I had been dating my boyfriend for about six months when I’d finally saved up enough money for a down payment. And though I could picture us eventually moving in together, we weren’t ready to make the financial — or relationship — commitment of buying a house together.
So, when I started seriously looking at houses, I invited him to offer his input, but we both understood that I’d make the final decision all on my own. I ended up buying a cute, little three-bedroom house and, about a year later, my boyfriend moved in.
The timelines for buying a house and dating don’t always line up perfectly (especially since saving for a down payment and finding “the one” can both take years!). Couples buy houses together all the time, but there are also lots of situations in which it makes sense for one partner to buy the house solo — and then have the other partner move in. Maybe you’re just not there yet in the relationship. Maybe one partner has bad credit. Maybe one partner had already been saving for a down payment.
But what does this type of arrangement actually look like in real life? And how can couples set themselves up for success?
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the trick to buying a house without putting your partner on the deed isn’t really a trick at all — it’s the same relationship advice you’ve likely heard 1,000 times before: Talk to each other.
“Communication is key,” says Lauren Kolazas, a real estate agent in Virginia. “Even though it may seem obvious or uncomfortable to talk about, communicating about all aspects of your potential living situation is incredibly important. Who will be responsible for which expenses? Who has decision-making power when it comes to updates or changes that are made to the property? What will happen if things don’t work out?”
How you navigate these specific questions is up to you and your partner. Some people take a casual approach to moving in together, while others draw up a formal agreement or lease that both partners sign. Some couples divide living expenses based on their respective salaries or their stake in the home, while others might split bills right down the middle.
“There is no one-size-fits-all way to approach buying a home and having your significant other move in with you,” says Khari Washington, a real estate broker in Southern California. “This looks different for each couple.”
In addition to having transparent conversations about money and responsibilities, it’s equally as important to ensure that everyone feels at home in the space.
This can be a little tricky to navigate, since the house-owning partner has more of a vested interest in the property than the non-owning partner. Still, depending on the seriousness of your relationship, it can be helpful to find a middle ground when it comes to paint colors, landscaping choices, and other decisions that could not only affect the home’s ROI but also the non-owning partner’s daily living experience.
“Just because you own it doesn’t mean you have all the power,” Washington says. “Maybe it isn’t their equity, but it is their home too.”
Also, it sounds obvious, but before one partner buys the house and the other moves in, be up front and honest about your relationship status and long-term goals. Buying a house is a big life decision in its own right, but this transitional moment may also be a good time to reflect on and evaluate your relationship, too.
“If you are bringing someone house-hunting with you and you plan to live there together, then I think you should consider their feedback,” Kolazas says. “If you don’t plan to be with the person long-term or don’t want their feedback, then perhaps bringing them house-hunting with you or living together isn’t wise.”