A trend for marriage in America is that more couples are older when they tie the knot. In fact, an increasing number of people now marry for a second time after their kids have reached adulthood and left the nest. And the older the couple, the more likely they are to each own a home on the day they wed.
Coming into a marriage with two homes raises complicated questions for couples. Should they sell one place and move to the other or sell both properties and buy a new place together? One additional option -- which is increasingly popular with older, empty nesters who can afford it -- is to retain both their domiciles indefinitely.
Dr. Bonnie Jacobson, a New York therapist specializing in relationship issues, tells the true story of a couple of clients who grappled with the two-home issue and ultimately decided to keep both properties.
The husband is a medical researcher in his 70s who works in the Washington, D.C., area and loves his suburban home there. His new wife, a professor of philosophy in her 60s, owns and enjoys a Manhattan apartment close to her university job.
"They see each other on weekends and during vacations. They have a beautiful marriage, so what's the big deal? It's all very romantic," says Jacobson, the co-author of "Choose to be Happily Married" and other books on relationships.
Jacobson also says a couple keeping separate homes can sometimes be a good solution for re-marrying couples with grown offspring who wish to keep their estates separate.
"This way when it comes to the kids, you don't have conflicts over who inherits the property. Each set of children inherits their parent's home," Jacobson says.
Are you a two-home couple who will soon marry and need to forge a unified housing plan? If so, these few pointers could prove useful:
-- Make sure you communicate about your future housing desires.
Many people who marry or remarry in their 30s, 40s, 50s or beyond have spent years living independently and are used to making decisions solo. In such cases, Chris Knight, a certified financial planner, says it's especially important that they discuss both their financial and lifestyle preferences before making a major housing decision.
Couples who find it hard to reach a conclusion through their own talks might consider hiring a financial adviser to help, if only for a consultation lasting a couple of hours. A skilled adviser will draw out each partner, thereby helping the couple come to a compromise that works for both.
Reaching agreement on housing objectives helps a couple overcome one of the key hurdles they confront in combining their lives.
"When they marry, couples merge legally. But many still don't merge financially for many years. Reaching a consensus on housing helps people merge financially at an earlier stage in their marriage," says Knight, who's affiliated with the Garrett Planning Network rr(garrettplanningnetwork).
-- Don't rule out a change of neighborhoods.
Couples with adult children typically have more choices open to them than do those who still have young kids at home or who plan to have a family soon. No longer must they focus on choosing a community with quality schools, playground access and other child-friendly amenities. Instead, they have the liberty to concentrate on their own interests and hobbies.
Once both partners clarify their strongest interests, they will find it easier to identify locations and housing choices that could serve both.
-- Take retirement planning into account when making housing decisions.
Retirement experts underscore the reality that many baby boomers -- people born between 1946 and 1964 -- have insufficient savings for retirement. That's why financial planners like Knight caution them against committing to an expensive housing decision, like building a custom home, until they've put away enough funds for their retirement years.
How can you determine if you and your partner have enough funds to retire? This question requires analysis, Knight says. Among the factors to consider are your health status, probable life span, how long you plan to work and your expected return on investments.
"If your interests are expanding and you want to travel, you'll likely need more money than anticipated," Knight says.
To get a grip on your financial needs for retirement, Knight recommends you use the free calculators available on the Internet, including those provided by such mutual fund companies as Vanguard (www.vanguard.com) and such personal finance publishers as Kiplinger (www.kiplinger.com). To help with lifestyle planning for retirement, you may wish to pick up such books as "The Power Years: A User's Guide to the Rest of Your Life," by Ken Dychtwald and Daniel J. Kadlec.
-- Consider selling both homes and buying another.
Are you and your partner marrying for the second time? If so, you may be uncomfortable with the idea of moving into the home that was once occupied by your partner's former spouse.
Both partners may be strongly attached to a home where they've lived for many years. But starting fresh by selling both their properties and then purchasing a third place can have many pluses, according to Knight.
"Buying one common home instead of keeping two can be financially advantageous. And it could be the very best choice for young people who wish to raise their kids under the same roof," he says.
(To contact Ellen James Martin, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.)