Buying a house is one of the most exciting milestones in a couple’s life. But it’s also unquestionably, one of the most stressful. Disclosing credit scores? Committing to mortgage payments? Paying for hidden electrical issues? Not exactly the stuff of romance novels. We checked in with acclaimed money coach Ashley Feinstein Gerstley (aka The Fiscal Femme) to learn eight essential things every couple should discuss before taking the plunge.
1. What are we willing to sacrifice to make this happen?
Unless you’re absolutely loaded (in which case, cheers!), you’ll likely need to make some sacrifices to make your property-owning dreams a reality. Does this mean skipping monthly date nights? Settling for a neighborhood that wasn’t in your initial search? Eating rice and beans every night for the next three years? Get on the same page about the lifestyle concessions you’re willing to make, so nobody gets bitter later.
2. What are our non-negotiables?
To avoid fights and meltdowns during your search, get to work establishing what you simply can’t live without: At least three bedrooms? At least two baths? A quiet road or great school district? Decide what you won’t compromise on, as well as anything that will be a major red flag. This is the fun part, folks — you’re making your literal dream home wish list!
3. Do we want to have kids (or more kids)?
That sleek little 1.5 bedroom condo looks like a dream right now, but what about when you want a baby? And then another baby? All the fees and costs associated with the home purchase might not be worth it if you see yourselves needing more space in the near future. Have an honest, open conversation about how you see your family growing, and the kind of space you’ll need to accommodate such growth (is a single-bedroom, bunk-bed situation fine by you? Do the kids need their own rooms?)
4. How much renovation work are we open to?
Understanding each other’s vision for your new home can alleviate future stress as well as help you plan for it financially. While you can see the fixer-upper with the gorgeous bay windows (and sagging roof) as your dream home, are you actually willing to put in that kind of lengthy work? And more importantly, is your partner on the same page? Decide how much sweat equity you’re comfortable with, and make sure your S.O. is OK with donning a hard hat too.
5. Should we both be on the loan application?
Your debt, salary and credit scores will 100 percent make or break whether you’re granted a loan (not to mention, dictate your mortgage rate), so it’s worth it to think through what you both bring to the table and if it makes sense for both of you to be on the loan. Do your research (a mortgage lender can help) to weigh the pros and cons, and pick a course of action to best position yourselves for approval.
6. How much do we need in our emergency fund to feel secure?
A rainy day fund is a necessary cushion for most folks embarking on a home purchase. And while you might be comfortable putting every last dollar into your down payment, your hyper-planner beau might have a very different figure in mind. Settle on what makes sense for your family, but a good rule of thumb is to have enough in the bank to live on for three months.
Related: The 6 Best Everyday Savings Tips
7. What’s the plan if (gulp) things don’t work out?
This can be a downer of a conversation, and impossible to imagine when you’re in la la land with your soul mate, but it’s a really smart move to have a plan in place should the unthinkable happen. Would you sell the home and split the value? Is there a buyout agreement? Speak with a lawyer and consider adding a clause to a prenup (or post-nup) to commit your plan to writing.
8. How long are we looking to stay — and how does that affect our mortgage?
Is this your nope-never-leaving dream home? Or just a temporary stepping stone before a bigger place? This vision will likely change over time, but laying out your timeline and expectations can help dictate which type of mortgage you’ll apply for. (For example, a 30-year fixed might make sense if you plan to stay forever, whereas a seven-year adjustable at a lower rate could be better if you plan to move again soon.)