As a couple, all your issues will be revealed in one of two places: couples therapy or buying an apartment together.
Buying a home as a couple can be an incredibly rewarding experience, or the impetus for a subway screamfest. It can be a dream forged together, or nightmare on 59th Street. It shouldn’t be approached with fear or dread, though. Like your relationship itself, it should be proactively managed to be an experience that you both enjoy as much as possible within the confines of reality.
It really comes down to three key areas of focus: your process, your communication, and your negotiation.
Going Through the Home-buying Process as a Couple
Like housekeeping itself or raising children, looking for and purchasing a home is work. That work must be shared. Chances are a perfect 50/50 split isn’t possible, but both parties need to take as much responsibility as they can.
Here’s what can happen otherwise: Let’s say Alex takes on all the looking, because he’s not working right now. He does all the late-night internet obsessing, the whittling down of choices, the first looks at open houses. He falls in love with a townhouse, and finally brings Reese along to see it. She complains about the price, he blows up. Because if she could have only seen all he had to sort through to find this place, and if she had any idea what the other places cost, she would know this was a great deal. She takes a cab home. He walks.
You both need to be involved to some degree all the way through the process. From the first discussions to reviewing options to the final decision. You must do this together.
Communicating with Your Partner as You Search for a Home
Because it’s only natural that you’ll both have your roles in the home-buying process, you have to communicate what it looks like from your perspective and listen to how your partner sees it, all throughout your time house-hunting.
It starts with the simple question of should you buy, and once you’ve both decided that you’re interested, you need to set the foundation for your search. Talk about what’s most important to you, what’s a must-have, nice to have, and a never-going-to-happen.
Now is the time to focus on the Stephen Covey habit to seek first to understand, then be understood.
Inevitably, one person will end up doing more looking than the other. If you are this person, please understand that it will not be enough to synthesize all of the information you’ve gathered from your hours of searching online into a single package, present it to your partner, and say, “Tada! I found the perfect home for us!”
If, for whatever reason your partner has not been able to participate in every second of the search with you, they will need to be brought up to speed periodically. That means taking the time to review each option you viewed and giving your partner a quick synopsis of the pros and cons of each. Then give your partner time to process and respond. Don’t worry about relaying the ones you passed on. You don’t really need to spend a lot of time analyzing the ones you didn’t like. Afterall, this is going to be your home. Sometimes it just doesn’t feel right, and neither one of you should be trying to convince the other that those intuitions are wrong.
Whether looking online or in-person (and it should be mentioned here that nothing is a substitute for seeing a space in person), it is crucial to maintain dialogue throughout. Discuss the things you liked and the things you didn’t like and why. Through this exercise, each party will gain a deeper understanding of the other’s deal-makers and deal-breakers. That is, what things are most valued, and what things are available for negotiation. Once those have been identified, the real fun begins.
How to Negotiate with Your Partner
Before negotiations happen at the office, they happen at the kitchen table. Here, more than anywhere, you want a win-win. But compromises will have to happen.
For example, when my husband and I were looking for a place, he kept sending me all these places in posh neighborhoods with spectacular views that were all terrace, no apartment. We have what is commonly referred to as children. They need room. Ok, fine, mommy needs some room. Anyway, I told him, this is never going to happen at this square footage.
I had other bargaining chips. I compromised on location. We’re both so happy with where we ended up that we don’t even think about the location. We just love our apartment.
When negotiating, think through what type of relationship each person will have with the home. You’ll each have a role. Who spends the most time at home? Who has to commute? Who is putting up the money for this house, and does it matter? The person who’s at home all the time might get more say about the kitchen. The person who commutes could have a little more leverage to decide location.
You’ll have three main qualities you’ll be bargaining over. You need to be ready to only get one or maybe two of your own, and make sure your partner gets theirs too.
Think about where or what type of place you want to live in, discuss with your partner, and find out where you have overlapping areas. Most people aren’t that flexible about location. And if they are, it can actually make this part of the process more difficult because the options are seemingly limitless. Once you’ve agreed on where you want to look, you’ve begun the process of narrowing your search. If you and your partner can’t get on the same page about where you’re willing to look, redirect the conversation momentarily to see what you find.
The space itself
Square footage, view, light, number of bedrooms, and flooring — each one of these carries a different level of importance. For some, a small cramped kitchen could be the deal breaker. These are all points to negotiate, but eventually there will be trade-offs. It’s good to know where you stand, what you’re willing to compromise on, and what is non-negotiable.
Being realistic about what you can afford is of utmost significance, of course, but there are additional costs to weigh in on. Carrying costs, taxes, common charges, and maintenance fees are not-small ticket items that are related to the price of buying a home. These are the money issues that could arise if one person is more financially invested in the purchase. Ideally, these potential conflicts can be mitigated by talking them out up front.
How Breakdowns Happen
It is possible that, even with your best efforts to stay in communique throughout the process, breakdowns will occur. Your partner may bring you to a place they love, and when you arrive you find yourself wondering how you’re going to tell them that you can’t stand it. If this happens, it’s best to save all your negative comments for when you’re home, so you can digest a moment. Hear the other person out, first. If things start to get really heated, take a break from talking about the house search.
Inevitably, one person will be more decisive and the other more reluctant. You both have to coax the other toward a middle ground. In the end, someone will have to be decisive. For my husband and I, we both saw a lot of places, and looked online a lot. At some point, I was like, “This is the best thing we’re going to find.”
Buying a home together is a huge commitment, period. You’re dreaming a big dream together. It takes a lot of money to sell it, and it takes a lot of money to buy it. You don’t want to be like yeah whatever, let’s pick that one.
So be prepared for a lot of emotional labor. Just keep envisioning the home you’d like to create at the end of it, the one that will make all the work worth it, and share the process in a way that will strengthen your relationship when you come out the other side, keys in hand.
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