First comes love, then comes marriage, next comes ... escrow, closing costs, and school district squabbles? Few things (aside from bachelor parties) test new love quite like buying a house together.
Which makes sense: With real estate, there's an awful lot on the line. As such, “small tensions and challenges tend to become inflated, difficult obstacles,” explains Carla Marie Manly, a real estate broker and licensed psychologist in Santa Rosa, CA.
So if you and your significant other are house hunting, brace yourselves from some spats! Here are a few of the arguments you two lovebirds are bound to get sucked into, and how to resolve them so you can create your love nest—without nearly coming unhitched in the process.
Many couples disagree on where they want to settle down—because location affects so much in terms of daily commutes, school districts, and of course price.
"A good location inevitably means paying more, and couples frequently disagree on whether it’s worth it," says Elizabeth Gigler, a broker for John Greene Realty in Naperville, IL. Gigler often sees one partner push for a prime location while the other keeps the focus squarely on the mortgage payment.
The fix: Before you start house hunting, sit down with your partner and talk about which neighborhoods are on your wish lists. Hopefully there's some overlap between the two, and if not, discuss how you'll meet in the middle.
This strategy works for Gigler, who typically has her clients hash out locations to target before they ever set foot in a house. “Addressing this question from the start keeps me from becoming a referee,” she says.
In this case, the timing of this question is key: Since you haven't started house hunting yet, your dream home is still an abstract idea, so it's much easier to find a compromise you can live with. That becomes much harder once you start touring homes—and one of you falls in love with a particular property that the other hates.
Even if you and your sweetheart both like a particular home, whether you love it enough to make an offer is where feelings often diverge.
"And so they keep looking," says Nathan Garrett, a real estate agent in Louisville, KY. But at this point, one partner is still waiting for that perfect "10" while the other is seething, thinking haven't we found it already?
The fix: Garrett recommends that couples grade each home they look at on a scale from 1 to 10, then compare their grades at the end of the day.
“This can help you come together, stay on the same page, and hopefully make it a little easier to decide on a home,” he says.
Recently, Gigler has seen more and more couples disagreeing on how aggressive they should be with their offer.
“One spouse may not want to risk missing out on the home of their dreams, while the other is determined to try to negotiate a better price,” she says.
The fix: Just how hard a bargain you should drive should be determined mostly be the market. If listings are lingering for months, it's a buyer's market where bargain hunters have the upper hand. But if it's a seller's market where houses are moving fast, lowballing is a risky bet.
“In a seller’s market, lowballing often leads to losing out to a higher offer and the couple is left arguing about the loss of their perfect home," says Gigler. In this case, "just like you stopped dating and made a commitment when you found the right spouse, do the same when you find the right house."
Even if couples are in blissful agreement about the home they love and how much to offer, they then spar over how to divvy up the spoils—in other words, who gets which rooms and where stuff goes.
“The placement of the TV is often a point of contention, as are what to do with bonus rooms,” says LanceMarrs, principal broker at Living Room Realty in Portland, OR. “Lower levels of a home can often be deemed perfect for a 'cave' of some sort, but viewed as the prefect creative space for the other.”
The fix: Try to shelve this conversation for now.
“It’s wise to live in the house for a period of time to determine how it lives, then circle back about your best use of space,” advises Marrs. If tabling the issue is impossible, share examples of what you’ve seen in similar spaces or have an interior designer help you create the space you (both) want.
Not everyone has the same definition of “fixer-upper,” or the same threshold to deal with it.
“I’ve seen a husband want to overhaul everything and a wife who refused to buy something that wasn’t move-in ready,” says Sotereas Pantazes, CEO and founder of Efynch.com, which connects homeowners with contractors.
The fix: “Clearly define what’s acceptable for repairs, with the understanding that the rules may be bent if the right opportunity arises,” says Pantazes. Consider your long-term plans, as well as what tasks you feel are DIY and which need a professional's touch. And take it slow, just as you did with your relationship—there's no reason to go a hundred miles an hour and remodel everything at once.