Searching for a new home? How much are the property taxes?
How about the tax on your relationship?
All-cash offers. Quick closes. Flexible move-in dates. When you’re buying a home, dealing with a seller can be complicated and stressful. But for many couples, the negotiation between themselves — about what to buy, where to buy it, and how much to spend — is the hardest. Turns out, buying a home with a partner can strain even the strongest relationships.
Why? For one thing, moving can cause stress, said Justin Newmark, a Newton psychologist and copresident of the Psychoanalytic Couple & Family Institute of New England . (How much stress? Enough potentially to make you sick, according to the HolmesRahe Life Stress Inventory , which includes “changes in residence” on its list of common life events stressful enough they might contribute to illness.) Even if relocating is viewed as a positive thing, Newmark said: “There’s always a sense of loss because you’re giving up something. You can know what you’re losing, but you can’t know what you’re going to gain.”
Your best shot at surviving a move with your relationship intact, Newmark said, is nurturing a team mentality with your partner. “When you buy a house — I see this a lot — each person has to be onboard with the ultimate decision. If one person is not onboard, they never have a sense of ownership,” he said.
This applies whether the investment is fruitful or not. “I’ve seen plenty of times where the market collapses and [a couple is] underwater on the mortgage,” Newmark said. “If they feel equal partners, they can deal with the result as a team.” Likewise, if things go well, “they can share that if they were both a part of the decision.”
Homeowner Rebekah Welch agrees. Ten years ago, she and her husband, Kyle, purchased a Victorian fixer-upper in Chelmsford in need of foundation repair and a cosmetic overhaul. But amid the faded wallpaper and sagging floors, she said: “I saw tin ceilings and stained glass. I saw all of the potential that was there, but I was naïve about the amount of work it would require and the cost of it and how little Kyle enjoys that kind of thing.”
Rebekah eventually adopted Kyle’s view that the list of house projects was just too long. “We had to learn the hard way that we’re not fixer-upper kinds of people,” she said. The ordeal had an upside, however. It was a bonding experience. “We tackled it as a team,” Rebekah recalled.
They did the work but found that the location was not right for them after all. In June, the Welches sold their house in Chelmsford and moved to a recently renovated 1950 Cape in Exeter, N.H., that requires minimal upkeep. With this purchase, Rebekah said, “I was much more realistic.” The reward? “We both like this house more, so we’re more willing to invest our time in it,” she said.
An increasing number of couples are probably facing challenges similar to the Welches’. In its 2014 buyer profile report, the Massachusetts Association of Realtors identified a 10 percentage point increase statewide over the past seven years in the number of married home buyers (63 percent). The number of unmarried couples who purchased a home increased by 2 percentage points in that time frame (13 percent).
For those looking to emerge from the experience unscathed, Newmark advised approaching a home purchase like a business deal. “In a successful negotiation, both people feel like they won’t get [exactly] what they wanted and also like they got something they wanted. If either person feels they got everything they wanted,” he warned, “that’s not a successful negotiation.”
Newmark suggested that each partner make a list of the things that matter most in order of importance — a home office, a level yard, and a two-car garage, for example — and that they flip a coin to see who gets to choose first. “The first person gets to pick one thing. The second gets two choices, and you go back and forth.” Sound familiar? “This comes basically from pickup football,” Newmark said.
For couples who differ on matters of money, such as whether to replace the roof of their home to make it more appealing to buyers, Newmark recommended outsourcing the decision. “I will tell them to go to two or three people. Let the realtor decide what a new roof would add.”
If they’re still at loggerheads on how much to shell out for a new home, Newmark has a tried-and-true solution: split the difference. “The reason that’s a cliché is because it works,” he said.
It’s a good thing, too. As Newmark pointed out, “The seller will not be living with you when the dust settles.”