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house in zagreb

Homeownership in eastern Europe may have things to teach us about owning a home (or wanting to!) in North America. Here’s what we mean by that.

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It’s amazing how much we learn about other ways of doing things if we travel.

Take home ownership, for instance. Here in Croatia, where I’m currently living for two months, home ownership is a big deal. If people don’t own, they often live with their parents until they can. Under communist rule for a while as Yugoslavia, owning a home wasn’t always simple, as the state sometimes got involved. Today, owning your own home is both a privilege and a point of pride.

I recently stayed with a family that owned land, a really well-placed plot of land in a desirable spot, but they didn’t have the money to build a proper home. They were living — husband, wife, two kids — in the parents’ small basement until such time as they could afford construction funding.

Have land, will build to suit

They came up with a creative solution, one that many people have resorted to in this region. They gave the land to a developer of high-end homes in exchange for an apartment in the future building. The developer is now putting the touches on a large three-flat building, and the two other suites have been sold already.

The deal is, my friends own their suite for as long as the building stands and were given much say in how it is finished, from fireplace style to paint colors and layout. But the developer got to keep the proceeds from the other two suites sold.

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I love this solution, because it makes everyone happy. There’ll be a beautiful home when it’s all done and no one needs to go into debt to make it happen.

800px-Panorama_of_Travno_-_Borough_of_Zagreb,_Croatia.

Zagreb, Croatia.

Compromising for the long-run

This is the kind of community-based solution that is reached by being resourceful and open to different ideas, instead of the “owning a large home is part of status” mindset so common in North America now.

I have a lot of admiration for this family. They’ve lived within their means for over a decade in a tiny apartment, being close and cooperative with each other. When I say tiny, I mean a combined kitchen/living room/dining room of about 12 by 15 feet, plus two small bedrooms and a single bathroom. For a family of four. For over a decade!

During that time, they bought great land and searched for someone who could work with them to create a beautiful home that has become a fantastic business opportunity for the developer and a promising, spacious future for their family.

How can we learn from this?

In what way could you make your life simpler, better, by working with others? How could you benefit through financial security if you were willing to compromise and be creative? Is there an agreement you can enter into with others that could see you having a beautiful life for years to come?

We have many versions of this kind of compromise in North America too. I have a friend who, with her husband, bought a large home with another family, and they’ve divvied the home up between them. They’re upstairs, the friends are downstairs, and they work together on home maintenance and upkeep.

I know others still who’ve reached an agreement on low-priced “leasing” of a corner of someone else’s land for an indefinite period, building to suit themselves, but the stipulation being that the home reverts to the landowner’s property if they ever leave.

It’s all about needs versus wants

If you’re trying to imagine a home for yourself and housing prices are soaring out of reach, maybe it’s time to rethink your expectations of what having a home entails. Maybe, through creativity and thinking outside the old home-owning parameters, you can come up with a home to suit your needs without incurring debt beyond your means.

With shrewd negotiating, lower expectations, and the ability to adapt, there’s no need for you to rent until the end of your days.

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Steffani Cameron

Steffani Cameron is a Victoria BC-based writer on a variety of topics. Here on the BuildDirect blog, she specializes in writing about smaller, urban spaces. How do you make the most of your smaller space? How do you decorate it to suit you? And how do you wage the war against clutter and win? This is Steff’s specialty.