Buying a house is one of the biggest purchases you and your spouse will make together. The more you talk about before you begin your search, the more successful your search is likely to be, and the happier you'll both be when you turn the key.
Agree on Wants and Needs
Before contacting a real estate agent, agree on what you need and want in a house, understanding that these can be different criteria. You may need a master bedroom and an office, and two bathrooms to get ready for work in the morning. Those are the minimums you're willing to accept. You'd love to also have a game room for a pool table, and a mud room to bring the dog in and wipe his paws. These are extras you'll look for in your house hunting, but their absence won't necessarily be deal breakers. Agree, too, on whether the house itself or the neighborhood is more important, and how much work you're willing to do in exchange for a good price.
Discuss Motives and Goals
Like most couples, you probably agree on many ideas but not all. So it's important to discuss why you want to buy a house and what you hope to gain in the purchase. One person wants a cozy living space reminiscent of the home he grew up in; the other wants an investment that will appreciate rapidly. Older newlyweds may be looking for a vacation home or a single spot to retire. Agreeing on your goals going in will make house-hunting easier.
Determine Your Budget
It's vital that you have a price range and a maximum price before you even step out your door, perhaps realizing that you will pay more for a house that is in "move-in" condition and less for one that needs repairs. Every real estate agent will ask your budget, because it's pointless to look at houses beyond what you can afford and are comfortable paying. Unless you are paying cash for the house, know how much you will offer as a down payment. The rest will be mortgaged. Lenders typically allow a mortgage payment no higher than 28 percent of your gross income, and a total debt-to-income ratio -- including other loan payments -- of no more than 36 percent.
Secure Loan Pre-Approval
Up until just a few years ago, home buyers narrowed their search, submitted an offer on their chosen house and, if it was accepted, went to the bank for financing. Today, sellers and their agents want to know up front that you will be approved for the loan. So it's customary to secure a letter of approval from a bank, stating the maximum mortgage amount they will finance for you. To determine the amount, lenders will check your credit history, verify your household income and ask you to explain any issues they find before they determine whether or not they will finance your loan and for what amount.
Choose a Real Estate Agent
Choose a real estate agent who is the best match for your situation. Ideally, she'll have proven experience working with newlyweds who are combining finances and living arrangements for the first time, is familiar with the neighborhoods that interest you, and typically works with clients in your price range. Ask several agents to give you specifics about their sales experience, and choose the person you and your spouse feel will best represent your interests.
Barbara Bean-Mellinger is an award-winning writer in the Washington, DC area. She writes nationally for newspapers, magazines and websites on topics including careers, education, women, marketing, advertising and more. She holds a Bachelor of Science from the University of Pittsburgh.