Choosing to live with your significant other is a big step in your relationship. You’ve probably talked in-depth about it, weighed the pros and cons, and queried your friends. But now that you’ve chosen to take the leap, you’re faced with one more vexing question: Where will the two of you live?
You might be comfortable remaining in your art studio loft, while your significant other wants you to move into the huge house she rents with an army of roommates. Or perhaps you prefer a sky-high modern condo, while your significant other likes the idea of a home with a yard on a suburban street. How can you come to a happy medium?
Here are four tips to help you pick your first home together:
1. Define “Moving In”
When you agreed to move in together, what did you each mean by that? Do you move into one person’s current home or do look for a new space together? You need to get on the same page before going any further.
It could be that one of you is already living in an ideal place — perhaps it’s an easy commute to work for both you, or it’s a large space at a rock-bottom price. If you’re lucky enough to be in this boat, you’ve saved yourselves a lot of time and effort and can skip to point #3.
But if you can’t decide on whose home is the best choice, or if you want to create a fresh start to together, read on!
2. List Your Must-Haves
Create a list of features and amenities that each of you can’t do without. Once that’s done, create a second, separate list of things that would be nice to have. Consider the basic characteristics of a new apartment — location, property type and style — and features, such as a pool, fitness center, hardwood floors or a two-car garage.
Ask yourselves these key questions:
- What’s the farthest distance from work you’re willing to live?
- How close to public transit do you need to be?
- How important is access an airport?
- What’s the highest price point you’re willing to pay?
- How important is square footage, compared to price and location?
Compare your lists to see where you agree, where you disagree and where you can compromise.
If you disagree over spacial aspects— for example, if you’d like a loft space but he’s more traditional—you can meet in the middle by working out tradeoffs. Perhaps he’ll be okay with a loft apartment as long as it’s got enough space for his music equipment; or maybe you’ll be okay with a downtown location, as long as you have a designated parking spot.
If you’re having trouble coming to terms with fundamental needs — for example, you will not live in the suburbs and he can’t stand city life — you may need to step back and reconsider whether moving in together at this time is really the best decision.
3. Get Clear on the Financial Responsibilities
Money is one of the most common things couples fight about, so head off any potential financial disagreements by making sure you each know what you’re getting into before you sign on the dotted line.
Will one or both of you sign the lease? Who will put down the deposit? Will you split all household expenses equally, or, for example, will you cover the rent while she pays for utilities and groceries? If one person accidentally spills something on the carpet, will you both share the cost of the damage deposit, or will the “at-fault” party bear the burden?
If you’re like most couples, you’ll probably decide to split rent and expenses equally, whatever that means to you. You might decide on a pure 50/50 split, or you might choose to split the bills based on your relative income percentages (e.g., the person who earns 60 percent of your combined total income will cover 60 percent of your combined total bills).
Other arrangements, which are just as fair, are also possible. For example, if one of you earns a high salary and the other is a student, you might agree that the high earner pays the bills while the other takes care of all of the domestic work, such as decorating, cooking, cleaning, managing bills, growing a veggie garden, etc.
Regardless of the cost-sharing arrangement, make sure you’re both in agreement at the beginning. Arguments result from mismatched expectations.
4. Consider the Worst-Case Scenario
It’s impossible to predict the future, but you can prepare for it.
Have a discussion about what will happen if you and your significant other break up or decide to end your living arrangement for another reason. Establish clear guidelines for what will happen to the property, and your financial obligations to it, if you go your separate ways.
Will you both move-out or will one person keep the apartment? Will the person who stays in the apartment immediately begin to pay 100% of the rent, or will you both agree to a “grace period” during which time the other partner contributes to the rent?
Who will cover the utilities if one of you moves out? What happens to security deposits and who is responsible for any damages caused?
It might feel wrong to talk about breaking up just as you take this next step in your relationship, but it’s much better to have a clear-headed conversation now rather a disagreeable one later.
Your new apartment will represent your lifestyle and values. So, when searching for new digs, your chief concern shouldn’t be choosing between carpet or hardwood. Instead, ask deeper questions, such as those around location, size, commute distance, price, and financial and legal arrangements. Your answers will dictate how much of your paycheck will get gobbled up in house-related costs (and that could spell the difference between staying home next summer and taking a vacation Europe).
Use the process of home-hunting as an opportunity to talk to your significant other about these broader issues. What type of life do you want to lead together, and how will your home tie into that bigger picture? Taking the time to answer these questions today will help you plan wisely for tomorrow.