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How to house hunt without destroying your relationship

first time mortgage
Reading Time: 4 minutes
Feb. 8, 2018.

It’s not just a rumor. For years, this sneaky little factoid about what causes a couple’s pristine relationship to crumble from the inside out, almost without warning, has been making its way around the internet.

Rankings may vary based on the psychologist, relationship expert, or research institute, but money always makes the top 10 list for reasons why couples fight. Arguments between two seemingly compatible people are normal, of course, and may include other fun topics of disparagement like kids, in-laws, cleanliness, and emotional issues. But money, being the root of all evil, can make its way into even the most sympatico relationships.

Let’s say you and your significant other are taking the plunge and are thinking about buying a house. If so, a big congratulations are in order — right alongside a big adjustment in your expectations to avoid any spats that could derail your best-laid plans.

Got 15 minutes?* Get prequalified for your mortgage.

4 ways to ace home buying as a couple

As you start the house hunt together, keep these guidelines in mind to mitigate money-related arguments, preserve your relationship, and save your sanity:

1. Get prequalified first.

Today’s version of the house hunt has little to do with pounding the pavement; it’s largely digital. When couples get that starry-eyed look in their eyes and decide to buy, they start by scouring houses on the internet and bookmarking a list of favorites. As fun as “window shopping” for homes online may be, there is a catch. It’s far too easy to get your heart set on a dream house before you find out how much of a home loan you’ll prequalify for.

Searching online for a house is encouraged — considering that 51 percent of buyers find their homes online — as long as you take care of your loan prequalification first. This simple step can minimize unnecessary arguments that can arise about where, when, and how much house you can afford. Give your information to a lender online, in person, or using an app. Get an estimate that details your housing budget. Use this number to narrow down your choices and ensure you and your partner are on the same page.

2. Deal with the debt.

You’ve gotten prequalified, and now it’s time to find out if you or your partner are hiding any (more) skeletons in your closets. This may also be a time when you discover, if you haven’t already, that you and your partner have differing beliefs about money. Though it can be a tough topic to tackle, it’s helpful to find out each other’s perspective on money matters early in the relationship — and especially before making a major financial commitment.

Most financial advisors recommend setting aside around 28 percent of your collective income for your monthly mortgage payment. To provide you with an accurate home loan estimate that you can use during your housing search, a mortgage lender is also going to look at your debt-to-income ratio as a couple. Assessing your risk using this number, many lenders stick with a debt-to-income ratio at a baseline of 38 percent, lower than the 43 percent recommended by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. High DTI ratios are common for many couples and may require financial planning and/or counseling. Interestingly, most partners are understanding of student loan debt, while car loan and credit card debt can strain a relationship.

“We thoroughly enjoyed working with everyone at the Zitlow Group at Cornerstone. They made the process of buying a home that much easier and painless. We’ll undoubtedly use them again if given the opportunity.” – Find a Cornerstone loan officer near you for an enjoyable home buying experience.

3. Write down a wish list.

Are you having fun yet? After money matters are addressed, next comes hashing out the details of the house hunt. If the thought of moving is stressing you out already, then being put on the spot to choose the right neighborhood might push you over the edge. Turn this task into a fun date night activity — or take notes on your own time and compare them later. Either way, give each partner the chance to express their biggest “wants” in a home before signing on for the financial investment.

Where do you want to live and why? Does proximity to local schools matter, or would you rather have a shorter commute? Do you need a big backyard, or would you prefer little maintenance? Would you like a house with one story or two? Do you need a big kitchen, or is a large master bedroom better? Are you willing to consider renovation? Answering these housing questions can reveal a new side to your partner.

If you have questions, we have answers. A friendly, local loan officer is only a call or an email away.

4. Talk about the eject button.

It’s an unpleasant subject during the happy moments of a house hunt, but somebody’s got to broach it. According to a Zillow analysis released in 2017, more young, unmarried couples, from ages 24 to 35, are buying houses — rising to 15 percent from 11 percent in 2005. While widening the scope in the housing market is a great thing for all couples, taking such a significant step, with or without a marriage certificate, requires some caution.

Sharing expenses, finances, and even a house can easily open the door to more arguments about money. As unromantic as it seems, financial advisors, realtors, mortgage lenders, and lawyers alike recommend getting property and cohabitation agreements in writing. If one partner puts their name on a mortgage — related to a second partner’s high debt or poor credit — it’s imperative that the couple draw up a contract that details the terms of the deed, shares paid into utilities and mortgage, and a plan for how payments will be handled in a worst-case scenario, if the relationship ends. Most partners will want to put their names on the title of a home so they can both build equity on their investment. In circumstances where only one partner is on the title or is paying for the home, consulting a lawyer and signing a contract can provide both partners with protection.

It might make you feel better to hear that, according to The Gottman Institute specializing in marriage research, money fights aren’t really about money.

And housing fights aren’t really about finding the perfect place to live. House-hunting as a couple can put your feet to the fire and bring out unpleasant issues that need addressing. It can also bring you closer together when you use financial conflicts as an opportunity to learn how to better communicate and understand your partner’s perspective. Iron out some of these kinks that can arise when you buy a house as a couple, and you’re already halfway there. Fortunately, the next step is easy. Download our free LoanFly app, plug in your information to get prequalified fast, and find out how much you can afford to buy.

*During business hours.

For educational purposes only. Please contact your qualified professional for specific guidance.

Sources are deemed reliable but not guaranteed.