How do my partner and I compromise on a house?

We saw a house the other day that I would be really happy in, but he didn’t love it. It kind of broke my heart because I can really see us living there!

Here’s The Thing is an advice column/newsletter where I mostly beg people to either stop dating someone or to ask their crush out. Or I talk about weird things that came to my mind that no one is paying me to write about. I can never decide if I should capitalize the “the” in Here’s The Thing or not; apologies on lack of consistency. 


A SWEETIE PIE:

So my partner and I are in a situation where we’re moving in together for the first time (ever, with each other and in general with an s/o) AND I’m buying my first house in a highly competitive and priced market. It makes sense for my career path and how long I’ll be in this new city. 

As far as moving in together for the first time, this is a step that makes sense and we’re both really excited for! We don’t even have a house yet and we’re already discussing the equitable division of labor and decor ideas 😂.

Because we’re unmarried (though planning to eventually get married in a few years or so) and he’s financially unable to contribute to the down payment, we both agreed this house should be in my name legally while he contributes to the mortgage.

I would feel uncomfy buying a house with a boyfriend, even a boyfriend of four years (my parents are divorced so I have a healthy cynicism when it comes to success in marriages) as opposed to a husband or fiancé. But also!!! I love this dude so much!!!! I want to marry him someday!!!

How the finances have been figured out on that end isn’t really the problem, though. It’s the house search that has proved to be the tricky part. Every time we look at a house, we completely disagree on what we like and dislike! The strange thing is we’ve sat down and created a list of things that are important to us, and we agree on that list! I think where we disagree is aesthetics. I tend to like the newer builds with smaller lots whereas he likes the dated homes with big yards. Unfortunately it’s looking like our budget probably won’t allow us to have the best of both worlds. 

I also am extremely stressed about this process in general (and finding a house I like where I live seems nearly impossible) so I sort of want our choice to be as quick and easy as possible. Our timeline is pretty loose as well! We have like 6 months to until we HAVE to move.

We saw a house the other day that I would be really happy in, but he didn’t love it. It kind of broke my heart because I can really see us living there! (Side note: sometimes I can get extremely idealistic and put on my rose-colored glasses about things, and my partner knows this and has said in the past that he feels like this forces him to be the bad guy realist.) 

On the car ride back to the town we live in currently, I told him I didn’t want to feel like I’m being forced into buying a house I don’t like, and he said it was my money anyway, so I should just get what I Iike and he can deal. But he’s my partner and he’s contributing to the mortgage, and we’re moving in together! It will be his home too! So I don’t want him to feel like it’s my decision and he’s just along for the ride. (I’m an only child who grew up with doting and amenable parents, so I tend to push or strong-arm people into doing things I want to do and not realize. So this problem has come up in the past as well!) 

However it IS my down payment (it’s scary putting that much money into a HOUSE of all things. At the end of the day it’s really 4 walls and a roof) and I truly don’t want to buy a house I don’t also love because I want to make my partner happy. 

Do you have any advice on how to make him feel included and not overlooked in the process while also mitigating the fact that at the end of the day the house will be mine legally and in my name? If we break up (not that I realistically see or plan on that happening but you never know) it will still be my house.

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SOPHIA:

There’s lots of good news in your post, which I selfishly find very lovely because then I don’t have to break bad news or walk you through extremely basic communication skills as a couple. Some of the good news: 1) You can afford a house! Congratulations! Owning instead of renting is very lovely. 2) You are about to move in with your partner; yay!!! 3) You’re both mature and wise enough to make a list of what you’re looking for in a house before going shopping. 4) You seem to know your own faults/flaws/tendencies/patterns. That’s essential! 5) You’re both communicating about the house as you go and adapting and responding to the situation. Wonderful.

There’s very very little bad news and it mostly amounts to a difference in aesthetic opinion. And I don’t want to pretend that aesthetics aren’t important, they are. And aesthetic preferences are very tough to change. (My boyfriend is dying to have a nautical themed bathroom, which I find tacky and overdone; it’s our “biggest” couple fight, even if the disagreement is only semi-serious because neither of us is likely to ever change our position). HOWEVER, at the end of the day—and this is no way to shame you about your question, which is a fabulous question and a tricky situation and certainly something to communicate about—try to keep in mind that this is just about how a house looks. It’s not about your health or his health. It’s not about safety. It’s not about where to live or whether to have kids. It’s about the style of house you purchase and you both live in. Which is a problem, but not the end all be all (again, I’m not trying to minimize your feelings, only to ground you in how much you should worry/fight/agonize over this).

My personal inclination is for both of you to let go of your attachment just a bit to aesthetics of a house. The looks of the house will eventually fade in your mind from The House I Just Paid $350k On to Our House, the same way you don’t think of how your best friend looks when someone mentions your best friend, you think about how they feel to be around, if that makes sense. I would err slightly on the side of your taste since you are paying for the house at this point and it would be in your name, but I strongly feel that if you purchase a home that fits your requirements on your agreed upon list, you can make it feel like a place you want to live decor-wise. I recommend both of you being very open to compromise. Maybe that looks like making sure you’re close to a park or maybe it looks like putting more money into landscaping a smaller yard. I know it’s hard to want to do that for a purchase so large— you probably don’t compromise on $30 purchases. The simple truth is that you cannot get everything you want in a house and you certainly can’t get everything you both want. Your boyfriend seems willing to let you get a little more of what you want aseptically, and I don’t think it’s a big deal for you to “win” this one.

HOWEVER. And this is the big deal to my mind: I think part of the fundamental question here is is this your house (singular) or your house (plural). I don’t think it’s very wise to go into marriage/homeownership with someone—which is what you’re planning on doing, even if you’re putting a lot of asterisks on it—with the mindset that the house is yours alone and not his. I think that’s a fantastic plan for resentment and landlord/tenant dynamics (which is NOT a romantic vibe). That said, I do also hear that ultimately, you will be putting down the down payment. BUT maybe it’s time to think about when your money becomes joint money, when your assets become joint assets. Is that going to only be when you’re married? If you get married and then get a divorce, what happens to the house? Is he really going to pay rent to you forever? Who is going to pay for repairs? Who is going to pick internal decor like paint colors? Is he truly renting from you in which case he doesn’t have to do any of the work for upkeep and that all falls to you? Are you expecting him to help out more around the house because he isn’t paying as much? Is he expected to do yard work? Does he know that? Do you agree? Most importantly: At what point does this become his house? If the answer is now, then I think you have to let go a smidge of thinking of this as Your Money.

On top of those thorny questions, there is the issue that you two have never lived together before at all and now you’re going into homeownership. I don’t think it’s nuts of you, I’m not here to dissuade you—nor do I think I have the power to do so with my little newsletter!!! But I would strongly strongly recommend if you are not already doing so, meeting with a couples therapist at least a few times and a financial advisor at least once. NOT because I think things are dire or that your problems are fundamental. They aren’t! In fact, I think the opposite. I think you guys are doing great and it’s wonderful that your biggest issue is trying to respectfully make a big purchase decision together while not bulldozing one another. The time to get financial advice as a couple and the time to get therapy as a couple (in my opinion) is now, when things are good. It’s like putting oil in your car; if you wait until you’re out of oil, you’ll damage the engine. Therapy would be a great place to talk out some of these big questions as you go forward and to make sure to set yourself up to NOT resent each other in the future because you hate what kind of windows your house has. I know you mentioned division of labor (AMAZING THAT YOU’RE ALREADY TALKING ABOUT IT!!) I STRONGLY recommend to every couple, and especially couples just moving in, please read Fair Play. It’s not a perfect book and a little heteronormative at times, but it’s exquisite at starting important conversations.

Recap here: I would lean towards your style a little and find compromise wherever possible. As an example, maybe there’s a modern house that has some detail that he does really like, even if the aesthetics aren’t his first choice. Also bear in mind that aesthetics of houses can be changed A LOT once you purchase them. Maybe it takes a few years to have the money to make the updates you both want to, but perhaps the house grows on the other person before then, or perhaps it becomes a project you both love.

This will not be your make or break issue, I promise you. But you do need to do some thinking about the dynamic between the two of you when it comes to home ownership. Otherwise, just enjoy the process as much as you can. No house will be perfect for you. (Unless you have gazillions of dollars). Find the best choice you can, don’t get too attached until everything is done and all the inspections are passed and the ink is dry. And then have some fun!!!


You can submit your own question—or yell at me about how I’m wrong—by emailing me at 1followernodad@substack.com