Maybe you’re an empty nester, but you’re still holding onto that big old house because—where will the kids stay when they visit? So instead of downsizing, you spend money maintaining a home you don’t really need any more for those extra bedrooms that stay empty 95% of the time.
You like owning a home, having a yard, being independent—you just want something smaller, less expensive and easier to maintain. And while you’re ready to downsize your home, you don’t want to downsize your life—you still want to have dinner parties with friends and invite your kids (and maybe grandkids) to visit often. You’d love to be part of a community where neighbors know neighbors well and everyone pitches in to make life easier.
To a small but growing number of middle-aged and older Americans, the answer is “cohousing.” These communities combine the privacy of traditional homeownership with the social benefits of a close-knit community where people share certain amenities…responsibilities…and, if they choose, activities.
In a cohousing community, each person, couple or family owns its home or condo or townhouse, including a kitchen for everyday use and one or more bedrooms. But there also is a much larger “common house” that typically contains a large kitchen, dining room, living room/game room and bedrooms for guests.
The trend started in Denmark, and it’s been gaining popularity in the US—interestingly, among millennials, now in their early 20s to late 30s, who are searching for community in a fragmented world, and now also among baby boomers who also like the community aspects but are looking for a smart new way to downsize.
Could cohousing be the “just right” combination of homeownership and community life that you’re looking for?
The Cohousing Life
Cohousing community members typically gather in the common house for shared meals or other activities several times a week. (You can opt out of any given activity, of course.) It’s much more social than the typical neighborhood.
It’s a potential money saver, too, especially for empty nesters—they can buy, say, an economical one-bedroom home and then reserve common-house guest rooms when the kids or others visit. Some cohousing communities even have car-sharing and tool-sharing programs. There currently are 168 cohousing communities in the US, with 140 more in the process of forming. Most have 20 or more houses, with the largest having about more than 60.
You don’t need to know anyone in a cohousing community to join it, but one option is to recruit like-minded friends to buy homes in a cohousing community at the same time. Homes typically are purchased from other homeowners—as with any other home. But the community might have the right to reject potential buyers (as with the typical “co-op” housing community found mostly in big cities)…and buyers might have to accept the terms of a detailed set of policies, comparable to the rules that might be laid down by a condo or homeowner’s association but more extensive.
All that oversight won’t appeal to everyone, of course, but the intention is to have a community of homeowners who share certain priorities and who enjoy living around each other. Most of the time, cohousing community residents come from many different demographics or walks of life. Many people like the diversity. Just like an old-fashioned American town, it’s nice when everyone isn’t the same.
Interested? You can locate cohousing groups in your area online at Cohousing.org. Attend some shared meals and see if you can rent a room for a few days to get a better feel for the people and place.