My mom often says that couples should live in separate houses next door to each other and turn the porch light on when they want the other to visit.
This living arrangement could possibly make for the happiest of marriages, right!? It’s cool to imagine buying the exact house I want, decorating it however I want, without compromise (and sending the kids next door for breaks sounds amazing too!). But it’s SO hard to buy one home much less two! So we live together (some of us with extended family too). And we both have to compromise on what we want in a home and try to carve out our own space inside it.
My husband and I are house-hunting right now. We have to be out of our current place in four months! I am real estate broker. I’ve also worked at a real estate investment company for 8+ years. And although I absolutely love real estate I do not like house-hunting for myself. (I do love house-hunting with other people though, probably similar to how personal shoppers like shopping for others – finding just the right outfit at the best discount price – without having to spend their money.)
House-hunting is a super stressful time in a relationship. It’s one of those things you think should be fun. Kind of like wedding planning, but it just isn’t. It’s a BIG deal and a lot of money so there’s a lot of pressure. But if you’re like me and ready to check that next box and buy a home here are my three home-buying tips for couples:
#1 Set your goals and get on the same page as best you can.
Oftentimes you and your partner want different things in a home and almost always house-hunting is depressing. You always wish you could afford more (no matter what price range you’re in) at least if you’re living in California, and especially if you’re in San Diego like us, which is one of least affordable cities in the country! So there will probably be things you have to compromise or give up on.
(Why don’t we move out of California? Good question, millions of other people are leaving California and I think about leaving all the time but when you’re married both of you have to be on board. And it’s hard to agree on buying a home much less moving out of state. Add family and job concerns and you stay probably in large part out of fear but this is a topic for another article on a different day.)
First step, make a list and agree on some deal-makers and deal-breakers. When making a list ask yourself these questions:
- What is your investment personality? For many the decision is whether to buy a newer home on a smaller lot in a less expensive area or an older homes (potentially on a bigger lot) that needs a lot of work in a more expensive area. To answer this question you need to assess your investment personality. Do you like low risks and predictable returns? Than you may want to choose the first option. If you are more of a hands-on investors and risk-takers than the latter.
- What is going on in your life? Timing is everything. My husband and I were in escrow on a piece of land and were going to build a house on it but at the time we had a 4 year-old and 6 month-old twins. We decided not to go through with it. Honestly, we were afraid we’d get divorced or kill each other. Looking back it was still the best decision.
- Is your budget financially feasible – what can you really afford? Not what the lender gives you as a max. Use Mint, look at your monthly expenses, give yourself a 20% contingency for “life” and crunch the #’s yourself. Don’t get me wrong, everyone feels broke when they buy a house and you can both decide to sacrifice things or work more in order to afford more but you have to know what you will be sacrificing to avoid being upset down the road. If one of you is unhappy with the trade-off it will affect your relationship.
#2 approach it as an investment.
Houses are typically a very emotional purchase. But try not to get too emotional. Remember, for most couples this will be your biggest financial commitment ever and your #1 investment. Most first-time and even some second-time home buyers will not be able to buy a house they absolutely love.
Accept that there will be compromises you both don’t like and agree to think about the home as a long-term investment – a home that you will improve over time or one that you will eventually sell or rent out when you are able to afford your “perfect” home.
Never invest in something you don’t understand. Make sure you understand what you’re buying. If you overpay a little because you love it that’s OK (especially as a long-term investment) but you need to know that. You (not your agent or anyone else) need to understand the comps, investigate the area (talk to neighbors, Google, Nextdoor), look into school districts (Great Schools), run a rental analysis just in case, etc. Agents, contractors and other third parties are great resources but ultimately this is your decision so you have to own it.
#3 be patient + chill out.
It’s weird how in life we postpone certain things like relationships, buying a home, having kids for a long time but then when we decide we want those things we want them yesterday. However, real estate rewards those who are patient. When you’re a buyer even if there is little inventory and it’s a seller’s market you can still have the upper hand if you are patient. A seller only has one piece of property to sell. You have multiple choices, even if you don’t love them all. Patience does not mean you are on the sidelines taking a nap. If you’ve done #1 and #2 above, you have a plan, you have educated yourself on areas, schools, selling prices and you are ready to buy but you should not be desperate to buy.
Remember, everything works out. (As I’m writing this, I’m telling myself this too!). In the end we all find a place to live, it just happens and in 40 years we will have forgotten about this stressful time so be kind to each other in the process. Remember, why you’re buying a home – for the people that will live inside of it. And also remember you don’t have to buy. There are many people who live perfectly happily together their entire lives having never bought a house.