Somewhere around half of U.S. marriages now end in divorce, according to the American Psychological Association. Marriage experts say one of the most perilous times for couples occurs as they approach buying a home.
“Money is the No. 1 cause of conflict and divorce in our country, and buying a house is the biggest purchase most couples make in their lifetimes,” says Dr. Elizabeth Schmitz, a psychologist and co-author of “Building a Love That Lasts.”
“For many couples, there’s a middle ground between differing opinions on the right place to buy. Shut off your phones and really listen to what’s important to your partner,” she says.
Schmitz acknowledges that some house-hunting couples deadlock over differing priorities. To help break such a deadlock, she recommends they work with a real estate agent who can help assist them to discover options that might suit both partners.
Schmitz and her husband, a fellow marriage analyst and former university dean, have moved seven times during their 52 years together, and every move has required some level of negotiation.
“Over time you learn how to compromise effectively,” she says.
Here are a few pointers for home-buying couples.
-- First, define your spending limits.
Ashley Richardson, a real estate agent who’s sold homes since 1993, says many couples launch an elaborate property search before setting their spending limits. But she urges would-be buyers to start by talking to a reputable mortgage lender.
“Price has got to come first, because it dictates how much of your wish list is doable,” says Richardson, who’s affiliated with the Residential Real Estate Council (crs.com).
Of course, there are many national lenders seeking to sell their services via the internet. But Richardson says it’s usually preferable for buyers to work with a local lender whom they can meet face-to-face.
Why is it easier for couples to reach consensus if they obtain mortgage pre-approval? Because, as Richardson says, those who know their spending limits are more realistic, which makes compromise easier.
“That way, neither husband nor wife gets their heart set on a home that’s beyond their reach, saving time and disagreements,” she says.
-- Select the right neighborhood as your second step.
Obviously, picking the right neighborhood is a personal choice no real estate agent can make for you. For that reason, Richardson suggests you evaluate several neighborhoods before asking an agent to zero in on listings in any area.
“You can save a lot of time by identifying your favorite neighborhood early and then finding an agent who truly specializes in that community,” Richardson says.
She recommends that couples discuss the neighborhood features most important to them. They need to decide, for example, whether it’s more important to live close to work or in an area with lots of pristine open space.
Though many buyers spend ample time comparing neighborhoods through internet searches, Richardson recommends they also spend some weekend hours driving through neighborhoods of interest and stopping by open houses.
-- Identify lesser priorities you’re willing to trade off.
Many couples in their 30s and 40s with young children are anxious to move up from a small starter home to a place with more bedrooms and bathrooms. They typically find it easy to agree on their space needs.
But beyond these basics, couples argue about other important property features. For example, is it more important to buy a place with a large lot or one with a two-car garage?
Because few couples can afford a home with every feature they want, Richardson encourages partners to give each other a written list of priorities. That way both parties will probably get more of what they want.
-- Consider the redo of a home that doesn’t quite meet all your wishes.
Susan Graves, a veteran real estate broker, recommends that couples who can’t now afford a place with all the features they both want look for one that could be updated to meet their top priorities.
To determine if the improvement you want would fit in your budget, Graves suggests that buyers call in a contractor for an estimate on cost. For example, they could obtain a bid to add a garage to a property that lacks one, or to install quartz countertops in a dated-looking kitchen.
“Buying a well-priced home that needs only a limited amount of work to ensure that both husband and wife are happy could be a reasonable plan,” she says.
(To contact Ellen James Martin, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.)