Estate of Mind is approaching two years old. We’ve had some good times and some turmoil. The value and benefits of the community are starting to shine as membership and events and creation of art all slowly take off. Unfortunately that slow ramp up hasn’t kept up with the financial burdens of the project, which is now facing serious risks of financial failure.
This document is meant to lay out some possible paths forward. Some of them are accelerations of things we are already doing. Some are pivots that would change the shape of the community. And some are exit plans as unfortunate last resorts. My intention with sharing this document is to inspire people to get involved. I am seeking feedback on anything I’ve written below, and ideas for new paths and options to add to the list.
I lost my job in August. I expect this to be temporary, but even my full financial support hasn’t been enough to sustain the trajectory of the project.
We will turn the heat on in September and October, increasing utility costs by $2-4k/mo.
In November the mortgage payments increase from interest-only (i.e. we’ve just been renting the house from the bank until now) to a normal principal pay down schedule, which will cost an extra $4k/mo.
With all of these major financial impacts coming so close together, this feels like the time to set a “go or no go” point for the project. As I write this, I am committing myself to making that decision by November 15th. If we haven’t already made significant progress along one or more of these paths by then, I’ll need to shift my focus solely to an exit. Although professional advice would be to not disclose this possibility, and many people perceive discussing it to be inappropriate threatening of tenants’ housing security, for ethical reasons I am choosing to prioritize transparency, full disclosure and others’ agency, and the possible future of this project.
These are the preferred solutions. This includes things already in progress and on our roadmap, which just need to speed up or achieve more success. Expanding on these with more specific steps and planning will potentially help bring them to fruition, but concrete action is the primary need at this point.
We have approximately nine open bedrooms, many more if we decide to reduce the number of guest rooms or functional spaces. We have grown at about one person per month since we started. Word of mouth, as well as outreach through somewhat aligned communities on social media, has started to accelerate that process. If we could bring on three good candidates as new residents each month for the next three to five months, that would make a huge difference.
We do already offer a $500 referral bonus for residents who are a good match and stick with us beyond three months. If something else would motivate you to tell your friends about us, that would make a great addition to our brainstorming list.
This space has huge potential for event bookings. Not just parties or weddings which have big logistical challenges, but much smaller things like photo and video shoots, classes and workshops, etc. I’ve offered a 50% split of the income for anyone who can handle bookings and liaising with the content producers and the residents and doing other things to enable that to happen more. I think we could bring in $1000/wk in small bookings if someone dedicated 10-20 hours to it, which would be $25-50/hr for them and $2k/mo for the house. Victoria has been doing great work on this, but higher priority commitments and needs, along with her lack of familiarity with the region and other communities nearby, have prevented her from exploring that full potential. Providing a free room to someone doing this work is also a possibility.
We have made a lot of progress on this front. The property had 50 years of deferred maintenance when we got it, and I think we’ve gotten through at least 25% of that in the last two years. There might be no water leaks anywhere on the property now, and about 75% of the bathroom fixtures work. Unfortunately the budget for this comes after things like mortgage, insurance, and utilities, so hiring of contractors has slowed to a crawl.
I’m open to residents who want to trade labor for a room. With even 10-20 hours per week of general demolition and construction work we can continue to make slow progress. Different types of labor might have someone working under myself (Sparr), our resident handy person (Fred), or our community manager (Victoria). Unfortunately our attempts to make this sort of arrangement work in the past have encountered communication roadblocks and led to painful failure modes. With that in mind, we’d still like to hear from you if this sounds like something up your alley.
I’m also open to trading use of the space, such as for events, for labor. If someone wants to have an event here that requires part of the manor or gardens to be fixed or upgraded, and they have a connection with an electrician or plumber or someone else with necessary skills, that would be a great way they could enable their event to happen while also providing value to the space.
These ideas would change our community in some fundamental way. They all have some signifiant potential benefit, but also drawbacks. Success with one or more solutions in the previous section are preferred over these pivots.
Welcoming families and children into our community would expand our potential resident pool significantly. We have one resident with kids who live here part time. Their kids are exceptionally well behaved. We’ve long had community discussions about if and how we want more kids here more often, and they haven’t led to a consensus so we haven’t moved forward with any plans on that front.
It would also significantly change the character of the community, both directly through the involvement of children, and indirectly through changes in adult behavior around kids. Some adults here have said they wouldn’t be comfortable smoking or drinking near kids, or having some conversations they currently have in our common spaces, etc. Some have expressed worry about more damage to personal belongings, or undesirable changes to our noise profile. There would almost certainly be changes to our norms around adult intimate activities and events.
Making this work would require a detailed plan, significantly revised recruiting efforts, and buy-in from more than a few people.
If you are part of a co-parenting group who is interested in co-housing, or vice versa, get in touch and we can talk about what it might look like for you to be part of our community.
Buying a house on my own wasn’t my goal. This property was the fifth I pursued in two years, each with different plans for ownership, financing, governance, etc. Buying alone is part of what made the deal for this property possible, but now that I own it I am not stuck with that structure.
I would love to divide the ownership of the property and leadership of the community between more people. More leaders means less burn-out. More leaders with a stake in the property means more commitment and motivation. I might roughly value the property and community at $2M today. 5% would be $100k, 20% $400k.
I don’t think we’ll find three to nine people who want to directly buy in at those prices, but it would radically change our financial outlook if we did. Such a buy-in could be spread over months to years, depending on the specifics of [re]financing, ownership distribution, etc.
We need a lot of labor, at varying levels of skill and strength (e.g. someone installing drywall while someone else carries the materials up the stairs or the demolition debris to the trash chute and someone else handles the tools and fasteners and dust management). Doing work in exchange for partial ownership of the property is a viable option, for someone who can make and keep commitments. Depending on the work, a year of full time effort might be worth 2-10% ownership.
If co-owning this property and being part of the leadership team of a large creative coliving community matches your life goals, let’s talk. We aren’t looking for absentee owners, instead people who want to have a hand in shaping the community goals and moving them forward.
Plans exist to divide the property into 2-3 pieces, drawn up by other potential buyers years ago. There may be potential paths forward that involve splitting the property up following those or similar plans. We could sell part of it (e.g. half or all of the forest), shift ownership of one or more parts to different organizational entities (e.g. a charitable nonprofit that owns and operates the manor as a historic site, a mutual benefit nonprofit representing the coliving community in the dorm and colonial, etc), and keep individual or co ownership of some part. This would be complex and require approval from the mortgage bank or financing from elsewhere. Even fleshing out the possibilities here requires more time than I have been able to dedicate so far, and probably professional assistance on the legal and financial fronts.
These are the last resorts.
I owe $1.2M on the mortgage. Zillow says the property has appreciated to $1.45M, Redfin says $1.7M. I believe that the work we’ve done has increased the value of the property significantly, even though it’s not complete. I also believe that the information we can share with a buyer has massive value, relative to the almost complete lack of information we could get from our sellers.
If I sold the property today for at least $1.4M, I would divide it as follows: $1.2M to the bank. $50k to partially repay personal loans. $100k to our resident foreperson. $50k to Victoria. Any extra I would use to pursue a next big project with Victoria and possibly a few other folks.
There is a small chance that the property will not sell, possibly due to the real estate market, possibly due to conflict in the community. In that case, the bank would foreclose and my personal finances would be ruined for at least the better part of the next decade. There may even be spill over that affects Victoria through our shared finances.
If you would like to be part of keeping this project alive, please get in touch. There are some areas we need action on plans we’ve already made. There are others where we could use more creativity and ideas, although please be prepared to hear that we’ve already exhausted a particular avenue. We respond quickly to contacts of various sorts online, or you could come by in person to one of our social times or events or our recurring planning meeting the last Monday evening of every month.
You can reach us as follows: