“Mike” and “Katy” were madly in love when they decided to buy a house together. Maybe that was part of the problem. They didn’t want to get married, but they wanted to buy their first home together. They didn’t consult a real estate attorney and made some classic mistakes.
Making An Agreement
A real estate attorney can help you draft either a property ownership agreement or a cohabitation agreement. This makes it clear what both parties’ financial contribution will be, the ownership structure, what happens if one party passes away, and what happens if you break up. When Mike and Katy got together, they made an informal arrangement, but they did not get it in a legally binding document. They also thought love would last forever, so they had no agreement for what would happen when they split.
It can be easy when you’re in a great relationship to think that you don’t need a legal agreement, and these days many couples are choosing not to get married. But a good real estate attorney can help you think through all contingencies with both knowledge and objectivity.
Are you ready to make this investment?
Buying a home can be a wise investment, but not if you’re not financially stable or ready. In retrospect, Katy realized that she had not been clear enough with Mike about her financial stability. She made great money, but she also had outstanding debt (both credit card and student loans). She helped her mother out financially on a regular basis, and knew that responsibility would grow as her mother aged. She was also not the best at money management. In the optimism that can come with love, she wasn’t entirely transparent.
Mike also knew that he could provide a sizable down payment after selling his previous home, but he was an independent contractor whose largest client was a startup that could fail. While his earning power would improve, he had health concerns that made it hard for him to work full time, limiting his earning power. In their young love, Katy thought that she would make all the money and he would cook all the meals. It didn’t turn out so well.
A real estate attorney could have helped them take an honest look at their circumstances, in a nonjudgmental, practical way. It might have been better for this couple to wait a year or more before making such a big investment.
How Will You Finance This Major Purchase?
Mike and Katy decided that he would put down the downpayment and she would pay the mortgage. This was again a fit of optimism with long-term consequences. Though on paper her income was great, she couldn’t really afford the entire payment with her other financial responsibilities. This led to resentment and fed into their eventual breakup.
They also might have gotten a better interest rate if Katy’s credit score had been better. Take a hard look at your credit report and see what you can do to increase your credit score before you buy.
There are more costs to owning a home than the mortgage and down payment
Mike and Katy had an arrangement for the mortgage and down payment, but they didn’t discuss who would be responsible for issues like major or even minor repairs, or even utilities. Fortunately, Mike was a great money manager and was able to pay for very expensive repairs, but the consequences could have been disastrous if he wasn’t. That also led to some resentment. When their basement became a small swimming pool and he had to shell out a tremendous amount of money from his hard earned savings, they both wished they had discussed this in advance.
An experienced and knowledgeable real estate attorney can help you think through eventualities that might not have occurred to you. And they can help you make arrangements with clear eyed judgment.
How this can impact your taxes
Katy was working full time on salary with benefits, but Mike was at that time still working as an independent contractor on a 1099. He worked from home, so he was able to deduct his workspace from his taxes. She on the other hand was carrying their health benefits, with him as her domestic partner. It never occurred to them that she was being taxed on those benefits, so when she found out, she was mad. They might have been able to work out arrangements that would have been more equitable in the long term if they had consulted both an attorney and an accountant.
Different ways to own your home together
It never occurred to Katy that there was such a thing as ownership structure options, as she had grown up in apartments and never owned. The two most common options are joint tenancy and tenancy in common. They needed a qualified attorney to help them make the best choices.
This can impact your estate planning goals
Begin planning for your estate now. Do you have children or are you planning them? What will happen if one of you passes away before the other? You both need a will that clearly outlines what will occur in the event of either of your demise.
What if you decide to sell?
Consider the long-term prospects for your home. Is it in an up and coming neighborhood or are people moving out. Certainly, the economy can be unpredictable, but a good attorney can help you think through possibilities and make the best plans possible to protect yourself and your family and make the best possible investment. Are you planning to stay in this house long-term or do you want to move to somewhere larger if you have children? What are the chances that one of you will be offered a job across the country and need to sell? Planning is key.
What happens if the relationship ends?
Mike and Katy broke up. Fortunately, it was amicable, and when they sold their home they figured out a way to split the small profit in an equitable manner. But not all breakups are so friendly, and no matter what, a breakup is an emotional time. Even though it’s hard to imagine when you’re buying a home together, you need to make a plan for if the relationship ends. The right real estate attorney will be able to help protect you in the event this happens.
It is worth having a professional help you
Mike and Katy had a do-it-yourself attitude that had served them well in their careers, but that led them to make some bad decisions about their finances. They needed to consult a reliable real estate attorney before making such a large commitment and investment. Don’t make the same mistakes they did. We can help you make the best plans for all concerned and protect this valuable investment.
You’ll be glad to know that Mike and Katy are still the best of friends. From opposite coasts.
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