Buying a house as part of a couple involves making big decisions and of course, some compromises. We’ve helped many couples navigate the path to home ownership so we know first-hand how much fun (NOT) making big decisions can be. We’ve seen tears, shouting matches, door slamming and awkward silent treatments that last for hours.
If you’re looking to buy a house or condo with your spouse, a little preparation – OK, a lot or preparation- can go a long way to making the process more enjoyable and save you years of arguments and resentment. Here’s our list of important considerations for couples looking to buy a home:
1. Wants and Needs
Independently, take the time to each write out what you want: your absolute must-haves, your nice-to-haves and your absolutely-nots: number of bedrooms and baths, basement, access to outdoor space, parking, an income suite, a big entertaining area, ideal square footage, etc. Once you’ve each completed your lists, pour yourselves a glass of wine and come up with ONE list you can both agree on for the absolute must-haves and the absolutely-nots. Trust me; your search will be a lot easier if you’ve agreed to the basics before one of you falls in love with a home. Of course, a good real estate agent can help mediate this process as an impartial third party.
2. Condo? House? Townhouse?
This decision stumps a lot of couples looking to buy a home. Each type of home offers advantages and disadvantages, from price to location to maintenance to lifestyle. What’s right for you?
What kinds of activities do you each like to do (together and apart)? How important is it to be able to walk to a coffee shop, the hottest restaurant, a park? Do you want to be on a street where everyone knows your name and gets together to carve pumpkins? The neighbourhood you choose will greatly affect your lifestyle and is one of the biggest decisions you’ll make when buying a home. If you can’t agree on a target neighbourhood, take the time to explore each other’s choices – a Saturday morning brunch followed by a long walk and a stop for a pint at the local pub might just be what your spouse needs to see to realize that your neighbourhood pick might suit them too.
4. To Renovate or Not?
Some people are born renovators while others simply want to move straight into a bright and shiny home. Which one are you? Is your partner the same? If you find yourselves on different sides of this debate, one compromise many couples make is finding a mechanically sound home that just needs cosmetic work (in other words, it doesn’t need new electrical, plumbing and walls -the kitchen just needs a facelift).
This is often a sticking point for couples: modern and contemporary or traditional? Open concept? IKEA kitchen or pine cabinetry? If you don’t know your own style, that’s OK, you’re not alone. Download the Houzz app and start browsing what’s out there.
6. What’s Your Timeframe?
How long do you plan on being in the house? Is this purchase a forever house or a stepping stone? Knowing the time frame of how long you plan to own the house or condo can help you determine your budget and make it easier to make compromises. It’s easier to live with something you don’t want for 3 or 5 years than it is for 20.
I realize you might not want to talk about it yet, but what is the plan for starting a family? The timetable for kids will dictate the size of the house you buy, the neighbourhood you choose and the importance of nearby daycare and schools.
Are you planning on getting a dog? Does one of you want a Great Dane and one of you wants a Chihuahua? The plan for pets is important as it impacts the size of the space and yard you need (or its very existence), the importance of a nearby dog park and the flooring finishes. It will also restrict which condos you can buy as most condominiums in Toronto have restrictions on the number, size, and types of pets you can have.
How far are you and your spouse prepared to commute to work? Who drives and who is OK on the TTC? One of you will likely have a longer commute than the other. If one or both of you regularly work from home, you’ll need to take those needs into consideration too.
10. Who Does What?
Who’s going to be primarily in charge of maintaining the house? It’s a lot of work to own an old Toronto house and having the responsibilities set out, in the beginning, can save a lot of arguments down the road. If you’re moving in together for the first time, now is a good time to have a conversation about cleaning too (or avoid the whole argument and just bring in some cleaners – trust me, a good cleaning company can save a marriage).
11. The Big Question: Budget
There doesn’t seem to much consistency with who wants to spend more – husbands or wives – but there’s almost always a difference of opinion. Make sure you look at all the costs of owning a home – buying, maintaining, closing costs, etc., and come up a budget you can both live with. Then stick to it.
12. Financial Stuff
Where is your down payment coming from? If one spouse’s parents are helping out with the downpayment, do they have a say in what you buy? How will that make the other spouse feel? Who will contribute how much towards the mortgage, taxes, and maintenance? Many of our client couples set up a joint ‘house’ account where house expenses get paid from.
13. Legal Stuff
I know no one goes into home ownership planning to divorce, but we all know it happens. Better to have the what-if conversation today than when you’re in the midst of an emotionally charged separation. If you aren’t legally married, consider having a lawyer draw up an agreement that sets out the terms of the ownership (who owns what percentage, what happens if you split up, etc.).
14. Sale of Current Homes
We often have clients who each own a condo and are buying a house together, which means the stress of two sales and the stress of a purchase. Timing the sales and the purchase are critical – the last thing you want is to both be homeless! A good real REALTOR should be able to guide you through the storage and short-term options to make this part as painless as possible.