Community Blog: How House Hunting Can Tear You Apart

Community Blog: How House Hunting Can Tear You Apart

This week's Sunday Times Real Estate section featured the article, "Come Buy with Me and Be My Love," by Hilary Stout. The article said that due to a terrific buyer’s market, a lot of couples who are "planning to get married" are buying homes prior to saying their vows.

But although real estate is so cheap right now that even I want to buy (which isn't even possible),  the smiles on the featured couples' faces less filled me with congratulatory excitement than they did with overwhelming dread.

Because it may just be me, but buying a home, like an actual house and property, with someone you are "planning to get married to" sounds like a pretty terrible idea.

Why is that?

Because plans change.

And if or when they do, both parties are going to be screwed in a bad way, economically and emotionally.

First of all, as the article points out, real estate laws are designed for married couples acquiring assets: the rules when it comes to plain old couples acquiring assets, even "planning to get married" ones (and even those who actually do down the road), don’t really exist. For example, Ms. Stout points out that the income tax break currently being offered by the government to first-time home buyers, which can be divided between a husband and wife, cannot be divided between a boyfriend and girlfriend acquiring the same assets.

And how about emotional well-being?

Break-ups are hard enough as it is, but when you own something together, be it a couch, a stereo system, or a home, things get a lot more complicated (and I'm not even mentioning kids here). In a bad way.

My friend Rita was living with her boyfriend for the past year and a half. College sweethearts, he moved across the country just to be with Rita (how romantic).

But as of November 2009, Rita wasn't doing so hot.

Nothing per se happened, but she simply fell out of love, as people do. She no longer wanted to be sexual with her boyfriend and started to be attracted to other men. She also began to realize that her painting career—the reason she had come to NYC in the first place—had fallen on the back burner in respect of a more pressing day-to-day existence: being a dutiful girlfriend and roommate.

Rita came to me for counsel. Being as young as she is, and without the uber-complicating factors of shared property or children, I encouraged Rita to work on the relationship as much as she could, but if after a while she knew in her heart that it wasn’t going to work, she should end things.

Rita really already knew this. But she was still filled with buts. On top of saying goodbye to her best friend, there was a lease to get out of, furniture to divide, the task of finding a new place to live, etc. And a myriad of other things to take care of in order to peace out of the relationship, stat.

Rita finally decided to leave her beau, but it wasn't easy. She just moved into a new place this past weekend.

But if there are these many issues when the only physical property at stake are some kitchenware and a lease, can you imagine how hard it would be when a house is involved? And a tax break that only one of you received? And a mortgage that only one of you paid? Assets can't be split down the middle because the state government won't recognize your union, however much in love you were. They only recognize you as individuals. They don't care who paid for what or who didn't. Uh-oh.

Buying together becomes even more frightening when it comes to a couple who hasn't even lived together yet. And yes, this does happen.

What if two days after the kitchen is done, you realize that the person you "planned to get married to" you legitimately can't stand? And the idea of being trapped in isolation with them outside of the city (because, let's be real here, most couples can't afford to buy in Manhattan)—the city where you have always lived, close to friends and other sources of entertainment—makes you want to take a gun to your head and to theirs?

Then you are s*** out of luck.

So, as Miss Stout says, "Look Before You Leap." Because the likelihood of one or the other of you breaking a leg, and not being able to walk for a long, long time, is more likely than the chance that you will be throwing a bouquet or hopping on your knee anytime soon. So, better yet, don't leap at all. Focus on loving for right now and the leaping will come later.

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