As they approach marriage, many young couples face the daunting challenge of how to acquire their first home. But couples marrying over the age of 50 sometimes confront the opposite issue: how to deal with ownership of two primary properties.
In the past, most late-marrying couples with dual homes considered only a couple of conventional options. They could sell one property and move together into the other, or they could sell both and buy a third, where they’d both live.
But a new trend is emerging among an increasing number of older couples who already own homes: They’re designing lifestyles that allow them to keep both places they’ve owned for years.
“For more settled couples, one option is to continue living separately rather than unite their households in the conventional way,” says Francine Russo, the author of “Love After 50: How to Find It, Enjoy it, and Keep it.”
Russo, who’s spent her career investigating and tracking social trends, refers to committed couples who choose to live separately as “LATs,” because they’re “living apart together.”
There are multiple factors increasing the popularity of LAT relationships among older couples.
“People are living longer and still want to have intimate and emotionally committed relationships in later life. Yet both men and women appreciate the autonomy and independence of retaining their own homes. In addition, their housekeeping and lifestyle standards may differ greatly,” Russo says.
Understandably, the trend toward two-house coupling involves mostly affluent adults who can afford to maintain two households. But as home values continue to ascend, increasing home equity, more seniors can make the numbers work.
Even when LAT living proves financially viable, some couples who could keep their two primary properties prefer an arrangement that allows them to reside together.
“If you own two houses, be sure to discuss your alternatives and preferences before making a firm decision,” Russo says.
Kevin O’Reilly, a certified financial planner, says it can be especially hard for couples to resolve the two-house puzzle if one of the partners was married previously and still lives in a home once shared with an ex-spouse.
“Moving into a place where the ex lived isn’t the fairy-tale ending most people imagine. It can cast a massive shadow around a new marriage,” he says.
“There’s no single right answer. For all my clients, I believe in happiness. Decisions like these are not all financial,” O’Reilly says.
Here are a few pointers for marrying couples with two properties:
-- Commit your housing preferences to paper.
These days, an increasing number of people who marry have had years of independent living behind them. Because of that, it’s all the more important that they listen to each other when making joint decisions.
“There are issues of turf and control that come up early in marriage and need to be discussed,” O’Reilly says.
Before making any major housing decisions, he recommends that a marrying couple with two homes write out a list of their personal priorities.
“It’s always better to write down your thoughts rather than just tossing ideas in the air. Writing things out forces you to think things through,” O’Reilly says.
If a deadlock develops, the couple might consider consulting a financial planner or an accountant, if only for an hour or two. An outside adviser may be able to help spur the conversation to a breakthrough choice that works for both husband and wife.
-- Realize that unconventional solutions could work well for you.
Those remarrying after their children are grown typically have more latitude to consider housing alternatives than do those still raising young children.
“Once your children are grown, your needs change. One person might want to move to the country and raise horses. The other might want to live in a condo in the city,” says Dorcas Helfant, a former president of the National Association of Realtors (nar.realtor).
One way to address the subject of where to live, Helfant says, is to visualize what you’d be doing during ideal days. For example, on a free Saturday would you rather tend roses or attend a jazz festival?
By listing your preferred activities, you’ll bring into focus the kind of location and property that would best suit you and your spouse in coming years.
“Whatever your age, there’s no single right location. It’s all a matter of individual preference,” Helfant says.
-- Ponder the prospect of selling both your homes and buying a third one.
Are you and your partner entering into a second marriage? If so, one or both of you might be uneasy with the thought of living in a place where a previous partner once lived. Would he feel at ease hanging his suits in a closet used by her first husband? Would she feel uncomfortable making brunch in the same kitchen where his former wife cooked?
For many people launching into a new relationship, the idea of selling both their homes and starting fresh with a different place has tremendous appeal, according to O’Reilly.
“Financial factors aren’t everything for couples. There’s also a strong emotional dimension to any housing decision. So buying a place where neither of you have lived before might be your best possible choice,” he says.
(To contact Ellen James Martin, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.)