Personalities of Co-Living: Beyond the nuclear family paradigm

June 13, 2018

I met Neville after he heard me speaking on a recent radio interview, and got in touch to share his co-ownership story. It is a wonderful lived experience of unrelated people sharing ownership of a property that has been successful for over 17 years, with many benefits to all parties involved.

 

If you have a similar story which you might like to share, please don't hesitate to get in touch. 

Could you describe your current living arrangement?


My wife and I (both in our mid-60s and retired) share our 5 acre hobby / horse farm with a younger couple (both mid-40s and both working full time) and their children (17 and 11 years old).

 

We entered this arrangement 17 years ago as joint owners (each couple are joint tenants of one undivided half share as tenants in common with the other couple). We have no formal documentation apart from the title deeds and shared bank loans / mortgages but we did have an informal agreement that if any party wanted to end the arrangement after 5 years, we would sell up and go our separate ways.

 

 

How did this come about?


My wife Christine and the younger lady Romy got on very well when our son and Romy were in the same class at high school; we were welcomed into Romy’s family and her parents’ social life. After many years, Romy contacted us just before her marriage to Karl and the friendship between the two ladies was revived. They shared a love of horses and bought and bred horses (jointly owned and agisted on outer-suburb properties). We were living in an apartment because my work took me all over Australia and New Zealand and Romy and Karl were living in a small rented house. When I was transferred to a resident manager job overseas for two years, the ladies came up with the plan to purchase a hobby farm jointly to have the horses on their own property. Karl and I went along with the plan and after a few months we found a suitable property.


What do you think is/has been the benefits of this arrangement?


Neither couple could afford the property at the time but were each able to raise the loans for half the property. So the ladies got their horse farm. They also got company (particularly in the case of my wife when I was away at work most of the time). Christine has an occasional medical condition that means it is reassuring for her to have company – something I could not provide when I was working away.

 

I was raised on a farm and was happy to be on the farm on my days off and now that I am retired, I am not sure what I would do with my time without the farm maintenance, messing around with the tractor and chainsaw and ride-on mower. Romy and Karl’s eldest child was a baby when we moved on and their second child was born since then; they have enjoyed a farm life while being adjacent to the city. For the past four years, my grandchildren have spent most weekends enjoying the space to run around.

 

Another important benefit is that one family can take a vacation while the other family looks after the animals.

 

 

What do you think has been key to the continuity for so many years?

 

The key points are:

  • the genuine benefits of having two couples / two generations share the load of raising kids, looking after the place, sharing the utility costs;

  • the initial friendship between the two ladies and common interest in horses (and dogs, cats, chickens etc);

  • the personalities of all four adults being compatible;

  • the lack of any financial issues (due to not having overstretched our finances to purchase the property)

  • the acceptance of the arrangement by family members on all sides;

  • also Christine and I have been careful not to impact the parenting styles and practices of Romy and Karl.


Have there been any negatives or downfalls?


We all lived together in a (spacious) 4 bedroom house for the first 14 years, sharing the living areas; as Romy’s children grew into teenage years, and particularly when I stopped working full time (so stopped being away 2/3rds of the time) we built a granny flat and large outdoor covered area to have reasonable living space and privacy. We came to an arrangement about funding the extra building costs. This all worked on trust; it would have been difficult to work out a “contract” covering all these issues 17 years ago.


If you could do anything different, what might that be?


I cannot think of anything we would do differently. We looked at a lot of properties and picked one that turned out to be suitable; I don’t think there was a better option available. There were many intangible benefits for all parties to the arrangement and trying to formalise it in a written agreement up front would be difficult and may have changed the trusting relationship that has made it work.

 

Editor's note: This is a wonderful positive example of a co-ownership situation that has worked well without much formal documentation. The Henry Project advocates for clear agreements between parties, that spell out with clarity the rights and obligations of each parties. This helps express expectations, and ensures everyone is going into the arrangement with an understanding of all that is involved. 

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