The Economics of Home Ownership (Part 2)

In part 1 of this series, I contend that anyone who has the desire can participate in the building of his or her own home. We’ve been told that we should “leave it to the professionals” but this comes at a cost; and the costs are bigger than most of us realize. Thankfully, a growing number of people are involving themselves in the building of their shelter and we can learn a great deal from these experiences, with the hope that, one day, we too will take this rather scary, yet fascinating and life-changing, journey.

To build on this though, we must not only look at shelter but the other element that many people feel would suggest foreshadows this whole discussion, and that is land ownership. But does home ownership necessarily require land ownership?

Ianto Evans, a natural building inspiration to many, has said: “A building site and ownership of the land are two separate things…I don’t have any land, I never have, and I’ve managed to live in houses all my life. How is this? Well, I make arrangements with people who own land…to have a house on their land. And I pay either in kind or in dollars for the privilege of having the house there. But the house is mine.” This leads into an interesting discussion.

While cycling on Salt Spring Island a few weeks ago, Heather and I were checking out some of the natural buildings on the island. We heard of a gentleman named Harry, who had a  cob house on his land and we wanted to have a look.

As we pulled up on our bikes we saw Harry, who strolled out from his garden greeting us with a firm, and muddy, handshake and a big, warm smile. Harry toured us around his long, narrow 10 acre property, giving us a quick replay of his life – retiring from teaching at age 47, leaving Toronto for Salt Spring Island, the struggles with financing the land as he went through a divorce with his ex-wife, the escalating land prices on the island, and his wanting to make life a little easier for young folks.

Molly's cob house on Salt Spring Island BC.

As we walked up the property, he explained that 4 married couples, some with children, now had homes on the land, all of which were built by the occupants. The arrangement was simple – if you needed a house and were respectful, Harry would let you build a home for a small fee and a little help around the place. Harry said, “Young people should be able to live rather than just exist.” It really bothered him to see people struggling just to get by. “Most of the couples that live here work 2 or 3 days a week. That’s all they need to do.” Of course, when we arrived, we saw a few people working in the greenhouse getting some transplants ready for planting. People were busy and they certainly weren’t “lazy hippies.”

We walked past a number of small, one-room structures, each of which was just 100 square feet to avoid having to get a building permit. Harry pointed to one that he said he helped a young woman construct for a measly $9. Harry said the $9 was to cover the cost of the bales, which they used for insulation. Though this might not sound like an ideal situation to most, it demonstrates an important opportunity – there are countless baby boomers with land and some of them, like Harry, are willing to share. What a novel concept!

Though we originally showed up at Harry’s to see what turned out to be a delightful and cozy 100 “round foot” cob cottage, it was refreshing to see what Harry had done and how he was enabling young people to live on an island that has become cost prohibitive, with prices driven up by the hundreds of city-folk who maintain “cottages” on the island. Most every place that someone would actually like to live in or near is becoming a bit like Salt Spring – expensive and fragmented. Perhaps we can begin to shift this.

And a shift it will take, especially in the way we think about ownership. Many will wonder if they can actually trust (if it’s not about trust, then what is it?) someone else with something as important as their home, but for those who are looking for an alternative to outright ownership of either a piece of land or, more likely, a mortgage, this is something to consider. The challenge, I suppose, is tracking down baby-boomers not obsessed with ever-escalating property values and earning more and more money. But as Harry has demonstrated, people like this do exist; you just have to start asking around.

If you have a story related to this one and you’d like to share, please leave a comment or get in touch. We’d love to hear from you!

2 thoughts on “The Economics of Home Ownership (Part 2)

  1. Anonymous

    I helped build the Cob house on this land a couple of years ago with the Mudgirls. It is Molly’s house who does so much work building great cob structures around BC. So cool you got out to see it!
    Jacqulynn Mulyk

  2. Anonymous

    What a neat arrangement!

    My family have been pondering just this sort of option, we are thinking of either finding like-minded people in Northern BC or Haida Islands, or buy the land ourselves and open it up. I wonder about the structures, is the square footage the land footprint, meaning you could have it built up for extra indoor space, or is it actual indoor footage? What about the “modern amenities”?

    Danielle Settle,
    Fraser Lake


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