Your House or Mine? How to Buy a Home without Ruining Your Relationship!
Buying a home can be one of the most stressful life events for anyone.
For many couples, especially newlyweds - arriving at a consensus decision on a new home could be a trying experience given the inevitable individual differences in preferences, style, aspirations, priorities, pet peeves, etc.. Unfortunately for some couples, the process can end up being overly dominated by one person and you'll often hear some form of the following comments as a result:
"This is her house, but not really something I would have picked." or
"I get to pick the next house since he got his way this time".
While I have no magical silver bullet that will guarantee a conflict free process, I do have plenty of personal experience with this and have developed a fairly useful framework that has helped my wife and I (as well as many others I've counseled over the years) sort through home buying decisions.
The approach we take is to treat this decision as objectively and rationally as possible based on a shared list of criteria that can be used to drive consensus or to negotiate compromises. Let me break down the steps we use to achieve this:
Step 1: Start by listing out your individual criteria for a home.
For instance, criteria to include could be neighborhood, quality of the school district, facade and style of the house, square footage, layout, lot size, overall condition, available parking, quality of view, just to name a few. Anything that is remotely important to each of you should appear on your lists at this point so as to not have surprises down the road.
Step 2: Combine your respective lists into a shared list and discuss any potential overlaps or outliers
Without exception, the two lists are going to be different and there may even be criteria that sound similar but are really very different things. For instance, I listed facade as a criteria while my wife listed style when we were buying our first home. While these may seem similar, they meant different things to each of us and it was helpful to understand what we meant by those labels and to decide whether they should appear as one or two criteria on our joint list. You may also want to discuss outliers, which could be criteria that one person completely doesn't understand or care about, to decide whether to include it or if it can be incorporated into an existing criteria.
Step 3: Individually stack rank all of the shared criteria from most important to least important
This is where you start to better understand your respective priorities. Perhaps both of you have talked about the importance of good schools for your children but didn't realize that one person would consider this to be the single most important criteria while the other would list a few other factors above good schools when forced to make a choice. The key point here is to make forced choices, e.g. is neighborhood more important than a large house (square footage), or a large house more important than a large yard (lot size).
So if you have 10 criteria, one way to stack rank would be to have the most important criteria be assigned 10 points and the least important a 1 point rating. You could use whatever increments you'd like for these weighting scores, e.g. by 2s or 5s to best reflect your implied weighting of the criteria.
Step 4: Rate each property you visit on a numerical scale (e.g. 1-10).
I suggest doing this either as you are touring the property or immediately after seeing the house so that any impressions are still fresh on your mind. This is also the point at which you should calibrate your respective ratings, e.g. what does a 10 in school district mean to each of you - is it just your overall feeling from having visited/driven by the school or is it based on more objective ratings of the school on sites like greatschools or schooldigger.
Step 5: Putting it all together and calculating a joint overall score for each property.
This is the most analytical and rational part of the process. What I do for each property is to create a sum total of the ratings for each criteria multiplied by the weighting to get to a total score for the property. For instance, if schools is the most important of 10 criteria for me, I could assign it a weighting of 10. And if I rated the school district for that property an 8 on a scale of 1-10, the total score for schools would be 80. If the sum total of all 10 criteria scores for me was 400 and the sum total of my wife's criteria scores was 300, I would average the two to arrive at a joint overall score for that particular property of 350.
Step 6: Putting it in context of the "ideal home".
The ideal home is one where both of you would rate each criteria a 10 (if you used a 10 point scale). And when multiplied against the weightings, this would yield the maximum potential score for a given property.
While the perfect house is obviously impossible to find, what this does give you is perspective - because you can take any property and divide by the total maximum possible score to get a "% of ideal" calculation to gauge how close a property may be to the home of your (joint) dreams. For instance, using the example property above with the 350 score, and assuming that the maximum possible score is 500 would tell you that the home is 70% of your collective ideal which would give you some helpful context to discuss whether that is an acceptable home or if you should keep looking and what the tradeoffs mean for each of you.
Now, I realize that the framework above may seem a bit daunting and overwhelming to many people. More over, it may seem overly analytical and devoid of the emotions that is naturally part of the home buying process.
To address the former, I've made available here my own Excel worksheet for those who would rather not have to build their own tool for doing this. I've developed and used this exact tool to assess hundreds of properties and have found this to be incredibly helpful whether you are a first time buyer, a trade-up buyer, or a second-home buyer.
My response to the latter objection would be that given a home purchase is likely the largest financial decision most people will ever make, I personally advocate taking the small amount of time required to properly analyze the decision so as to make sure that it's not a decision that you/your spouse would regret. As for the emotions, I am not by any means suggesting that this replaces any emotions inherent in the home buying process. Rather, I believe this framework enables those emotions to be channeled in a more structured manner so as to enable a productive decision making process with your spouse/partner.
Here's my Home Purchase Worksheet for you to download at no cost. But if you should find it useful, I would appreciate it if you use the button below to send me a $5 donation!