Buying a home with your partner is a massive decision. It’s equal parts exciting, scary, and expensive. It really can be a make-or-break moment for any couple, even if they’ve lived together before.
Fortunately, there’s usually someone to hold both of your hands along the way: your real estate agent. They’re trained professionals who’ve seen every possible kind of potential homeowner. They’re basically your personal guide to your future dream home.
Real estate agents can work some serious magic on even the toughest of house hunts, but what they can’t do is fix an ailing relationship. They can detect one, though, because they’ve seen a lot of couple drama go down during those hundreds of home tours.
Northern Virginia–based Realtor Amelia Robinette admits that “couples counselor should be part of the job description.”
“Sometimes, it can get a little too intimate, especially when working with couples who reveal their innermost couple-y issues,” she says.
Sharing a home may be one way to strengthen a partnership, but it can be the undoing of others—and the warning signs often begin long before the moving trucks arrive. Are you flying any of these red flags?
1. No Sign of Planning or Discussion Beforehand
Not everyone is as organized as they’d like to be. But when it comes to buying a home, planning has to be made a priority. Finding your dream home is the start of both new memories and entirely new responsibilities. It’s not a decision to be made lightly.
If you show up to a house inspection 10 minutes late with a look on your face like you made a wrong turn on your way to Starbucks, then you’re not exactly entering this new chapter in your relationship like you should be.
That’s not to say you should be fully armed with an impressive repertoire of real estate jargon and a bulging file folder under your arm. But at least you can do your research; if 8-year-old Girl Scouts can manage to be prepared then so can you.
Cheryl Dillon, divorce coach and co-founder of Equitable Mediation Services, specializes in divorce mediation and says that discussion is important to make sure both partners are on the same page about why they’re moving in together.
“Say one partner is very practical and thinks that moving in with their significant other is a great way to save money,” she says. “While the other partner thinks, ‘This is it! We’re on the path to marriage!’ The two individuals are clearly not on the same page and that’s going to lead to disappointment for both of them down the road. The couple should make sure to talk about the reasons why they’re taking the big step and what each expects from his/her partner. If one or both people aren’t comfortable communicating their needs and expectations up front because they think things are going to blow up, or they’re afraid the other person may not have the same motivations, then they’re probably not with the right partner in the first place!”
In my career, I’ve been able to call a coming divorce, especially with newlyweds.
It’s also important to make sure those discussions are happening at the right time. Robinette says she’s seen many a couple rush into buying a home together.
“In my career, I’ve been able to call a coming divorce, especially with newlyweds,” she says. “They’re on a mission to do things in the ‘right’ order. They got married last year, so need to buy a house this year. Then I get the sad call the next year asking me to help them sell their property because they’re getting a divorce.”
2. Completely Different Expectations
During your house-hunting process, your real estate agent will ask you a lot of questions about what you’d like in a home. The last thing they want is to hear two different answers to every question.
According to marriage and family therapist Shelly Bullard, laying your expectations out on the table beforehand is crucial.
“I think one mistake could be knowing what you desire or what direction you’re moving in and not making space to communicate that with your partner,” says Bullard. “Often we can be really clear about what we want, and we can sometimes assume that our partner wants the same thing. But we don’t really know what they want unless we have that conversation.”
Similar values are the glue that binds a relationship together, and that goes double for the home. If you imagined living in suburban ranch house but your partner schedules a viewing for a downtown loft, then you’re in trouble.
According to Bullard, this kind of drama can easily be avoided by having a proper conversation with your significant other.
“If you’re going to take a big step in your commitment, perhaps create a time and place where you can sit down with your partner and authentically share what you want and hear what he or she wants.”
3. An Inability to Compromise
Having an idea of what you’re looking for in a house is one thing, but knowing what your partner wants and how that might conflict with your must-haves is just as important. Below, we outline the keys to moving past that potential conflict:
4. Turning Decisions Into Power Struggles
Who has the final say in your relationship? Hopefully you can’t answer that question because you are in a relationship with your equal, not your school principal.
You and your partner are a team, and decisions are an opportunity to get the best possible outcome for both of you. Okay, so that might be romanticizing the process. But the way you both approach decisions together says a lot about how much you respect each other.
“We do get to see another side of our partners during stressful times,” says Bullard. “Stress can make us act in less-mature ways.”
Buying a home isn’t like buying groceries. The cashier at the grocery story might think it’s cute when you tell your partner to return that $12 bottle of avocado oil, but your real estate agent isn’t going to be quite as impressed at your constant attempts to silence your beloved during the inspection process.
The amount of bickering and sometimes belittling I’ve seen between couples has made me extremely uncomfortable at times.
Robinette can remember one particularly awkward interaction with a couple.
“The amount of bickering and sometimes belittling I’ve seen between couples has made me extremely uncomfortable at times,” she says. “I’ve heard husbands and wives yell at each other, scold each other and even once a husband said to his very accomplished, extremely bright wife, ‘You’re the stupidest person I’ve ever known.’ Ouch.”
Your real estate agent doesn’t care which of you comes out on top during your petty arguments, but they sure might have a few ideas about the future of your relationship.
5. A Fear of Commitment
If you’re buying a home, then you need to fully understand the stress, responsibility, and of course, financial obligation that comes with being homeowners.
No matter how close your real estate agent is to closing, nothing’s going to give them pause more than flakiness. If one person appears anxious, is stalling for time, or in any way looking like they’re uncertain, then it’s not the right time to be purchasing property.
Does any of this sound like you and your significant other? It might not be time to run for the hills, but it’s definitely time to have a proper talk about how ready you both are to make this decision.
6. A Complete Lack of Enthusiasm
House hunting is tedious. You may very well have dragged yourself to a dozen house inspections in the past week, and no amount of double shot lattes can help you now.
Your real estate agent doesn’t expect you to be as peppy as a cheerleader, but acting completely apathetic is cause for concern.
Despite all the semantics of interest rates and zoning, you should be excited about your future home. Why? Because it’s the start of your new life with your partner.
If you can’t imagine curling up together by that fireplace or sharing a home-cooked meal in that dining room, then the problem might not be the house—it may just be you.
7. Constant Bickering
Is there anything more awkward than watching a couple argue? No one enjoys being privy to someone’s relationship drama—especially your real estate agent.
This doesn’t have to be full-blown arguments. Snide comments and passive aggressiveness aren’t going to go unnoticed by your partner or your real estate agent.
“I’ve seen fights erupt over cabinet color, countertops, and whether the shed is too big ‘because you’ll never be in the house, you’ll always be out there,'” says Robinette. “With a response of, ‘yep, that’s exactly what I’m going for here.'”
Yes, looking at house after house can get stressful and test even the most patient of people. But if you can’t stop bickering for the length of one inspection, then you might have bigger troubles than your credit limit.
If there’s one thing that all successful couples have, it’s the ability to turn towards each other, even in times of crisis.
Dillon says it’s important to work as a team, especially when stressed out.
“If there’s one thing that all successful couples have, it’s the ability to turn towards each other, even in times of crisis,” she says.
8. Disagreements About Money
Money problems can make or break a relationship, as Robinette has seen before.
I once had a client hysterically crying to me on the phone saying, ‘This $2,000 issue could be the end of my marriage.’
“I once had a client hysterically crying to me on the phone saying, ‘This $2,000 issue could be the end of my marriage.’ Out loud I’m trying to help solve the problem, in my head I’m thinking, ‘If $2,000 breaks your marriage, maybe you should let it die.'”
Spending, saving, debt, and hardship are problems you’re going to have to face together. This is exactly why it’s important to be on the same page with your finances.
You can be forgiven for disagreeing on the necessity of a dishwasher. But how much you’re both willing to spend on your house should be firmly agreed on.
“It’s important to have the money talk in advance of taking a big step such as buying a house,” she says. “Decide together how the house will be purchased, whose name(s) will go on the deed and mortgage, and the amount each partner will contribute to the down payment.”
Dillon says it’s also important to figure out how bills will be paid, how finances will be split, and of course, to be realistic about the potential for things to go south.
Expect the best but prepare for the worst.
“Expect the best but prepare for the worst,” she says. “Discuss now what will happen in the event of a break-up and write it all down so there are no issues or misunderstandings in the future.”
Remember: You’re going to be paying that mortgage for a long time. You’re taking on a lot of debt, and you might even be combining finances for the first time. You might think your relationship is unbreakable, but you’d be surprised how something as mundane as money can tear that apart.
How to Save Your Relationship (and Your Sanity)
Afraid the house hunt will bring out the worst in you and your relationship? It’s easy to get short tempered, but it’s also not hard to maintain a strong level of support for your significant other.
If we are able to hold our own composure during challenging times, we’re more likely to hold space for our partner’s.
“During stressful times like times of transition, stress, or making a deeper commitment, see if you can have space for your partner,” says Bullard. “All of him or her. Even the part that gets stressed and acts less-than-composed sometimes. If we are able to hold our own composure during challenging times, we’re more likely to hold space for our partner’s. This type of open, loving support can bring him or her, and your relationship, back into balance.”