Next to having a child, buying a house together is one of the biggest relationship commitments you can make. If you're not married, it's still a big commitment, but it's often more complicated. Marriage puts an legal stamp on your relationship that includes certain rights when you buy property together. If a marriage ends, the law provides guidelines for dividing real estate and other property. Even if you're planning to marry after you buy, purchasing when unmarried takes more planning.
Negotiate with your partner how you want to divide up costs. If your partner makes three times your salary, you may think a 75 /25 spending breakdown is fair, but your partner may think 50/50 is appropriate. Get on the same page before you put down any money.
Choose what kind of ownership you and your partner want. Under joint tenancy with the right of survivorship, you each own half the house; if either partner dies, the other inherits automatically. If you're tenants in common, you can leave the house to anyone, and you can divide up ownership 70/30, 50/50, 90/10 or any other way you wish.
Work out a plan for what happens if you split up, even if you're certain it'll never happen. Your options include selling the house and splitting the profits, one of you buying out the other's share or even continuing to live in the house despite the split.
Talk to your lender to confirm that your homebuying arrangement is acceptable. If only one of you applies for the mortgage, for instance, the lender may not accept both names on the deed. Some lenders may outright discriminate against unmarried buyers. If you can't find common ground, you'll have to look for another lender.
Put everything you and your partner agreed to in writing. Even if everything goes smoothly, you may not remember exactly what you worked out without a written record. In a worst-case breakup scenario, a written agreement can keep one of you from reneging on the original understanding.
- If you're not taking 50/50 ownership shares, definitely get that in writing. Should you ever end up in court, judges usually assume owners have equal shares unless the deed or other documentation says otherwise.
- If you or your partner have a checkered credit history, you may face added problems. Unlike married couples, the lender will want separate applications from each of you -- and one party's good credit may not make up for the other's bad score.
A graduate of Oberlin College, Fraser Sherman began writing in 1981. Since then he's researched and written newspaper and magazine stories on city government, court cases, business, real estate and finance, the uses of new technologies and film history. Sherman has worked for more than a decade as a newspaper reporter, and his magazine articles have been published in "Newsweek," "Air & Space," "Backpacker" and "Boys' Life." Sherman is also the author of three film reference books, with a fourth currently under way.