After eight years of dating, Greg Hebert and Laura Reiffarth knew it was time to take their commitment to each other to the next level. In June 2012, they took the plunge — and bought a home together.
The couple, who have recently gotten engaged, knew then that they would eventually get married, but buying a house first seemed like the right step for them.
“We knew we couldn’t afford to do both at the time, so we had to make a decision,” Reiffarth says. “We felt it was financially and logically smarter to buy the house first.”
It’s a decision more couples are now making. A recent survey by Coldwell Banker found that 1 in 4 married couples between the ages of 18 and 34 purchased a first home together before marriage.
The trend follows the increase in cohabitation documented by the 2010 census and in a recent study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The CDC study found that nearly half of women up to age 44 had cohabitated between 2006 and 2010, compared with 34% in 1995. It also found that 40% of those couples got married within three years of living together.
And for Hebert and Reiffarth, it made more sense from a relationship perspective to buy the house, then tie the knot.
“It’s kind of funny for us to think about how our parents did it,” Reiffarth says. “We look at getting married before moving in together as a huge risk. What if you were married, moved in together and then couldn’t stand the other person? Then you’re kind of stuck, just spent a lot of money on a marriage and a house.”
Changing attitudes Psychotherapist Robi Ludwig, who worked with Coldwell Banker on the home buying study, says couples who are purchasing homes together are definitely commitment-minded, but that the difficult economy has prompted a shift in priorities.
“You have a population that has to be more aware of fiscal realities and responsibilities, and there is kind of more of a sober attitude when it comes to making pragmatic decisions,” she says. “Couples are deciding, ‘We are committed,’ and it makes sense to save money.
“I don’t think you can separate out the economic and fiscal realities with how couples decide to move forward in their lives,” she says. “How they handle finances will have a huge impact on their relationships. It’s not romantic, but it’s real.”
A focus on reality is what prompted Hallie Stinehour and her now-fiancé to buy a home in Vermont. The two weren’t yet engaged when they made the purchase last year.
“It was a buyers market,” she says. “We knew we were going to be in the area for a while and were tired of renting.”
Stinehour says they are glad they got in when they did.
“The way the market is going this spring, if we had waited to buy we would have paid thousands of dollars more,” she says. “Now we can leisurely save for and plan our wedding and make improvements to the house, all from the comfort of our own home.”
A major commitment But some couples hesitate to purchase a home without the level of commitment that marriage signifies.
“My current husband and I considered this when we were dating, but we hesitated,” Kelli Bhattacharjee says. “Sure if we pooled our assets together we could afford a much nicer home, but I was afraid of the repercussions if we broke up.”
She says she was also afraid that owning a home together might motivate them to stay together for the wrong reasons.
“I did not want to muddy the waters in our relationship,” she says. “I decided I wanted to make the commitment to him before we started entangling our finances.”
After they married, the couple built a home in Hyde Park, Ohio, and Bhattacharjee says she is glad they waited.
“We were more established in our careers and had more disposable income so we could afford exactly what we wanted,” she says.
Testing the relationship But for some people, buying a home signifies a much bigger commitment than getting married.
“Owning five or six hundred thousand dollars of property together may actually be a stronger bond, one that can be harder to disentangle, than many marriages, which can often be dissolved rather quickly and easily with a no-fault divorce,” says Barry Maher, a motivational speaker who owns two homes in California with his partner, Rose Fennel.
The couple had lived together for eight years before they made their first co-purchase.
“Living together in a rental home was a commitment, certainly much more of a commitment than dating,” he says. “But obviously, it wasn’t nearly as strong a commitment as marriage. All it would have taken for either of us to get out of the relationship was a U-Haul, a couple of friends and a few trips lugging our stuff to a new location.
“But buying a home together is a major commitment, with promises that have to be kept and major consequences if they aren’t,” Maher says. “Just the fact that we were willing to commit to buying that property showed how strongly we were committed to making the relationship work.”
Ryan Lau and his fiancée, Leina Yokota, bought a house together in Honolulu in September 2012 because it made financial sense, but found that the process was a good test of their relationship.
“A Realtor will tell you the top three things to consider before you buy are location, location, location,” he says. “I say, before you decide to buy with your significant other you need communication, communication, communication. Our plan was one that evolved as we went through this process. We listened to each other, were honest with each other and revised our plan as we went along.”
Reiffarth says the process brought her and her fiancé closer — and taught them a few things.
“We had to have open discussions about our finances, our own debt, our personal and financial goals, as well as what we wanted in a house and what we were willing to live without and find a common ground,” she says.
Ludwig says the home buying process is a telling one for couples both married and not.
“They not only learn about each other’s wishes and dreams during this process, but they also learn how to be practical with each other and compromise,” she says. “Buying a home has more of an impact on a couple’s relationship than any other purchase they will ever make. It bonds two people together and makes them a family.”
Homebuying tips for couples Ludwig shared the following tips for married and unmarried couples who are going through the home buying process:
- Decide “needs” versus “wants” and be willing to compromise. Everyone won’t get everything they want on their checklist, so it’s important to get a home that pleases you both. When you’re under the pressure that comes with shopping for a home, you might uncover conflicting values, interests, likes, dislikes and tastes, and those differences can create tension. Your ideas about what’s important will be influenced by your background, childhood and the home in which you grew up. Those ideas can also be influenced by the fantasy of the homes in which you always wanted to grow up. Patience, understanding, compassion and compromise are key to neutralizing conflict and overcoming differences.
- Prioritize what’s important in a home, together. Does the location work? Do you plan to stay in the area for a few years? Make an independent list and then compare notes. Even the closest couples are still two separate people with two separate ideas and agendas. Searching for a home can surface a couple’s differences in priorities and ideas about life. Working together to decide what is best for a combined future strengthens the bond between individuals and prepares couples to effectively deal with future disagreements when they arise.
- Be open, honest and organized with your finances. This includes the ability to talk about personal savings, debts, budgets and credit ratings. Money is one of the leading causes of marital discord. Studies indicate that women view money as a sign of security, stability and lifestyle, while money tends to be more about winning, losing and self-esteem for men. Being able to communicate effectively about your finances is a critical component of a successful relationship.
- Think about your future for three, five and even 10 years down the road. Before buying a home, talk to your partner about plans for your career, having a family and what that means in terms of neighborhood and space. For some people, being asked to think about future needs can create anxiety. It’s important for couples to learn how to support each other when these anxieties and fears come up during the home buying process.
Original article here.
If you chose to buy a house together before marriage the key is communication! Make sure that you agree on how much equity each partner is entitled to just in case there is a split. I purchased a house for myself and my then fiancée (now wife) while we were engaged. As I was the only person putting down the down payment, and I was the main earner, I declined to have her on the mortgage and deed. It was an awkward conversation for sure but one I’m glad we had. I recommend that anyone looking to buy a house with a partner who is not a spouse to decide upfront how much each will put up money wise and then determine how much of an ownership equity that entitles them to. No one ever wants to think a relationship won’t last but when you’re dealing with a huge sum of money like a mortgage loan, it’s important that people protect themselves.-Eric Butz, The Real Estate Prophet
- Benefits and drawbacks: Living together before marriage (kylierobinson.wordpress.com)
- Forget the Wedding. Unmarried Couples Leap into Homeownership (athomesense.com)