Most communities in the US have been financed by cohousing members who plan to live in the finished community.  This is often surprising to new prospective cohousers as it is very different than typical housing that is built on spec by a developer.  In simplest terms, this means that getting your community built will require early investment of funds which will be at high risk in the beginning.  There is generally no one to make that investment other than the community members themselves.  Although, certain professionals may risk some of their time and costs if the project appears feasible to them and community members have invested in it. The more members you have, the less each member will need to invest to get things started.

It is worth nothing here that there are alternative approaches to creating cohousing that are addressed on other pages.  Developer driven cohousing typically follows a similar process to that below, but with a developer completing the early steps including acquisition of the site and recruiting the community members and sometimes involving the community later. Retrofit cohousing can be a very different process described on another page.   

Note: Everything about developing real estate is region specific, location specific (rural/urban), and variable in all kinds of ways.  Timelines, cost estimates and descriptions below are designed to create an overall concept and sense of scale, not to serve as a blueprint for your community.  The Cohousing Association of the United States recommends working with experienced professionals to get the numbers that are realistic for your project.

In the timeline below, we describe a 30 unit, $10,000,000 suburban housing project typical of cohousing as a concept example.

What is Happening Who is Involved Time Cash up front
Land search
See below for land selection criteria, Cost of land, Potential sellers
Community members
Possibly: real estate agent, development consultant
Highly Variable Very little for the search, need to have money at ready for next step
Rough Budget
Get professional help to take a first look at what a budget for the project might look like.  This is your first, least expensive indicator of whether the site might work.
Development Consultant or Developer 1-2 weeks $500-$1000
Small money, fully at risk
Secure Land with a written agreement.
When possible you want to reduce risk by securing the option to hold the land for feasibility with as little non-refundable money as possible.
Community, Development Consultant or Developer, Real Estate Agent, Attorneys, Seller 2-4 weeks $10,000 – $100,000
Applies to purchase price.
Risk is highly variable depending on terms.
This is the time when you look closely at the land you are considering to make sure that the project you have in mind can be built on it.  You will need a consultant to guide you through this process to be sure that the site itself, zoning and code requirements, available utilities and budget all work to make the project viable on the site.   
Community, Development Consultant or Developer, Architect, Engineers, City or Regulatory Body. 3-12 months $50,000 – $200,000
Real money paid in stages. First money is highest risk and all money in this stage is high risk investment. See below for investment returns.
Design overlaps with feasibility because you will need a site plan to get feedback from the city, determine possible density and other factors relating to fitting your project on the site.
Community, Development Consultant or Developer, Architect, Engineers Included above Included above
Although it is possible to purchase the land at any stage, you reduce your risk by starting with an option that secures the land while you check for feasibility.  Ideally you will purchase the land just before the start of construction.
Community Members, Development Consultant or Developer, Attorney, Real Estate Agents Days to weeks depending on terms Full price of land
$500,000 –
$1 million
Engage a Developer partner
There are many ways a developer may engage with the project, see “professionals” page. The definitional role is to secure the bank loan.
Community Members, Development Consultant, Developer Weeks to months, overlapping with feasibility Nothing up front, developer is paid at the end of the project.
The Cohousing Association thanks the following contributors for the content of this page:

CohoUS Staff, Jim Leach