What it's like buying a house with your significant other
I was only twenty-four years old when I signed the purchase documents for our home. It’s still a little surreal to look back on. I had not yet started my second year of law school and we’d lived in Ottawa for less than a year when Brett said he found a builder he couldn’t wait to buy a house from. To say I was unsure is putting it lightly.
To provide some context, Brett is usually the one to move the needle in our relationship. As an occasionally maladaptive perfectionist, I prefer not to commit myself to things I can’t do perfectly. Both to my benefit and my detriment, I often have a picture in my mind about how I want things to go. If I can’t have it done exactly the way I planned, then I don’t want to do it. I prefer to wait for the “right” time before diving into something new. But as life often shows us, there is never the “right time” for anything. If you wait for the “right time” to buy a house, take a trip, get married, have kids, start a business, or take any major action in life, you may wait forever. That’s why I’m always grateful to have a partner who pushes me to do things, even when it might not be perfect.
So, there I was at twenty-four years old, about to be a homeowner and I had to talk myself up to taking that step. Perhaps because I took property law in school and understood the legal significance of the decision, buying a house with Brett felt like a bigger step than getting married. Of course, marriage has its own significance, but for me, buying the house together really enmeshed our lives. I couldn’t imagine going back from that.
It’s for this reason I can’t stress enough the importance of feeling confident that you’re taking this step with the right person. This seems like an obvious statement but the “right person” isn’t just the person you love and want to spend time with. You need to ask yourself whether you’re good at making decisions together, whether you’re comfortable with where you’re both at financially and what kinds of contributions you each make to the relationship. These are easier questions to answer if you’ve lived together before but homeownership can change the dynamic of the relationship if you haven’t had these discussions before. The right time to think through this is before you decide to go ahead with the purchase, not after.
Second only to making sure you’re choosing the right person is choosing the right property. Regardless as to whether you’re buying from a builder or with the help of a real estate agent, ask lots of questions about the construction, the location and the valuation. It can be tempting to walk into a space and start envisioning it as your home. I know we walked some model homes that looked amazing but I was horrified to learn about all the short-cuts some builders. The more questions you ask, the better decisions you’ll make. Since Brett works in the construction industry, we had great insight into our build process and the housing market. Without that inside knowledge, knowing what questions to ask is incredibly important.
One of the tenser topics of a home purchase is budget. The word “budget” alone dampens my mood but I want to talk about this openly because finances are the leading cause of stress in long-term relationships. A lot of people are familiar with the concept of needing a down payment for a home purchase. What you may not know is that the minimum down payment in Canada is 5% and if your down payments is less than 20%, you’re required to purchase mortgage default insurance. Your down payment and mortgage approval will have the greatest impact on your price range. There is no question that we wouldn’t have been able to afford our home if Brett hadn’t been able to make the down payment. My law school tuition was equivalent to a down payment every year for three years. The bank wasn’t really considering me an asset at that point.
It’s also important to consider your property taxes, which will be a new expense if you’re accustomed to renting. How much you pay in property taxes changes from year to year and can vary significantly if you’re in a new build. You may also be surprised by how much you’ll need to set aside for accessories and furniture. Even if you’re moving from a similar size rental unit, it’s a good idea to set aside another 15-25% to cover the cost of furniture. All these expenses add up fast and don’t include necessary or cosmetic renovations. Discuss your finances ahead of time and be prepared to compromise so you don’t find yourselves in a tight spot.
Speaking of compromises, this may be the most important thing to do when buying a house with your significant other. Through this process, Brett and I really learned when to give and take. Brett will happily tell you about the time I almost quadrupled our kitchen budget with engineered quartz countertops. He drove me crazy when he wanted to put a TV in almost every room. We agreed on most things but where we didn’t we had to talk it out. Be honest with yourself about what you want and what you need, and know the difference between required and desired spending. Have a short list of “must haves” and a much longer list of things that would be nice to have, but that you’re prepared to compromise on. Being upfront about this at the beginning will keep you both honest and accountable for your decision making.
But finally turning to what it’s like buying a house with your significant other, it is a great bonding experience but it’s also challenging and stressful. It’s important to understand how to support your partner during this time because you may each approach the process differently. Brett moves quickly, while I tend to like to take my time with things like planning and packing. The moving process itself overwhelmed me and I needed to feel like he was willing to take a step back and process the experience with me.
Sometimes buying a house seems like a giant game of monopoly: the whole thing costs a lot of money and it feels like everyone loses. But when it’s all over, you get to look around your home and feel grateful and proud at what you’ve accomplished. At the end of the day, there is something nice about having your own space and feeling like you can put down roots. We created positive energy here, the space feels like “us” and it definitely set us up to take on bigger challenges in the future.
Oh, and for a final funny note about our home-buying adventure: My initial plan for the bedroom was to paint ALL the walls black and while I fought Brett tooth and nail when he said we should just paint one wall, I’m glad that he pushed back. Just don’t tell him he’s right.
Duvet and pillow covers - Pottery Barn
Sheets - Bed, Bath and Beyond - Wamsutta
Lamps - West Elm
Flush mount - CB2 (no longer available)
Picture frames - CB2
Throw pillows - Nordstrom (no longer available)