how to buy a house with your girlfriend or boyfriend

When I bought my first house, I bought it with my college boyfriend.

My parents thought I was crazy. They offered to loan me the money to buy it myself.

But I didn’t want to buy it myself – I wanted to buy it with him. I trusted his judgment, he was good at home improvement, and most importantly, he was my partner. We’d been together four years, we shared a car, a bank account, a life …why not a house? That was my logic.

My friends said, “why don’t you just get married?”

Well, we weren’t ready to get married. We were young, we had issues, we didn’t want to rush into something.

“Why don’t you just wait to buy a house until you’re ready?”

Great question. Waiting makes perfect sense…unless it’s 2011 and house prices are still super dooper low after the crash, but just about to start climbing back up. Nope, we wanted to buy ASAP, and nothing – not our families, not marriage, not nothin! – was going to stand in our way.

So we bought a house. And then we split up. And I bought him out. And the value of the house went up $50,000 in 4 months.

So, can you buy a house with your boyfriend or girlfriend, and will it be okay? Even if you break up?

Yes, my friend, yes you can.

Because it happened to me, and because I predict that as marriage rates fall, and interest in home ownership increases, this is going to become a much more debated issue, I have decided to share everything I know with you:

First, understand that it is possible.

Are people telling you it’s a bad idea? legally impossible? a financial mistake you’ll live with forever and ever and never put behind you? (hint: there’s no such thing).

I call Bullsh*t.

Marriage doesn’t protect you from squat. People get screwed over all the time in marriage, and in divorce. Likewise, unmarried couples who don’t own houses together deal with ridiculous amounts of financial drama and go through painful, nasty, messy, complex break-ups.

The point of this is to be a clean and simple person.

Married, unmarried, with or without a house, kids or no kids, dog or no dog. You can buy a house with your significant other for the same reason that you can have an amicable divorce, a straight-forward breakup, and a positive business partnership.

The only problem is that buying a house as an unmarried couple is still unusual enough that people are scared, so be prepared to assuage fears – your family’s fears, your realtor’s fears, your friends' fears.

Agree to a signed written contract.

Let’s go back a few years.

I’m sitting on the beach in Revere, MA. It’s early July and my boyfriend and I are about to close on our house.

I am 21 years old, and he is 23. If you don’t get what I’m saying, let me spell it out for you: we don’t know shit. We’ve been together since before we could legally vote, so we’re figuring we’ll be together forever, but what do we know?

My whole life, I’ve been told that I’m pessimistic. Show me a glass – any glass, OJ, Champagne, battery acid – and I’ll tell you it’s half empty.

So, I’m sitting on this beach and I’m thinking about what’s going to happen if my boyfriend dies – would his parents (and don’t get me started on them…) inherit his half of my house? And if I died, who then? Would my parents fight over my half with my boyfriend who they’d met less than five times? What if we both died? (to this day, I still have a mental image of my mother and his mother, after our deaths, having a knock-down, drag-out fight over the curtain fabric of their new shared home).

Right there, on the beach, surrounded by bugs and sand and screaming kids, I did the only thing I could think of: I pulled out a pen and paper and wrote a contract.

It said that if one of us died, the other person would inherit their half (later we found out that this was actually a type of deed called Joint Tenancy with Right of Survivorship). We also decided that if we broke up, I would have 30 days to either buy him out of his half, or we would sell the house (i.e. since we were buying a house in my hometown, we decided he wouldn’t have the option to buy me out of the house). We also came up with terms for that buy-out (all of the money he’d put in so far, plus a % of any increased value).

I could have waited until we bought the house, or even until we got home from the beach. But why wait? The best time to ask hard questions and discuss uncomfortable things is RIGHT NOW. (especially if you’re reading this while on the bus. Turn to your neighbor).

The point of this post is not to give you legal specifics, or even illegal specifics, of how you should go about buying a house with your significant other. I can certainly do that in another post, and feel free to contact me with specific questions. The point, if you truly haven’t gotten it so far, is to illuminate the importance of clear legal documents, and clear honest intentions to accompany those documents.

It’s also a call to action to those of you who want to buy a house but you think A. you’re not old enough B. you don’t have enough money C. you’re not married. There’s a lot of reasons that real estate is not a good investment, but for those who are careful, practical and crafty, real estate can be the absolute best investment, and it’s worth doing some introspective investigating to see if that’s you.

A couple helpful hints:

– Don’t sign something you aren’t going to agree with when you’re actually in a dire situation.

– Don’t tell yourself, “well, we’ll never break up, so the fact that I’m giving you the legal right to buy me out of the house is irrelevant.”

I’ll leave you with one last gem of advice: optimists enter into shitty contracts.