It’s no secret that for many Americans, homeownership is the primary means of building wealth. You put down some cash, secure a loan, buy a home, build equity over time, and eventually sell that home for a profit. But when a residential real estate market is as tight as Denver’s—where the average single-family home price hit almost $630,000 earlier this year—it can be tough for some people, especially first-time buyers, to get in on the action.
“If we want more opportunities for people to pull themselves up and have some semblance of the American dream, we need to reimagine ownership,” says Sarah Wells, sales director of the Co-Own Company. The Denver-based startup—helmed by developer Jason Lewiston—plans to lead that transformation by building and managing cooperative housing developments in the city, the first of which is a project in the Hilltop neighborhood, set to break ground by this fall.
Here’s how it will work: At the Hilltop site, the company will build six townhomes, each with four ownership shares for sale for $150,000. Buyers will make a small down payment—for those with good credit, that amount could be as little as $5,000, Wells says—and then secure a share loan, similar to a mortgage. Each owner will have his or her own bedroom suite and small cooking area, and share a larger kitchen, living room, and deck with the other three owners. When a resident is ready to move on, the Co-Own Company will help with the “transfer”—that is, the sale of the resident’s share to a new buyer—and if that transfer happens internally (to a buyer on the firm’s waitlist), there would be no brokerage fee.
Not only does the co-ownership model address the economic challenges of trying to purchase a home in the city, but it also responds to the ways in which people live, Wells says: “We see an increasing number of people who want to live together for pragmatic reasons—to increase affordability and stay in the center of the city—but also to create community in their households.” Co-living is a win for the city, too, says Kerron Stokes, co-founder of Re/Max’s Resource Group. “As a passive way for the city to deal with affordability in the metro area, it provides some really cool solutions,” he says. “It doesn’t put an economic tension on either the developer or the community, which means financial burdens don’t just get passed down to the consumer.”
The Co-Own Company has its sights set on nationwide transformation of housing markets, Lewiston says. While cooperative living is pretty common in New York City and San Francisco, Lewiston and Wells see opportunity in such places as Miami, Boston, Palo Alto—“basically every city in California needs affordable infill housing,” Lewiston says. “We’re looking to expand to wherever there’s a need for density and the cost of living has outpaced wages. It’s time to reinvent urban areas.”