Jan 16, 2009

Should you buy a house together before you get married?

Yesterday, Free Money Finance asked readers to help another reader on the issue of how to buy a house together before getting married. But - since there were a lot of responses along the lines of "don't do it" - I couldn't help thinking about the should question, as in, Should this couple buy a house together before they were married?

And I realized that my answer has changed over the years. Five to ten years ago, I would have said no way. I would have said that buying a house together before marriage was too risky – that even if the couple seemed totally committed, the fallout of an unconsummated engagement would just be too huge.

But now my answer is, it depends. I have friends who bought a house together during their engagements and have been happily married for years now. I actually don't have any friends who broke up while they were engaged. If the couple in question have been together for a few years, and in particular, have lived together for a while, then it probably doesn't matter whether they buy their house before or after their marriage.

I wouldn't have done it myself, but I knew Marc for "only" 18 months before we got engaged, and we were engaged for "only" a year. And we were both in our twenties at the time. I look at some of my unmarried friends who are in their thirties and have been living together for several years and just don't see that it matters whether they buy a house before or after they're married.

What do you think?


Debra said...

I just found your blog on BlogHer - I like it!

I guess my answer has stayed the same. No.

Boy, if something went terribly wrong, the legal problems (not to mention financial consequences).

If there is a need to buy the house before a wedding date for some reason, maybe one person could go ahead and buy it. You can always add the person to the house papers later.

Great question for discussion!

Denise Mall said...

Only if both people can afford the house alone. This way a house isn't the reason to stay, but the heart is. Plus, they would both have the ability to keep their credit in good standing, in the event of the worst.

I guess, live within your means and have it in writing a clear cut contract.

Jerry said...

I think Dedicated has a point... unless you can afford the place on your own, you are at a risk if the relationship doesn't lead in the direction you intended. And let's be honest, there is no insurance for interpersonal relations. I had a friend who bought a beautiful loft in Boston with her long-time boyfriend, and when they broke up it was a huge mess.

Christina said...

I think it is a mistake to buy a house TOGETHER before you are married. A lot can go wrong. It is smarter to have the house in one person's name if you are not married.

My husband and I lived together for a year before we got married. During that time I bought our house... knowing that the house was in my name and that I could afford it on my income alone should things not work out. (Of course, I was pretty sure it would work out! :-))

I have known folks who have done it and been very happy. In those cases, I think the important thing is that you are buying a home you can afford on one of your incomes, and to be sure you have a will in place to cover your bases should anything catastrophic happen.

Camille said...

I wouldn't. Someone close to me broke off an engagement after 7 months. She had bought a car for him. He had keys. It was an absolute mess getting it back. If it had been a house, and he refused to leave, she'd have to go through the eviction process. Dividing assets in a divorce is messy, but at least it is streamlined and everyone knows what is coming. Dividing assets in a break up -- that's just a nightmare!

Anonymous said...

My response to this is the same as yours, CFO. It really depends on the couple. My best friend and her fiance have been together 5 years and they bought a house two years ago. They're getting married in March.

To be honest, getting a house together has its risks either way. Even if you're married, divorce still happens and the legal battles that can ensue from a divorce can be just as messy, time-consuming, and damaging to credit reports as simply breaking up before a marriage.

The other point to consider is that if the couple live in a community property state, it doesn't really matter anyway - particularly if they are common law married, like my friends.

I also agree with Dedicated on this one, with one caveat. If a couple are going to purchase a house, I think it needs to be one that either could afford without the financial help of the other - whether they're married or not.

Great question!

Anonymous said...

My husband and I were together for "only" a year before we got married and engaged for "only" six months before we bought a house together. We did not see the point of throwing away money as renters when we both were making good salaries and could easily afford purchasing a home at the time. This was 10 years ago, and I'm so glad we did it. We purchased the home right before real estate prices skyrocketed. (At the time we were living in the Metro NY area) If we had waited until we were married (our engagement was 2 years), there's no way we could have afforded something as nice. Because we bought the house when we did and values went way up, we were able to significantly upgrade five years ago. Sure it was a bit of a risk, but it was a great investment at the time.

I can see where it's not for everyone, but it is an issue of trust, IMO. If you don't feel confident enough in your fiance/fiancee to commit to purchasing a home together, do you trust them enough to commit your entire life to them? But that's just me. I certainly understand other people's points of view.

We'll be celebrating our eighth anniversary in June and we are expecting our third child in June, so clearly buying a house together before you are married is not necessarily a death sentence ;-)

Anonymous said...

I bought a house with a BF about 3 years ago...I was 37 at the time and he was 45...it was a big mistake. When I caught him being unfaithful and kicked him out, I had no rights. In Texas, I could have tried to sue him for divorce by claiming "common law". It was a very expensive mess because I had to buy him out and the mortgage was not considered a re-fi as it would have been if we were married so the closing costs were ridiculous....if I had it to do over, I would have insisted that we be married. It is financial protection in case things don't go as planned, and also, in most states, if something happens to one spouse, the house automatically goes to the surviving spouse--this is not the case if you are just living together. I learned my lesson the very hard way (cost me about 20k!)

Father Sez said...

Buying a house is a major commitement. I just wonder that if the couple are not ready to make a marriage commitment, would they be ready to make this purchasing commitment?


Chief Family Officer said...

Interesting perspectives here - I hadn't thought about the "afford it on either salary" condition, but it makes sense. (Albeit rather unrealistic in Southern California, even with the tanking real estate market.)

@Anon - I'm sorry about your expensive and painful lesson. Thank you for sharing your experience with us.