involved, the harder it would have been.

    I hope you can make it work. I know of at least two other couples who did what you are thinking of and they raised their kids all the way through college. One family had a great time and the other family had partners who divorced and that made things unpleasant for many years.  Good luck!!

  • Community living?...

    (2 replies)

    Hello!

    I’m looking into finding community living in the East Bay? Any suggestions? I’m a single mom and run my own business as a chef..

    Thank you!

    Maybe try Pleasant Hill Cohousing or Swann's Way Cohousing in Oakland?  

    http://phch.org/ourhomes.htm#homes

    http://www.swansway.com/

    The Bay Area Conscious Community Housing Board is a good place to post about your intentions. 

  • Not finding a way to connect with other single parents or others open to sharing their home with a mother and child. Any suggestions?

    I suggest you post on Craigslist. They have a section in the classifieds called "Housing Wanted." Make sure you provide basic info. The city or neighborhood that you are interested in. The price you are willing to pay. How much space you need. A couple of sentences about you and your child. Maybe you have a good credit score and your child is sweet and a good student. 

    Good luck. 

    Coabode.com connects single parents for housing. There are also a couple of Facebook groups for this:
    "bay area single parent housing" and "Kid Friendly East Bay Housing Group"
    Best of luck!

    Try posting on TM: Single Mamas on Facebook. There are also some local co-housing groups on Meetup.com

  • I am a single mom of an almost-5 year old. We live in great situation: an in-law unit of another young family in North Oakland. Their housing needs have changed, and my son and I need a new place to live that is near public transit (I no longer drive). We currently rent a 1+ bedroom (his isn't much larger than his twin size bed) and it has been great to have just that little bit of extra space. Ideally we'd find another 2 bedroom, but even the prices for a 1 bedroom are outrageous.  I'm on a fixed income so we'll likely need to find housemates and secure a larger apartment/house to share. I need suggestions on finding either another single mom or a family to live with. How do I go about it? I've posted on Craigslist and NextDoor. Any other suggestions? Thanks in advance.

    Hi there,

    i am also a single mom w a 6 year old and we have been co housing in the Bay Area for two years in two different houses. I highly recommend it, it makes single parenting so much better/easier (with the right room mates)! Gratefully, with the support of family, I have been able to lease the house and then find room mates. However, it took me two months of shouldering the rent on my own in both houses before I found people that felt right and I have had to ask two different room mates to move out for various reasons. I posted and reposted over and over on CL, and in several different pages on FB (Bay Area conscious housing and a few other similar). Basically I just recommend being very persistent! And if you can, spend a weekend at your new potential home before moving in and make sure there is very clear paperwork citing agreements even if you're sure that you won't need it. You never know, some things don't come out of the woodwork until you live together for a while. Good luck and feel free to contact me if I can answer any more questions.

    I understand where you're coming from... Craigslist and NextDoor can be really hit or miss. We have an almost 7 year old and an almost 3 year old, we are not looking for roommates right now (we were EXTREMELY lucky and ended up in an affordable and very tiny apartment in Berkeley last year) but may try house sharing again in the future when we are ready to find a bigger place. I would suggest scanning the posted housing ads daily. A few years back my family did have success in connecting with another family to house-share with through Craigslist.

    Another suggestion I have is to try this site: http://roommateswithkids.com/

    You didn't mention if you are interested in co-op living / co-housing, but I thought I would mention it as a possibility (it's only a step beyond shared housing in some ways and there are MANY kinds oc co-ops out there, from ones that share nearly all expenses to ones that share only a meal or two per month and otherwise have a lot of privacy!). There are a number of communities in the Bay, including in Oakland. Check this site out as a starting place: 

    http://www.bayareaca.org/housing

    Here is one link from that site I think you might want to try searching and posting on, a google group list for folks looking for roommates/co-housing/etc: https://groups.google.com/forum/?fromgroups#%21forum/looking-for-housing

    I'm sure there must be more resources, but these are some I'm aware of. Try going to the government Housing Board in the communities you are interested in. Hopefully they can give some more ideas. Good luck.

Parent Reviews

 I am moving to a new cohousing community for the same reasons. We chose this for long term sustainability, not in the middle of fire zones, and great neighbors.
Fair Oaks EcoHousing has one home left, a 2-story 2+ bedroom townhome. Features include: Energy-efficient design, with eco-friendly construction and high-quality fixtures and finishes.Large windows, allowing natural light to penetrate deep into the home and make rooms feel light and spacious. Open design for living and dining area.Modern kitchen with ample storage and counter space, Upstairs deck above front porch, Two upstairs bedrooms, a Plus" room, ideal for a home office, craft room, or playroomUpstairs and downstairs bathrooms, A pedestrian-friendly village for residents of all ages with a centrally-located multi room clubhouse, some meal sharing, pool, spa, and garden close to Fair Oaks Village and the American River Parkway, with nearby dining and entertainment options, plus easy access to the freeway. Waldorf school and college is up the street. Contact Marty at mmaskall [at] gmail.com or 916-967-2472

Archived Q&A and Reviews


Questions

Child friendly community housing

Nov 2010

Hallo, I am looking for some child friendly community housing in Berkeley. Does anyone know of any available? Thanks! L


Oh, how I welcome this post! I am a single mom with no extended family support and have made it through child rearing 0-8 years old in that realm. This American culture, with its priorities on individual success has led most of us parents into a real lack of support for ourselves and lack of enduring role models (adults) and playfriends (neighbors) for our children. I am finally seeing clearly and now have gathered 3 other families and we are looking for property to buy where we can all coexist in a supportive and enduring way. I have researched the current community living communities, which seem great but are nearly impossible to get into, and have finally decided to sell my single family home and buy something more conducive to community housing. Best of luck!! Kim


Want to know more about co-housing

Nov 2008

Hi- It seems to me like an ideal scenario to buy a duplex/triplex with a couple of families with the idea of creating a mini-community. When I say mini-community, I'm not talking commune. I'm thinking more along the lines of a fun shared yard, a communal dinner here and there and some baby-sitting swapping. I'm wondering how things work for those of you already in a co-housing situation. What do you like about it? What isn't so good about it? Ideally I'd like to get into something like this with friends I know but they're all settled in their own homes already. How do I find other like-minded people out there? Anyone? Thanks, I'm no hippy- I just like people!


You're on the right path. I live in a cohousing group with 6 households in north Oakland, and know other folks in the area who are in situations in duplex or tri-plex setups. We share washer/dryer, eat together a couple of times a week and share dog/babysitting duties from time to time. We also all keep an ear to the ground about neighborhood activities and keep each other up to date on that. As for finding the people to join you - you could try Craigslist, or also ask about that on cohousing.org website. A couple of folks to look for in the local community are Raines Cohen or Karen Hester - both very active in the local cohousing communities and know a lot of folks, they may be able to connect you. http://www.hesternet.net/ is Karen's website. http://www.raines.com/ is Raines website. Best of luck! Scott


I am also interested in co housing and have been looking into either starting something or joining one. I love the idea of sharing meals, gardening, yard space, and childcare duties because it makes these chores more fun while also providing more time to do other things that you enjoy. I also like to have my private space and alone time, so co housing seems to be a nice way to get the best of both the community world and solitude. I visited a co housing community a few days ago. We, and anyone else interested in co housing should talk. Craving community in this work filled life.


Sounds like you're not yet plugged into the cohousing networks that already exist. There are people just like you who are ready to buy with relative strangers and then form a community. There is lots of information about this once you start looking.

Get yourself on to the list that Karen Hester runs: http://www.hesternet.net/cohousing.html She sends out emails about properties that are good for cohousing or groups that are forming. Also Cohousing Network has a list serve that can be about networking, too.

As for problems and realities of living in cohousing -- you can also begin to get a taste for that from these two resources above. You might try to make some personal connections in order to do some informational interviewing. I was able to skip all that and Got lucky and bought a cohousing apartment.


Do you have neighbors where you live now who would like to swap babysitting and share communal meals? Buying a triplex and moving sounds like an upheaval that might not work out in the end. Practical


I would love to talk to you-- I too have looked into co-housing, as we would love to have another or other families that we joined occasionally, lived in proximity and watched each other's kids. We also have interested friends, who aren't really up for moving anytime soon. We presently live in a TIC (tenancy in common) in Berkeley- so I know quite a bit about the ways this works financially. If you'd like to talk, write me!


EcoVillage or Co-housing

May 2009

Our family would really like to live in an EcoVillage or some sort of co-housing in or near Berkeley, Albany, or Alameda. Maybe Orinda/Lafayette. We don't need it to be particularly cheap; less than $800,000 is ideal but not required. We need it to be in an area that is safe, has a good school district, and has other young kids around. Extra bonuses would be close to public transit, an easy commute to U.C. Berkeley, and in a bike-friendly area.

Five years ago, we interviewed a nanny at someone's house in, I think, Rockridge where several neighbors had taken down their backyard fences to make one big yard. They also held monthly potlucks. That sort of thing would work for us too.

Know of anywhere that fits the bill? Have a house for sale next to you and might want to take down backyard fences? Looking for a Home


I am in the early stages of assembling a co-housing group. I too would like to build in the Lamorinda area or possibly near Berkeley. Land is always a challenge, but with a core group of committed folks, it is possible to move ahead. My goals match yours in terms of cost, geography, and co-housing model. In addition I would like a shared focus on Mindful Living: eco-friendly, support for healthy lifestyle, community involvement and a culture of kindness. If interested, please call or email. L


I live in cohousing in Berkeley. Our adjacent neighbor is selling his house right now. Send me a note and I can put you guys in touch.


Roommate Source for Single Parents

Jan 2006

I am a single mother, work full time and I am going back to school this month. I currently live in Oakland but would like to move back to San Francisco. I have a 5 yr old. I am wondering if anyone knows of a reliable housing source for seeking roomates. Preferably other single parents. I would like to find housing to share, but of course finding roommates that are child friendly is a challenge. Any thoughts or advice? Angela


Try Co-Abode: http://coabode.com - it is designed for single moms.
Good luck.


Since you are a BPN subscriber, you can post to the Marketplace Newsletter in the section Housing. I often see similar posts in that section.


How to find other single parents to share housing?

June 2005

I'm a 33-year-old single mother with a one-year-old son. I'd like to share a household with another single parent(s), but I've been having a hard time finding other single parents with the same goal.

My ideal household would be community-oriented. We'd share our lives in a meaningful way--for example, through some shared meals or outings with the children. I'd also be open to sharing childcare on occasion. I'm a vegetarian, ! though am not adverse to meat in the house, and would definitely like to limit television watching.

My ideal parent housemate would be financially stable, easy- going, patient, and fun-loving, while also being a positive role model for the children.

I'm looking for advice on how to connect with other single parents looking for a shared household in the North Oakland, Berkeley, Montclair, Rockridge, or Lake Merritt areas.

Thanks!


Have you tried co-abode.com? The service is headquartered in San Francisco and was founded by a single mother for other single mothers seeking cooperative living situations. On their website you can post your profile describing your lifestyle, parenting philosophy, housing preferences, etc. Though I haven't paid the registration fee ($30) required to read and send emails to prospective housing partners, it seems to be the most promising resource that I've seen so far. Good luck! Amy