Buying a house with my fiancé (my then boyfriend) was one of the most exciting moments in my life.
And it should be exciting, right? It felt like a right of passage into adulthood, even though at that point I was pretty far from actual adult status. Afterall, I had no savings and no job (I had just graduated college).
Thankfully I’ve remedied both of those things, but I digress.
I use the term “buying” lightly because I wasn’t putting any of my own money down, and my name wasn’t going to be on the mortgage. Trevor was ready to buy a house and I was happy he wanted me so involved in the process. We both had a clear understanding that he would finance the house and we would start building a life together.
“Building a life together,” though, is much easier said than done, especially when it comes to understanding not only your own relationship with money, but also your partner’s.
Before I dive in to our experience, it’s important to note that this scenario can play out many, many different ways. This is just what it was like for us.
So although our experience isn’t the end all be all, we learned some valuable lessons that are worth sharing with others thinking about buying a first home together.
Now, onto the lessons.
Communicate your needs.
Throughout the five years my fiancé and I have been together, I have preached one thing to basically everyone I know — communication is key. Even more so if you’re thinking about buying a house together.
Your communication has got to be on point.
Talk about your fears (like how your relationship could end, for example), your hopes for the home, everything. Bare it all.
He really wanted to be close to a highway because he drives a lot for work and I wanted to be in the south/southwest area of our city (Lincoln, NE) because of its mature neighborhoods and easy access to shopping.
Neither of us was sure we were going to be able to find something that checked those two important boxes.
We saw the potential for an argument. And speaking of disagreements, to avoid any fights, each of you should write a list of deal-breakers and must-haves before you even start looking at properties.
Ours looks like this:
- In the south/southwest part of town
- Not a split-level home
- Fenced-in backyard
- Some character
- Close to highway 77/Interstate 80
- Not a split-level home
- Good garage space
- A deck in the backyard
We learned a lot about each other during this time.
I never thought he’d want an unfinished basement, but apparently he did. I wanted a fenced-in backyard for a dog we might have one day.
Don’t get me wrong, we had a lot of things in common, but we also had a lot of differences.
It was our communication throughout the whole process that kept us sane. Luckily for us, we found a home that checked enough boxes for both of us — be prepared to compromise.
Don’t be upset about both your names not being on the paperwork.
This never really bothered me. My fiancé was simply in a better financial spot them than me, and that was fine. He’s four years older, and he had been working a great sales job for multiple years, while I had just graduated college and was only beginning my career in marketing.
Something that did bother me, though — a few people tried to discount our experience of ‘buying a home together’ because technically (read: legally) — the house was his, not mine.
From my perspective, it’s not the paperwork and/or a marriage that makes a home for two people.
It was still a very special experience for us. We learned quickly not to share those personal details with anyone. It wasn’t worth trying to explain our unique situation.
On the flipside, if you’re someone who is bothered by not having your name on all the paperwork, there are many different ways to buy a home with another person.
You can do sole ownership, joint tenancy, or tenants in common. It gets a little sticky to try and explain what all of those things are, so I recommend reading this helpful article if you’re interested in the legalities of everything.
Bottom line, talk about this. Again, it’s all about communication.
The money conversation doesn’t stop after the house is bought.
OK, so you’ve paid your down payment and signed on the dotted line — the house is yours. Congrats!
You might think that’s the end of it, but it’s only the beginning. You need to immediately work out a plan for who’s paying the mortgage or how you’re splitting it. Do you share utility costs? If the dishwasher breaks down, who’s paying to replace it?
For us, our incomes at the time were significantly different, so we split things based on a percentage.
This made what each of us had to pay more relative to our incomes. We did it this way because simply saying, ‘OK let’s split it in half,’ didn’t work for my finances.
So we talked things through and found an alternative that worked for us.
Have a plan in the event of a break up.
Unfortunately, relationships don’t always work out, so before either of you put money into repairs or permanent fixtures (appliances, remodeling, etc.), talk about what would happen if you broke up.
As much as it sucked to discuss, we ultimately decided that if I were to spend money on anything for our house, it would be on things that I could take with me or sell.
When our air conditioner broke down, my fiancé paid for it. We had agreed ahead of time that he would cover permanent fixtures. This was a verbal agreement, which involved putting a lot of faith in each other. If that makes you uncomfortable, you can choose to do a written cohabitation agreement. I recommend whatever works best for you!
At the end of the day, buying a house is a big step and no matter how prepared you are going into it, you’re bound to question some of your choices with the benefit of hindsight, and that’s OK.
But I hope sharing my experience with you makes it all feel a bit more approachable.
It doesn’t matter if you’re married or not, move forward with your relationship in whatever way feels right to you!
Chloe is a Nebraska-based content creator who loves to cook, be outdoors and cuddle up with her two cats, Harry and Susan. When she’s not writing or taking photos, you can usually find her in the kitchen or watching Law and Order: SVU reruns.