Multiple family living arrangement?
January 2, 2004 8:07 PM   Subscribe

My wife and I (childless) and our single-mother friend (three children) are thinking of pooling our resources and sharing either two homes on a single large property, or a custom single home for two family units, with some shared living areas (using a design compatible with selling the home as a bed & breakfast inn, and turning a very, very nice profit on the deal).

Has anyone ever taken part in an alternative living arrangement? Co-parented with another family? Shared a property investment with a friend and survived to tell the tale? Merged two families? Developed rules and understandings that made it a success in the end? Can friends stay friends when money and living space and "self" space enter the picture? Shared resources?

With your working-knowledge advice and guidelines, perhaps we'll be able to build up the confidence in the idea to take the risk, co-invest and co-parent, and make it possible for the kids to become super-successes as adults, and help each other profit to early retirement. Whatcha got for me?

[taps on the glass] Hello? Is this thing on?
posted by five fresh fish to Human Relations (18 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
(I think this is maybe too hard for most of us fff) : >
Have you asked yourself all the questions? "What if the single mom meets someone? What if one part or another starts slacking or loses their jobs?..." Maybe somewhere like this can help, or a co-housing site?
posted by amberglow at 8:56 PM on January 2, 2004

fff - Yeah (echoing amberglow) - that's immediately what I thought, that Metafilter might not be exactly the sort of place to provide this advice. But I think you should keep looking for better answers - I think that they are out there.

For example, check out this simple Google Search
posted by troutfishing at 9:11 PM on January 2, 2004

Been a renter my entire life, so I can't help there, but I have a family friend that runs a B&B in Missouri. Kinda confused by your post, but if *you're* planning to run it at some point as a B&B, it generally takes 7 years for a B&B to get out of the red (establish a clientele of repeat customers, etc.)
posted by gramcracker at 9:14 PM on January 2, 2004

Response by poster: We'd be living it in for about a decade, then likely sell it to someone who wants to run a B&B.

Single Mom is expected to have her long-distance beau visiting once in a while. Unsure whether he'd ever become a full-time part of the picture.

I was hoping that out of 17000 or so users, one or two might have done something as unique as this. Or is it so unique? How the hell do single mothers make it through life without friends that help?
posted by five fresh fish at 9:54 PM on January 2, 2004

one or two might have done something as unique as this.

First, all stats have shown that the number of active members is far, far less than the total number here. Second, and more important:

I can't speak for the one or two who may have done something like this, but given your specific circumstances, and given your own strong feelings about the subject, I'd be very careful, if not completely silent on the subject because it appears to be too personal and "life changing" to be discussed on a website like this. MetaFilter is a community, sure, but we aren't best friends who share every joy and sorrow in our lives. And especially with such serious issues like this, a couple paragraphs or a one line zinger would be distasteful and shallow.

Finally, I think that you may get a couple of e-mails if you're patient. E-mail would be far more private and conversations could go into further depth without fear of publicity or judgement.
posted by BlueTrain at 10:04 PM on January 2, 2004

Me, I think this is a wholly appropriate sort of question; I don't know why a few posters seem so freaked out. I'm sure there are many many people who have explored such possibilities - and likely there are some MeFi users in that boat. Personally, I've just lived with roommates, which isn't much help, but I certainly think this is appropriate fare for AskMe - and that you stand a good chance of someone being able to help (sooner or later). BlueTrain's right on one count, though - people with no experience (unlike on other threads) will likely not jump in with their useless $0.02 because of the "life-changing," ie high stakes, nature of your query. (I'm obviously the exception.)

Good luck! It sounds like a really interesting plan - and possibly, as you say, a great environment for kids to grow up in. Do you have any experience spending 'living' time with the single mom? Sometimes friends make terrible housemates...
posted by Marquis at 10:43 PM on January 2, 2004

Best answer: fff, I can't comment on the personal aspects of this, really, and I'm a lousy businessperson, but a great advice-giver, and here's my advice: if you decide to go forward, with the view of selling the property as a B&B later, I would say do all the research before you do anything else, just as though you were going to run the B&B yourself. Find out everything there is to know about what makes a successful B&B (and document it all), and then tailor everything tangible to fit that profile to the extent that you are able. (documentation, so that years later when all this info is no longer fresh in your mind, you can pull it out and put together a killer sales pitch, write the perfect ad, etc.)

You might apply the same flavour of logic to the other aspect of the question, as well, and speak with a respected family counselor before committing to something, just to get their perspective of what the pitfalls are likely to be, and what sort of structures you should have in place to help in dealing with issues that do come up, while avoiding others, etc. I'm an optimist, so I'd like to think it could work out, but I'm sure that starting out with as much information as possible regarding the emotional, financial and legal aspects is vital.
posted by taz at 10:49 PM on January 2, 2004

This may not be in the same ballpark, but after our son was born, my exwife and I hired a live-in nanny. Within a few months, we were all sleeping together (well, not my son, of course). Things went really well for just over a year, until our nanny was badly injured in a car wreck, and after paying medical expenses from the lawsuit, she had about $300K left and she bought a horse farm.
posted by mischief at 2:01 AM on January 3, 2004

i love the "of course" in the post above - i know a lot more couples who share their bed with their kid than with their nanny.

i'm confused about what's being considered. is the idea that all the adults are sleeping together, a la mischief, or is it just to combine resources in joint property? i think that's relevant for two reasons: (1) it may explain why people are cautious about answering and (2) any kind of sharing of space is going to require a lot of talking things out (imho) if it's going to be a success - presumably people who are sleeping together are going to communicate better (vain hope?).

incidentally, isn't the boing-boing chap in a three-way relationship? maybe a personal email would help? or was it someone from ntk? or are they the same person? or am i just very very confused?
posted by andrew cooke at 5:58 AM on January 3, 2004

I've long thought about doing something very vaguely similar to this, without the clever profit motive; around here it's not too uncommon an option for families to go in together on real estate. Given that a decent home in a halfway-acceptable neighborhood is well into $400,000 around here, I'm amazed it's possible to own a home any other way.

The house I grew up in was a "tenancy in common," a single family home that had been converted into two typical San Francisco flats, co-owned by my family and the family downstairs. Think of it as a vertical duplex. There was a big fooferaw over TICs and conversion of rental properties into flats a few years back when the rental market was tighter, but in my eyes it's the most sensible way to get yourself a home.

Which brings me to one of your options. Setting aside the resale plan, would it be possible for you to consider a duplex home? Depending on where you live, they can be pretty common or nearly impossible to find. You might have to consider building one if you're in an area where land is inexpensive enough to do your own construction. (It's not, here, and the only empty lots are in pretty seedy places.)

I've lived in family-with-roommate situations before, and if you're good friends it works out great. None of those setups called for co-parenting with the roommates (we're not short of parents around here) but the roommate/friends were all close enough to be considered family a la aunts and uncles. The dynamic of your combined household will, of course, be different, but the general idea of what you're after seems pretty reasonable and not too unusual. But then, I'm from San Francisco, where it takes a hell of a strange situation to make for an unusual family unit.
posted by majick at 7:57 AM on January 3, 2004

Best answer: One place you might want to troll for more information, fff, is the tie-dye diaper babies tribe over on [you'll need to be a member to be able to post]. Most of the people there are in their thirties and many grew up in the kind of alternative living situations you are describing [or just had hippie parents]. They might be a good group to vet some of your ideas and get some feedback from people who have actually lived in such situations.

I grew up with parents who owned a two-family house and alternately rented it out and let friends stay there and my only advice, brief as it is, is to make sure all parties involved understand ALL the expectations of the community. Make all power differentials explicit [i.e. "we paid the down payment so we get to choose the house we want" "singlemom only needs one bedroom so she has to stay in the smallest house" etc] and, not to be too much of a hardass about it, but if you are worried or nervous about it, get as much of the arrangement in writing as you can, just in case someone has a change of heart later on. I'd step into something like this as seriously as a marriage, and doubly so because since it will be non-traditional, you may be dealing with weird looks from the outside [depending on where you live] as well as trying to manage interrelationships with each other. Good luck!
posted by jessamyn at 8:23 AM on January 3, 2004

Response by poster: I can't imagine how people are managing to keep their heads above water when homes and kids are so expensive. I suspect many are drowning in a sea of debt. Particularly single parents.

Good god, no sex! And, actually, I suppose in the end we'd be gunning less for co-parenting and more for uncling/aunting.

taz, excellent point re: researching the B&B angle to maximize future value. Very cogent.

Everyone else: thanks for the info and links and ideas. I'm starting to think this may not be a completely insane idea.
posted by five fresh fish at 9:38 AM on January 3, 2004

No sex at all? Jeez.

This is a tiny tip that might be of use. When I had roommates (a grand total of 14, though fortunately not all at once) we tried all kinds of arrangements for divvying up the chores - schedules, wheels, etc. What worked best was permanently assigning chores to different people. There was no confusion and none of the whole "X didn't clean the bathroom last week and I shouldn't have to clean it this week even though it's my turn because it's twice as dirty". And amazingly enough it usually works out that people get to avoid the jobs they hate the most because someone else doesn't mind doing it. I don't know whether you'll be sharing a bathroom and a kitchen with this woman - probably not - but there will be common areas to be maintained, so it might be a good approach for all of you (kids too unless they're very little) to sit down and figure out who does what.
posted by orange swan at 11:05 AM on January 3, 2004

Response by poster: No sex between us and our friend. It's not at all an appealing idea.

I think we'd be sharing the kitchen. The kids should have their own rec room that they're responsible for, and us adults a living room that we're responsible for. The kids' bedrooms will be as separate from the adults areas as possible. The two adult bedrooms will be away from each other, and soundproofed; I really don't want our sex to be an item of interest or consternation. There'd probably be two other fair-sized rooms that would be designed for conversion to bedrooms, but would currently act as private office/livingroom space.

Permanent chore assignment would be a Good Thing, because the kids are always at each other about who's turn it is for what job, and then doing it half-assedly.
posted by five fresh fish at 12:34 PM on January 3, 2004

While you've been clear that this isn't a polyamorous sort of arrangement, you may still want to give Our Little Quad: Polyamory for the Practical a look--they talk about a lot of the day to day living stuff--including grocery lists, budgeting, chores, et cetera. Useful stuff, even if you're not going to be in a romantic relationship with your friend.
posted by eilatan at 12:49 PM on January 3, 2004

Will all of you be on the lease/deed/mortgage etc?
posted by amberglow at 1:28 PM on January 3, 2004

Best answer: Five Six (my, how time flies) years ago, three of us -- me, a female friend, and my boyfriend -- pooled our resources to buy the house we were renting at the time. In addition to the three of us there were also two other roommates - a single female and a single male. None of us (save for my BF and I) were in any way 'involved' with each other. Everyone has their own bedroom, and we share the rest of the house (bathroom, living room, kitchen, etc.) This past year, we bought out the female friend's share of the house (although she and the other single female still live here).

I have to say that had we not all been renting-roommates prior to the purchase, it never would have worked. Living with other people is very stressful, and you learn strange things about people -- also, even if you trust the people you started out with, they eventually involve others (the reason we kicked out the single male is that he got a girlfriend that had serious food hoarding issues and it became unpleasant impossible to share a kitchen with her. The last straw was the day she had a fit because I threw away a package of duck sauce (the kind that comes free with Chinese take-away) that she wanted to save.) If at all possible, unless you're really sure that nothing about this woman or her children or how she parents them will drive you crazy, I'd go with the two houses or the duplex idea. Or find a way to not have to share a kitchen with her even if you're comfortable sharing other living spaces.

Also, be prepared to have to go through a few hoops to get both a mortgage and insurance. We actually had one insurance agent turn us down flat because we were 'unorthodox' and another give my boyfriend such a nudge-nudge wink-wink routine about his owning a house with two women that it became obvious that we couldn't work with him.

Have an exit strategy in place -- written down and signed -- before you make the purchase. You don't think now that you'll end up hating the people you're buying the property with, but you might. Plan for that.

Check into types of deeds. Some deeds require a huge fee to remove a name, others don't. Make sure you have the kind that doesn't before you sign anything.

Kids weren't an issue in our situation, but here's what I know from talking to others: You will end up parenting these kids (at least a little), so make sure that all of you -- the adults, the kids, everybody -- are clear on what the rules and responsibilities are beforehand. You don't mention how old the kids are, but if they're much older than 7 or 8 I'd be sure to ask they how they feel about all this and make sure their questions get answered -- if you all share a single family house they may get questions/get teased about the living situation (just because its 'different'). Make sure the lines of communication stay open - nothing worse for a kid than being embarrassed to bring friends home because its too hard to explain your family to them.

Finally, don't be afraid to become a family. Although we're all adults, that's what we've essentially become -- a family with all that entails -- shared traditions, arguments, love, laughter -- and it is, I think, the reason our living situation has worked as well as it has for as long as it has. Our one ironclad rule is that we make decisions like the UN Security council -- if one person vetoes something that effects all (painting a room, having a friend stay over to visit) then the veto carries the day.

Feel free to email me if you have more specific questions.
posted by anastasiav at 3:22 PM on January 3, 2004 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks, all. If we progress much further along this I'll letcha know. I've got a better idea of what sort of googly terms to start using, too.
posted by five fresh fish at 6:33 PM on January 3, 2004

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