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Tips for Starting Group Houses

13 Post author: ShannonFriedman 16 July 2012 09:03PM

I've lived in several intentional communities and have been one of the creators of two that I've lived in. After recently securing Zendo, I wrote up some tips to a friend who is thinking about starting another Berkeley house, which Nisan pointed out might be valuable to share with the community at large, so here it is guys! These tips apply most to shared rental places, as opposed to bought property, although the stuff about vision applies to pretty much any joint venture that people embark on with shared leadership, such as group housing, event planning, and start-ups. The part about using padmapper.com and acting quickly applies a lot to Berkeley in particular, because the housing market in this city is especially messed up with rent control and thus finding good places is particularly difficult. We found our place over a month in advance of move in, and it was about $200-300 cheaper/room than similar places in the vicinity/class we were looking at that showed up during the same timeframe. Using these techniques is how we got it  I called within an hour of the posting thanks to being on email when I got the padmapper alert, set up an appointment to see the property manager right away, and while I was there in person, another person made her an offer of a downpayment on the spot. I'm pretty certain that its because of my pro-activeness and handing her a big stack of rental agreements and credit reports that we got this place rather than the several other interested parties. Many thanks to Kevin Fischer, Louie Helm, and Eliezer Yudkowsky for helping me with the rental search and acquisition information!

 

Tips:

  • Arrange meetings with people a week or two in advance over Doodle.com to find dates/times that work for large groups. You might not be able to accomodate everyone even doing that and might need to pick the day that the largest number of people can make it. You can do things like record calls or have people Skype in or do a conference line.
  • Get credit reports from everyone. There are services for free reports.  
  • Download the standard application form and have everyone fill it out, so that you can deliver both credit reports and applications on the spot when you go to check a place out.
  • Use padmapper.com to track the areas you're interested in. Contact places asap  good places will go in a single day sometimes.
  • Make sure your group has a unified vision about what they want. If one person wants a pretty place, and one person wants a cheap place, they will block each other and you won't ever reach consensus. Not having a unified vision, and not realizing this, is where the majority of would-be co-housing communities fail.  If there's something you want people to have as a house culture, make sure thats in agreement too. I personally requested that people be willing to chip in for a maid and hot tub and maintain a paleo 2.0 kitchen, and these things have all been adopted. Vision can include anything from over-arching life goals to never having dishes cluttering the sink. Explore what you really care about and make sure that everyone explicitly agrees to whatever goals are set and that no one is silently dissatisfied.

 

 

Comments (13)

Comment author: woodside 18 July 2012 08:19:21PM *  6 points [-]

"A maid, a hot tub, and a paleo 2.0 kitchen"

Posts like these really make me want to move to the bay area.

Comment author: Furslid 18 July 2012 07:34:56PM 4 points [-]

Make sure that you don't just have an agreement on what everyone wants. It is inevitable that either someone will not meet the house's expectations or will interpret the expectations in a different way. You also need some sort of a process for resolving whatever issues may come up.

Comment author: ShannonFriedman 19 July 2012 08:04:28AM 4 points [-]

Agreed, its important to be realistic. With the hot tub, I made a detailed list of all expected expenses, plus margin for unexpected - I think I heard that projects usually cost about 20% more than the estimate. It ended up costing quite a bit more in practice, so I checked with people to see if they were okay with the upward adjustment, and then asked for a max that they were willing to spend so that I could continue working on it without continued asking at every point. We were able to make it happen for under the max.

Another trick with group houses is making payment optional/voluntary - sometimes projects can get blocked because not everyone wants to contribute equally, so its good to just ask people to chip in what its worth to them, or whatever it is that they want to chip in, and see if you can cover expenses in a way that works for everyone. There are a lot of different options.

As far as people not living up to expectations, that can definitely be an issue. I personally get around this by trying to automate as much as possible. Getting a housekeeper, and including expense of paying the housekeeper to take care of the hot tub was part of the expense estimate I gave that everyone agreed to.

Comment author: [deleted] 31 July 2012 04:03:54PM 1 point [-]

I think I heard that projects usually cost about 20% more than the estimate. It ended up costing quite a bit more in practice.

Hofstadter's Law?

Comment author: DaFranker 31 July 2012 05:33:54PM *  0 points [-]

A very close parallel, indeed.

However, to be approached with caution and the trigger-finger ready on the bayesian judo button for when the "Hofstadter's-Law fallacy" is preparing to kick in. Changing your estimate will not change the reality. A change in estimate will only change your own approach to the problem - if changing the estimate changes the time and resources it takes to complete a project, start asking the right questions.

When I was a kid (think 7 to 12), I'd often be surprised at how awesome I was for understanding how to use the "Law of Bad Guessing" (since, at the time, I did not know of Wikipedia nor of Hofstadter's Law, but had noticed the pattern it describes), since I would under-estimate every time and resource cost with the knowledge that it would cost more in practice, because I figured that guessing more would only result in even higher costs, unless the mind was somehow physically forced to guess under the real cost no matter what, which I could easily disprove. Turns out I eventually grew past that mentally, of course, once I realized that the reason it actually worked was because of the effect it had on my approach to the problem afterwards.

Comment author: thomblake 23 July 2012 08:35:04PM 1 point [-]

I think I heard that projects usually cost about 20% more than the estimate.

As a rule of thumb, double all estimates of cost or time.

Comment author: robertskmiles 17 July 2012 07:41:47PM 4 points [-]

I think the "just make sure everyone agrees on everything" idea is a good one, but quite difficult in practice.

Comment author: ShannonFriedman 17 July 2012 08:17:49PM *  3 points [-]

Getting groups in vision alignment can be quite tricky. I have a lot of personal experience and training working with this and can generally get groups there in situations where I think its important where I am trying to do this, but it is by no means an easy thing to do, especially without training, if you're dealing with a group that also is not experienced with how to sort out interpersonal disagreement.

In general, while not always elegant, you usually can get agreement with adults who feel that they have freedom of choice and ability to express their preferences. Someone will make a compromise, which isn't necessarily their preference, but which feels good enough that they're willing to commit in service of being able to function as a group. If you absolutely can't get agreement, then I don't recommend sharing living space.

Comment author: Cosmos 17 July 2012 08:00:09PM *  7 points [-]

EDIT: now you can get a free credit score from https://www.creditkarma.com/ with no strings attached. Welcome to the future!

You can get a free credit report once/year here:

https://www.annualcreditreport.com/cra/index.jsp

This will give you your full credit history, but not an actual FICO score.

You can get a free FICO score by signing up for this trial:

http://www.myfico.com/

...and then printing up a copy and immediately cancelling it here:

https://www.myfico.com/help/contactus.aspx

In my own search, I used this free general rental application:

http://www.ezlandlordforms.com/documents/application_forms/

Comment author: Slackson 19 July 2012 11:18:22AM 3 points [-]

Thanks for making this post.

Nitpick: You used "once" instead of "wants" in the last tip.

Comment author: ShannonFriedman 20 July 2012 05:34:02AM 2 points [-]

Thanks, fixed.

Comment author: JenniferRM 17 July 2012 11:18:27PM 2 points [-]

Make sure your group has a unified vision about what they want. If one person wants a pretty place, and one person once a cheap place, they will block each other and you won't ever reach consensus. Not having a unified vision, and not realizing this, is where the majority of would-be co-housing communities fail. If there's something you want people to have as a house culture, make sure thats in agreement too. I personally requested that people be willing to chip in for a maid and hot tub and maintain a paleo 2.0 kitchen, and these things have all been adopted. Vision can include anything from over-arching life goals to never having dishes cluttering the sink. Explore what you really care about and make sure that everyone explicitly agrees to whatever goals are set and that no one is silently dissatisfied.

Succinctly put. A slight generalization on this formula seems important for "group projects in general" modulo the need for detailed and realistic knowledge of predictably satisfying details in the non-housing domain where someone might try to apply it :-)

Comment author: Raemon 17 July 2012 01:27:52PM 2 points [-]

Thanks. This may be useful to me in the coming months.