LiveWork Denver House First Program Helps Groups Buy Homes | Westword

New LiveWork Denver Program Helps Groups Buy Homes

In partnership with Gary Community Ventures, the team at LiveWork Denver is snagging homes for co-buyers in a competitive Denver real estate market.
Members of the LiveWork Denver team and the Amaranth Cooperative celebrate their house purchase.
Members of the LiveWork Denver team and the Amaranth Cooperative celebrate their house purchase. LiveWork Denver
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Since August, single mothers Sarah Naomi Jones and Lakshmi Nair have co-owned a home in Denver called the Amaranth Cooperative; Jones’s partner, LaRae Goldsmith, and her mother are also co-owners — though Jones’s mom lives elsewhere.

Jones and Nair have shared a living space before. Back in December 2020, Jones lived in Nair’s basement. The friends had met years earlier at an immersive yoga workshop run by Nair. “I was married, and then after I did the yoga immersion program, I realized I should not be married,” Jones recalls. She soon needed a new place to live, and Nair offered a spot.

“I was like, ‘Oh, hell, no, I'm too grown,’” Jones says. “Then, after I was just spinning my wheels, I was like, 'I need to get out of my pride and accept this offer, because it would allow me to go back to school.'”

When Nair needed her basement back for family, Jones and Goldsmith looked at options and quickly realized how unaffordable housing was in the Mile High City. The couple met with the Center for Community Wealth Building, a local nonprofit, and began discussing ways to raise funds to buy a house. Eventually, they connected with Sarah Wells, a member of LiveWork Denver, which promotes “real estate for the greater good.” One solution the group promotes is co-buying, which involves unrelated, non-romantically involved people buying a home together.

And LiveWork Denver had a brand-new initiative geared to co-buying: the House First Program, created in partnership with Gary Community Ventures, the Denver foundation focused on children and families where Mike Johnston worked before running for mayor. The idea behind the House First Program was that the group would buy homes for those interested in co-buying and hold the properties until the would-be buyers could raise the capital to purchase the homes themselves.

“The pitch was, essentially, that it is about taking a property off the market, but it's also about making that property a safe and enjoyable place to live,” Wells says of LiveWork Denver's initial proposal to Gary Community Ventures. “You have a group, and they're putting everything they have into buying the property. They don't have money to remodel the kitchen, or add another bedroom, or add egress windows or add closets. … What we eventually landed on with Gary was being able to cover the down payment, the cost of holding the property and then the remodeling cost.”

Wells lives in a cooperative house in Capitol Hill. A little over two years ago, her group invested in a second co-living property. That experience, along with others that the LiveWork Denver team of four — Wells, Laura Cowperthwaite, Bri Erger and Adam Gordon — have encountered through their work. helped demonstrate to Wells that a house-first approach can be easier to grasp than hypotheticals.

“It's much easier for people to say yes to a property than it is to say yes to an idea that's less tangible,” Wells notes. “Because people could be like, ‘Hey, do you want to buy something in central Denver sometime in the next year?’ That's really different than, ‘We have a room available in a house in Athmar Park in six months.’”

An actual house sold Jones, Nair and Goldsmith on the concept of co-ownership.

“Up until we found this house, we were always looking at the puzzle pieces and trying to understand how it could work,” Jones says. “But it was the house that sold us on, oh, this is enough space, this is enough land, this is so beautiful. We can feel good here, we can have a community here.”

And the fact that LiveWork Denver could buy the house while Jones and company raised the cash to take over made it not just attractive, but possible.

In March, Gary Community Ventures invested $400,000 in the House First Program. LiveWork Denver used some of the money to fund the purchase of a house for the Amaranth Cooperative and a second property in the program.
click to enlarge A group of women sits in a circle, some on couches and some on the floor.
The first meeting the Amaranth group had with LiveWork Denver at the home that would become theirs.
LiveWork Denver
“The intent with the program is to be able to transfer properties within four to six months depending on the scope of the remodel that we're doing,” Wells says. “It's not like people need a ton of time, but they do need some time."

For instance, Nair needed to sell a townhouse bequeathed by her parents so that the group could have enough money for a sizable down payment. Goldsmith had been doing contract work and needed to find a salaried job so that their loan application would be stronger.

The mortgage that Jones, Nair and Goldsmith ultimately took out puts funds back into the House First Program, to help fund the next set of co-owners.

As LiveWork Denver members look for new properties to acquire for the program, they consider a specific list of attributes: Homes should have separated living spaces, secondary kitchens, multiple bathrooms and 1,800 or more square feet.

“We're pretty good at being able to walk through a property and indicate you could put a kitchenette over here,” Wells notes. “You could put a wall up over here. We have significant lived experience at identifying how can you separate the space and still allow for some community interaction.”

That expertise also helps them explain the intricacies of co-buying, including putting together agreements that outline each party’s responsibility and what will happen if someone wants to leave the arrangement.

“We found in our process that not a lot of people know about the co-buying process,” Jones says, recalling how they confused brokers when applying for mortgage insurance. “We broke their brains. They were like, ‘Wait, okay, are you married? No? Okay, are you relatives?'”

Having LiveWork Denver help navigate everything made it much easier, Jones adds. And through co-buying, they were able to not only acquire a property, but access to economic mobility through market-rate appreciation on home value.
click to enlarge Three women smile while putting their faces through pentagon-shaped frames.
The LiveWork Denver team is excited to buy the next round of House First Program properties.
LiveWork Denver
“A lot of people initially are drawn to it because of your ability to get more house for less if you're combining resources with somebody else or multiple folks,” Erger says of co-buying. “Sometimes the overlooked — for us, obvious — thing is the built-in community and the ability to lean into each other. It's reduced risk.”

Plus, co-buying allows people to own a home that fits all their needs rather than a home they settle for that might not check every box, Wells explains.

“What we see, especially with folks in our age range and below, is this feeling that property ownership is never going to be possible for them or that what they actually want is never going to be possible,” she says. “We believe, and have experience in the reality, that co-buying is a way to get onto the ladder of equity building.”

According to Jones, co-buying is a relationship commitment as well as a financial one, so there are personal as well as financial benefits.

“Each one of us brings something really special into the mix and makes more things possible,” Jones says. “There's so many other people around to talk to, to watch movies with, to cry with, to cuddle with. I can go on and on and on. To me, this makes the most sense, because it makes life feel a little bit easier and so many things feel more possible.”

LiveWork Denver plans to host a celebration to mark the success of the first two House First Program deals. In the meantime, it's offering instructional events about co-buying and other innovative real estate solutions.

“We're celebrating and also eager to work with the next set of groups,” Erger says. “We're ready to go.”
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