Learning How to Share
September 14, 2008 9:52 AM   Subscribe

Need help or ideas coming up with a good way to share a piece of family property with other family members that will avoid any messiness (or at least reduce the chance of messiness occurring)

My family owns a cabin in the Sierra Nevada mountains that my grandparents built about 50 years ago. When my grandparents passed away, they left the cabin to their two children and their grandchildren so that it ended up being split between 6 people, with each of us owning an equal portion.

Now that we are all adults and moving on to having children of our own, we are approaching the somewhat sticky situation of trying to figure out the best way to share this property between all of us--from something as simple as ensuring we don't double-book the cabin for a weekend to more involved matters about upkeep and financially supporting the cabin, and who will make decisions about building any additions or making modernizations.

I'm personally really emotionally attached to this property, and am trying to be open to sharing and new ideas, but I can see that some of the suggestions that are being proposed I'm not in agreement with. I also see that since some folks are making more money than others, I'm afraid that this will enable them to have more say in what happens to the property, which I hope does not happen, as I don't believe that was what my grandparents would have wanted.

Has anyone else had a similar experience? Did you use outside help (a family mediator or something?) to get through this? I am trying to keep emotions out of the process, and trying to focus on the business aspects and how we all need to work together, but also know this is not my personal strong suit.

Any thoughts/stories/recommendations are appreciated--thanks!
posted by Ham_On_Rye to Human Relations (10 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Best answer: You all have an equal share, so it seems logical you all have an equal vote. I'd be inclined to run it like a coop, with monthly dues per shareholder. Something fairly small like $75 per month per shareholder will give you $5400 at the end of year one. Assuming the house is in reasonable repair right now, at the end of two years you should have a kitty large enough to deal with roof repairs, etc, as they arise. In addition, people can turn in receipts for things like repairing a broken window they find on a visit, etc.

In terms of time sharing, put all 12 summer weeks on pieces of paper and put them in a hat. Everybody draws two weeks, and then you can trade among yourselves if you want to re-arrange your schedules, etc. You can similarly divide up the rest of the year although there will be less demand.

Labor Day and Memorial Day are the usual sticking points in these situations. There are two of those and six of you, so the sensible thing to do is that each party gets one holiday weekend every three years on a rota. You can swap your designated holidays around, too, of course.
posted by DarlingBri at 10:12 AM on September 14, 2008 [1 favorite]

As someone who is married to someone that works in a lawfirm, and who has an uncle that comes from a large family, I can say with 99.99% certainty that unless your family is the Cleavers, the only way this is going to work is if one party buys out the majority of the shares in the property. Otherwise, it will most likely get very, very ugly.
posted by ChazB at 10:17 AM on September 14, 2008

Best answer: Why not put the property in a trust? Then have it be open for everyone.
posted by zia at 10:19 AM on September 14, 2008

ChazB is a bit of a pessimist, but still has a good point to keep in mind.

This scenario requires a commitment and effort on the part of everyone to get along, and it would be a good idea to map out some of the rules and obligations early, before an issue arises. You should be prepared to address the ongoing costs, such as prpoerty taxes, insurance, maintenance and ordinary repairs, and the extraordinary ones (new roof, wind damage, improvements, etc.)

You could use an online calendar such as Google Calendar to do the scheduling. Bri has a good idea about the prime weekends. If some families are willing to use the cabin together, this can help.

Many families organize an LLC or establish a trust, to provide for orderly succession as relatives die, move away, and as younger ones grow up and marry.
posted by yclipse at 10:29 AM on September 14, 2008

I like the idea of drawing weeks / times out of a hat, and the idea of a shareholder complete with monthly dues. The job of administrating / orchestrating this might be something to consider leaving / giving to a third party, as business and un-personal as it sounds. I'm sure there's a business or two out there that you could outsource the job to - and the dues could pay for the service and / or any repairs needed.

One thought with the timeshare: the family member with the place could easily be the 'host' with other (preferably invited) family members as the guests. Who they invite is up to them I say preferably invited because I can't tell you how many times family would just drop in, making plans I may have had go down the drain.

Good luck :)
posted by chrisinseoul at 10:58 AM on September 14, 2008

So, there were two children and 4 grandchildren who now own 6 "shares" in the home? Are those 6 people actually listed on the deed? That's somewhat important, because if it's only the two children who retain actual ownership, and the grandchildren only have defacto ownership of it, there can be problems depending on what the two children do their wills.

Sit down with the people who are actually, legally on the deed and find out what they want to do with the thing. What are their intentions, desires, etc., with regard to the property. Because those are the people who can legally make this decision.

And obviously, consult with an estate planner/lawyer with experience in this exact type of scenario.

If I were involved, I would worry more about the upkeep of the thing more than I would about choosing weekends. There will come a time, if it hasn't already, where people will want to take more than they give.

So I'd definitely structure some kind of trust. The first decision will have to be how shares are divided, now and going forward. After that, run it like a business, or coop. Have two tiers of fees- one, a yearly fee that all owners pay based on percent ownership, to cover things like taxes. A second fee that people pay when they actually use the property, to cover other things that are more wear and tear related.

Have a board of directors, and build up a reserve from those fees so that maintenance activities can happen when they need to, and not wait until Uncle Deadbeat wins at the track.

Pay family members for things they do for the upkeep of the house. If Uncle Responsible lives 10 miles away and mows the grass each week, his account should be credited for that. Now he can't complain that he should get first dibs on Labor Day.

Heck, if the family is amenable to it, come up with an auction/lottery for assigning weeks. Instead of paying people in money for chores they do to maintain the place, give them vouchers. They can use the vouchers to cover their maintenance fees, or they can use them to bid for their choice of weekends.

(Also, build in a mechanism for how people get out. Cousin Joe is moving to Bangledesh and wants nothing to do with the place. Figure out how he can be bought out- does he get cash and then everyone else's percent ownership increases? Or can Uncle Moneybags buy his share and effectively own a double share? Does he retain rights to buy back in if he changes his mind? How will the property's value be assessed?)
posted by gjc at 11:27 AM on September 14, 2008

ChazB is a bit of a pessimist, but still has a good point to keep in mind.

There is a beautiful stone hunting cabin out in the woods near my brother's place. It has four bedroom/suites each with a huge fireplace and a small kitchen. The thing has all but collapsed now, and I couldn't understand how anyone could let such a great place go like that.

Turns out it was built by four hunting buddies, who each left their share to their children. The children didn't get along and couldn't agree to sell to each other, so it is now a monument to bad feelings.
posted by StickyCarpet at 11:31 AM on September 14, 2008

My family has a similar property, and things are heading downhill as the house is falling apart. The owners who can afford to repair it don't want to and don't generally use it anyway as they have other vacation homes in better repair. Those owners want to sell it, but one to a historical society (it has historical value as a famous battle was fought on the property), and the other to housing developers. The owners who can't afford to repair it (or pay the yearly taxes) want to keep it, but they use it only once a year or less.

My experience has taught me:

1) Someone always ends up being (or being perceived as) the bad guy in these situations. If that person is merely enforcing previously agreed-upon actions and not actually doing anything malicious or negligent, then that person must have a really strong backbone and be willing to be perceived as the big meanie.

2) Periodic dues are a great idea but will sometimes not be enough to meet a surprise expense. What happens, for instance, if the house needs a $20k repair or upgrade asap? How will it be paid for? Plan for that now. Put it in writing.

3) Establish house rules that all branches of the family can agree upon and which have consequences. e.g., Weekend #2 users who find Weekend #1 users' untidied party detritus and must clean it up during their vacation weekend may rack up cleaning chits or send a cleaning bill to the inconsiderate Weekend #1 users.

4) If you each own equal fractional shares, you each pay for repairs, maintenance, and taxes in accordance with your fractional ownership. Period. No matter who has what amount of personal wealth.
posted by ImproviseOrDie at 12:29 PM on September 14, 2008

A detail: be sure that every discussion, document, meeting, email involves only direct family members, in this case, only the 6 of you. Each one of you is of course free to talk to whoever he or she wants outside of your communications. But involving any spouse or in law in direct exchanges is a sure recipe for misunderstandings and disaster (however competent or appreciated they might be). Note that it is never too late to implement this rule.
posted by bru at 12:50 PM on September 14, 2008

On futher thought, there are two other things to keep in mind.

No matter how you set it up, the largest issues are going to be both the tiniest and the boggest. On the tiny side, leaving the house messy, with no toilet paper and no extra bulbs will piss off the next visitors. You need check in and check out lists. If there is someone locally who can be hired to clean, you can make it compulsory that the departing party pay the cleaner to clean for the next party. Since you guys are each only going to be there 2 or 3 times a year, that shouldn't be a serious hardship for anyone.

The biggest issue is going to be stuff like additions and extensions - the things that are big changes or big expenses. Two things come to mind. One, no party can be compelled to spend beyond their means, and that still won't impact their shares. Second of all, I've been where you are in a similar property and I resisted all change. I didn't want electricity. When we got it, I was adamant that a washer and a dryer would ruin the experience of the house. I later objected to both TV and then cable.

Ten years later, none of that stuff bothers me in the least. Electricity is nice, and didn't ruin the house in any way. Not having to pump water is nice. Being able to wash clothes is great. And I completely ignore the television.

So, take the long view when deciding on the stuff that really bothers you, is all.

The other thing is that plenty of people do this successfully and work out schedules and finances in a perfectly orderly fashion. Don't be discouraged. And don't resort to suing each other.
posted by DarlingBri at 2:43 PM on September 14, 2008

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