When I was single, I bought my first apartment. It wasn't so unusual: About 20% of homebuyers are single women. Prices were cheap at that time, and my best friend—something of a financial whiz—urged me to do it.
I found a realtor I could trust, looked at two (count 'em, two!) places and bought the one I liked better. Fast-forward to married life. My husband originally lived in my place with me, and we dreamed about getting “our place” for years! We considered about a dozen different neighborhoods, and looked at tons of different apartments before buying our current place.
I learned a lot in the long years of that home search, and from working with clients both married and unmarried. If you’re looking to buy a home together, here are five principles that will help while you shop:
1. Discuss Expectations.
True story: I had wealthy rental clients where the husband called me up and asked me to make a bunch of appointments for two-bedroom apartments (they had one son, a toddler). I go out with him and his wife, and we’re standing in one of the two-bedrooms, and she looks at him, puts her hand on her stomach, and says, “but honey, we need three!” It was a really tender moment... that I kind of wish I hadn’t been part of. In general, the time to talk about general expectations of space and budget is before you meet the realtor. Talk about where you each grew up, too—sometimes your expectations of what makes a great home are shaped by the house or apartment you grew up in.
2. Define Dealbreakers.
We were open to just about anything—in our price range, we needed to be—but I grew up with a lot of pets, both dogs and cats. Even though we don’t have a pet now, I knew I didn’t want to buy in a no-pet building. That was an absolute “no” for me, so hubby knew not to put no-pet buildings into his search.
3. Figure Out Finances.
My dad was a great shrink who worked with a lot of couples, and he used to say, “It doesn’t have to be even, as long as both sides think it’s fair.” So figure out what you and your better half think is “fair”: Is one of you paying the mortgage and the other paying the maintenance? What about the down payment? Emergency money? Take a look at this piece on copurchasing;it will remind you about some of the more technical points. Then remember that you need to come up with an agreement. Although, if it helps, remember that said agreement doesn’t need to be set in stone for thirty years. You can renegotiate as circumstances change.
4. Work Out An Escape Plan.
Knowing that half of marriages end in divorce, then buying with your beloved is like spinning a roulette wheel. Take a minute to talk about what you’d like to do if things don’t work out—sell the property? Have one of you buy out the other? What if one of you dies? This is important to talk about if you’re married, and critical to talk about if you’re not. Gay couples, for example, don’t have the same automatic protections of law as straight couples.
5. Have A Shopping System.
Some realtors will have you see everything together, but rate the properties separately on a one-to-five or one-to-ten scale until they learn what you “both” like. What finally worked for us, rather than going to see everything together, was for my husband to find things and then for me to pick from them. I have couples as clients where I know the husband is pickier, so I go through the list of things that the wife likes, which yields a lot of properties, and then try to apply his tougher criteria as a second filter. Whatever system you come up with, be patient—I promise you you’ll eventually end up in a great new home!