Inspections, closing costs, and loans—oh my! Buying a home is one of the most stressful experiences a couple can share. With so many variables to consider (finances, location, simple matters of taste, etc.), it may feel like every day could bring a new opportunity to argue—but it doesn't have to be that way. Besides, the home-buying process offers enough trying hurdles as is—there's no need to conjure your own. Many conflicts that arise when buying a home can be prevented with clear communication, as long as you're prepared for them before the process gets started.
One way to make sure you have these crucial conversations? Put time on the calendar for them. Shaina Singh, a psychotherapist and dating/life coach in Austin, Texas recommends putting time on the calendar each week to hold a "couple meeting" where you discuss each week's challenges and wins, as well as talk about how you can better support each other on your path to home-ownership.
Scheduled your first meeting, but don't know where the conversation should start? Prevent relationship drama on top of real estate stress by asking these six questions before attending the first open house. (And, of course, let your partner know your answers as well.)
Why are we really doing this?
Sure, the two of you need a place to live—but what does owning a home really mean to you? "Talk to your partner openly about your dreams and aspirations around home ownership," Singh says. Consider creating a relationship "mission statement" that outlines your goals for the future, incorporating both of your core motivations for owning a home. Examine it every time you're struggling to compromise. Decisions magically become easier to make when you measure them against the goals of your relationship: The option that aligns most closely is one all parties can agree on.
What living conditions will annoy you more than you'll admit?
Your partner adores that chic two-bedroom bungalow—but the noisy next-door neighbors concern you, and what will you do when baby makes three? Don't silently panic or wait to say "I told you so." Instead, talk to your partner about why these what-ifs stress you out. "Partners often think they are doing a good thing by giving into buying a home that their partner likes, but that they themselves have doubts about," says Singh. "But this can lead to anger and resentment." Prevent blow-ups down the road by validating your own anxieties and vocalizing them now.
Why do you want what you want?
While you have no trouble deciding what to watch on Netflix or order for dinner, every difference in taste between the two of you seems wildly dramatic now that you're putting six figures into a jointly-owned abode.
New York City real estate agent Ronita Kalra remembers a couple that asked for a modern home—only to show them a new development that one partner deemed too modern. "His husband and I were both shocked, since we didn't know such a thing could exist," she says. "But it helped us understand more what his taste is."
Instead of just open kitchens or number of rooms, identify why your partner wants what they want. Sure, your partner might say they want a modern-style house, but maybe what they're really saying is, "I don't want to deal with the upkeep of a new home." And maybe "too modern" actually means too sharp and cold to house the life your partner imagines for the future. Once you're on the same page for why you want something, it's easier to look for spaces that fit your needs.
What are your expectations about the home-buying process?
What do you expect to do if the loan falls through, or if the inspection reveals a major problem? Problems will arise, and the two of you should take the time to develop strategies to tackle them. "When partners come to therapy and want to work through some big decisions, I often encourage them to start from the beginning," Singh says. The same advice goes with buying a house, but instead of heading a therapist, head to your agent's office to understand what you can expect throughout the home-buying process. There, you can discuss your logistical plans for when setbacks arise (because they will).
Are there any financial red flags we're going to have to work through?
Student loans can feel like a knife-wielding bogeyman eager to destroy your hopes and dreams. But debt holds more power if you hide it—especially from your partner. Both halves of a couple should share everything about their finances before even considering buying a home. Disclosure won't necessarily jumble your hopes for a loan, but it may change your home-buying approach.
"I had a client who didn't realize how much student debt her boyfriend was in. She knew he had big loans, but once they discovered the number, we realized the loan should only be in the girlfriend's name because she would get better rates from the bank," Kalra says.
What's more important to you: space, location, style, or price? Why?
Kalra recently helped a newly married couple desperate for a "nontraditional, non-cookie-cutter type of apartment." But considering their price point, the amount of space they wanted, and their ideal location—Manhattan—the perfect pad simply wasn't appearing.
"The husband was open to Brooklyn from the beginning, but the wife was not interested," Kalra says. But when she showed them a condo conversion of an old shoe shine factory on the water, "they fell in love." With exposed brick, two bedrooms, an open kitchen, and big cast-iron columns throughout, "She decided she would move to Brooklyn to get the apartment of her dreams." While it came as a surprise for this couple, talking about priorities at the beginning of your search makes it easier to find the perfect apartment both of you can agree on (even if it doesn't necessarily look like your dream apartment).
Very rarely will the perfect apartment just appear. More likely than not, you're going to have to compromise on one front or another to get an apartment that fits most of your needs. Instead of holding back on an option because it isn't exactly what your partner wants, discuss what is most important to them. You'll pinpoint what could be the first thing to go when push comes to shove.