These days you don’t need to put a ring on it to say “I do” to buy a home with your partner. In fact, many couples are delaying a trip down the aisle to invest that money in their first property. Of course, making a joint commitment like a property purchase without the protection of marriage can be risky, so how do you tell if it’s a good idea for you, or if you’re letting yourself in for a world of trouble?
Rawson Property Group MD,recommends using this checklist to help you figure out if you really are “homeownership-ready”.
1. You’re already living together
This one might cause raised eyebrows from more traditional folk, but according to Clarke, one of the best ways to see if you’re ready to own a property together is to live together first.
“You never really know someone until you’ve seen them at their best and at their worst, and experienced all their little habits in full, daily glory,” he says. “If you buy a home together, you’re going to be constantly in each other’s space, so you need to be sure you can deal with his snoring or the great clumps of her hair that seem to breed in the shower.”
If you’ve lived together happily for at least a year or two, you can be fairly confident that you’ll survive a more long-term commitment. If a weekend away leaves you ready to tear your hair out, however, you might want to give yourselves a little more time before buying property.
2. You’re 100% committed
Commitment comes in many forms, and while you certainly don’t need to be halfway down the aisle to buy a home with your partner, you do need to be secure in your future together.
“We do see couples exploring the option of buying property as a way to make their relationship stronger, or even to put a band-aid on some deeper issues,” says Clarke. “That’s really not a great place from which start your property journey. The responsibilities of homeownership are far more likely to widen existing cracks than to cover over them.”
If things don’t work out, you can, of course, choose to sell, but Clarke says this generally results in a poor return on your investment.
“Timing is important with property sales, and selling within five years of purchase does tend to eat into any growth your investment has had. It’s far better not to commit to a purchase if your relationship isn’t 100% rock steady,” he says.
3. You both have a stable income
One of the main reasons couples buy property together is to take advantage of having two sources of income – twice the affordability with half the risk (from the bank’s perspective). This is only true if both partners have a stable source of income, though.
“It’s very important to have career stability when taking on a big financial commitment like a property purchase,” says Clarke. “Changing jobs, moving cities, or finding a new source of income when you’ve just bought a home isn’t anyone’s idea of fun.”
As a couple, you may have a little bit more wiggle room if something goes wrong, but it’s unlikely that one party will be able to shoulder the full monthly bond repayments for long.
According to Clarke, it’s far better to wait until you’re both confident that your careers are on a positive trajectory before signing up for a joint financial commitment that could limit your financial and professional flexibility.
4. You want the same thing
Compromise is healthy, but there’s only so much compromise you can do and still keep everyone happy. If you can’t decide on man cave or a craft room, suburb or city, apartment or house, Clarke suggests thinking twice about making a joint purchase.
“I always advise couples draw up separate ‘must-have’ and ‘nice-to-have’ lists that detail exactly what they hope to find in a property,” he says. “If your lists are totally different, you may need to take some time to consider whether you’re on the same page for your planned future.”
Clarke also recommends chatting about responsibilities like who will take care of the pool or maintain the garden. You might both love the idea of a manicured lawn, but if neither of you is willing to mow it, it could become a sore point in your relationship.
5. You stick together under pressure
“You definitely need to be able to work as a team and support each other during crises if you’re going to be successful co-owners,” says Clarke. “If you crumble under pressure, or play the blame game when you’re stressed, your relationship is going to suffer and that could put your investment at risk.”
6. You don’t let romance cloud your judgement
We all want our own version of “happily ever after”, but smart couples realise that life has no guarantees. No matter how strong and wonderful your relationship is today, you need to protect yourself against the possibility that it might not always be that way.
“Nobody likes to plan for worst case scenarios, but it’s always better to be safe than sorry,” says Clarke.
“It’s a simple process to get your conveyancing attorney to draw up a contract that outlines each person’s contributions to the investment and ensures a fair division of the asset if the relationship ends. It might not be romantic, but it is the responsible thing to do, and it’s a good way to make sure your decisions are being made with your head and not your heart.”