Wednesday, November 21, 2007

House of Dreams

We've been looking for more permanent living quarters. It's time for a bathtub and our own washer/dryer. But we've also decided that we can't be a two hour drive from the nearest hospital or decent shopping, and that we don't want to be alone in a new town with no community around us.

Economically that boils down to a small house or a manufactured home. (These used to be called a "mobile" home but are now built without wheels and are meant to be set on a foundation and left there forever.)

We found a jewel-box of a "manufactured" home in Penticton. It had been the 2005 show home for the manufacturer, had every bell and whistle, and was a beautiful little place. We made an offer, which was quickly accepted. Then we discovered that the original delivery in 2006 was made under less than legal conditions and that it was not described properly by the sellers and realtor in the offering. It was not a "manufactured home" (built to house-code) but what is called a "Park Model", and not eligible for a mortgage. They look almost identical, the differences are in the electrical service (50 amp service) and less insulation in the walls. Sigh....

My kids say I'm an old hippy at heart. I've never smoked weed, taken illegal drugs or had any free love. But like an old hippy, I yearn for the "simple" life, i.e. a tiny house, a little garden, those half dozen chickens I keep going on about endlessly.

At this point in our lives, when health concerns make it foolhardy to be isolated or far from medical care, the ideal situation would be to own a wee house in a community cluster of small houses, with a larger building serving as a central activity centre, a garden area, some fruit trees, and the opportunity for social and neighbourly activities. In other words like snowbirds in an RV park, but with cottages rather than RVs.

There are "senior's" apartments here, and in Penticton, but the idea of living in an apartment doesn't appeal to me, nor can we afford the incredible prices asked for these places. Tack "+55" onto a building's description and add $50,000.00 to the price tag. Here in Oliver prices range from $140,000 plus for a tiny apartment in an old building to $275,000 for a spiff apartment in a new building.

So here's my pretty little dream, which may never come to fruition, but I'd sure like to try it. Find a big lot, zoned "Multi-family". Find seven other +55 couples/individuals who want to build small, but well-equipped, cottages, and form a cooperative.

Build eight small (appx 500 sq ft) cottages, in two rows facing each other across a low-maintanence landscaped common. You might attach the units at the side walls for energy-efficiency's sake, or not, depending on the size of the lot. Build a larger building at one end to serve as an activity centre. Include a garden space, maybe a sunroom corner on the activity centre.

The estimate rate for building is $100.00 a square foot, but small houses cost more per square foot because the kitchen and bathroom are the most expensive rooms to build. Building a number of houses at once should effect some economies, as buying larger quantities of supplies is always less expensive than buying smaller ones.

The use of SIPs (Structural insulated panels) for building would result in heavily-insulated, air-tight structures. These panels could cost $15,000 for a 500 sq ft house, but end up costing only a little more than conventional stick-building methods because the structure can be erected very quickly on-site. Houses of this size could probably be taken to lock-up in in less than half a day each. The extra dollars spent buildings with SIPs are recovered in greatly reduced heating and cooling.

A plan like this 336 sq ft classic little house for a single person or couple should cost no more than $45,000 to build. This includes an efficient kitchen and full bath. If desired a 12 x 12 bedroom with a stacking washer/dryer in the closet could be added, attached at the bathroom side so the area marked "storage" becomes a doorway to the bedroom. This would bring the cost to appx $60,000. This plan has lots of windows, a dutch door, an open cathedral ceiling with storage lofts, skylights and a sweet front porch to sit on.

Another plan, with a similar exterior, contains 462 sq ft and includes a bedroom in a square footprint. This one could also be built for about $60,000. Co-op members could decide on any floor plan, as long as the square footage fell within the agreed on limits and the exterior was compatible with all the other houses. Personally I'm much more partial to a traditional exterior than a stark modern one. These are illustrations of what is possible with a small, well-designed house.

Add on the shared costs of land and the activity centre and the final price of a small house in a community like this should still be much less than the $142,000 price tag for the most modest apartment in town.

It might be possible for a partnership of six couples to form a co-op, build eight units and sell the two remaining shares at 10% below market value once they are complete and still make a good profit. The profit could be put into landscaping, improvements which would benefit everyone, or divided among the partners as return on investment.

Cooperatives are run democratically. Each member (or couple) owns one share (eight units = eight shares, 10 units = 10 shares etc.). No member or couple could own more than one share. A member may sell their share to any other person who meets the co-op's criteria, i.e. of a certain age, pets under a certain size, etc. :) Members decide on the criteria as the co-op is set up. They vote on the acceptance of any potential buyer of a property and have the option to decline membership.

I've been perusing property. No idea how to get from "idea" to reality, but it's something I've thought about for the last 10 years, and maybe it's time to do more than think!


SMM said...

woot! Woot! WOOT!!

Thinking it into existence. Would you have to go with septic or could you have town water?

Our dog sitting adventure came to a close last night. The cats are very demanding of close physical affection.

Outhouse Capital of Canada said...

I think you may be out of luck for a plan like that around here.
That wouldnt work in the rural with the septic tank rules and all the towns such as "Oliver, The Out House Capital" have sold out to the real estate and developers lot and would never allow your ambitious scheme. Helen Overness and the Womens Institute have been pressing for low cost accomodation for years without any luck or even a promise from the town
Len around the corner likes to call the developers "The Land Pimps"

SIPs said...

I love the idea of a small co-op with a garden, a few fruit trees, and a half dozen chickens.

What better place to grow old and stay happy.

Anonymous said...

Lovely plans (both community and house) and hope your dream is realized. I find the small house concept very tempting but it's hard to fit a working, rural life into a small house- I know from experience.

The drawings you posted are really nice and seem well thought out but
I wonder where you'll put:
*cleaning supplies (mop,broom, vacuum)
*dirty laundry
*muddy boots/wet rain gear
*extra linen & blankets
*off season clothes

All these messy real life details that architects wished we didn't use to make a mess of their plans...


Anonymous said...

I would rather not have guests go through the bedroom to get to the bathroom- hardly an example of a well-designed house!