It’s the time of year for blushing brides and bachelor parties, and we absolutely love it! It’s also a great time for couples—married or otherwise—to purchase their first homes together.
These big moments can create a fantastic foundation for a lifetime of happiness, but they can also lead to “pressure-cooker moments” that really test a relationship, explained SLC-based Therapist and Wellness Coach Melinda Stonecliff. We talked with Melinda, Ryann Ringel, a small business consultant who’s gotten three mortgages with her husband Chris, and our premier real estate coach Cheryl Knowlton.
Each of these impressive women has her own story of navigating homeownership with a life partner, and we gathered some pearls of wisdom from their experiences.
For Ryann and her husband, the process of finding a home together was underway long before they started seeing properties. They worked together to improve their credit and found ways to make money management into a team sport. Along the way, they learned that improving how they communicated about money had big benefits for their relationship overall.
“That team piece is what got me and my husband through three mortgages in five years,” Ryann explained. “It needs to start with that spiritual sanctuary. That’s why we want to own our own house."
When Ryann and Chris found their first home, they knew it had to be theirs. But then, the pressure cooker moment: a cash buyer came in on their heels and put a backup offer on the place. It meant they had no deadline flexibility and had to work in lockstep to get the deal done.
Thanks to their strong financial and emotional foundation, they got the financing, got the home, and soon moved in with goats, sheep, and even a few chickens in tow.
When she was newly married and heavily pregnant, Melinda and her then-husband got into a “rent to own” situation that turned into a nightmare. It wasn’t the right home, it wasn’t the right financial structure, and it wasn’t even the right relationship, she said.
Melinda learned a lot, and learned it the hard way. Today, she uses her background to help others navigate what she calls their “money stories.”
Having honest discussions around money with a partner can be really, really difficult because of the shame factor, she explained. Our feelings and habits around money are developed deep in childhood, and they often have to do with our entire families and their histories with money.
“When you bring to the table all your fears and assumptions around money, the conversation gets really clunky and even dishonest," she emphasized, but added that "there’s no shame we need to hold around our money stuff."
As a way to have those safe (and necessary) conversations about money, think of money stories as "a chronic condition that’s deeply embedded in people's core conditioning," she advised. Then, let go of judgment and shame and start working together as a team.
Melinda did some serious rewriting of her own "money story" after her first experience with homeownership, and the results have been fantastic.
“At first it wasn’t pretty, but I’m at a point now when it’s just fun,” she said. “Let your credit score be a game—playfulness around a thing is where love lives. That’s where the energy of love lives.”
Cheryl wasn’t a first time homeowner when she and her new husband, Rick, bought their first home together. But the experience of finding a perfect place as a team turned out to be the best possible way to start their blended family off on the right foot.
Cheryl met her husband at a public garden/museum in Utah. She was a mother to four great girls, and he had five kids of his own. The couple knew they were meant to be together early on, and they knew that having a shared home was going to be really, really important.
When you’re blending families and starting a new family, it's smart to start over in a new place, Cheryl said. If you don’t, the kids who are moving into an established house can feel like they’re fighting to fit in right from the start.
Instead, everyone needs a safe haven where they can truly feel comfortable and relaxed.
Cheryl and her husband didn’t stay in their first place for long—they learned quickly that they needed even more space and a little land to stretch out in. But that initial experience was a fun and joyful milestone in the creation of their new family, she said, and it’s one they’ll never forget.
Home loan lessons learned
Each relationship is unique, and so is every home. But we put together five steps you can keep in mind as you and your beloved start shopping for a home you can make your own.
1. Get clear on your starting place
Marriage is as much a business relationship as it is a romance, Ryann said, and that’s why she recommends talking about money long before a wedding ring—or a mortgage loan application—enters the picture. Before you commit to a person long-term, you need to know about their money stories, their values, and their goals for the future.
That way, you can face the facts with no fear and no surprises when it comes time to talk about a mortgage.
For a typical mortgage application, both borrowers will need to provide home loan documentation about:
- Debts (including credit cards, student loans, and auto loans)
- Credit reports
- Residential history
- Work history
- Trusts and child support/alimony
2. Communicate–a lot
Once you know what you’re both starting with, you can start talking about what you need and want. At this stage, it’s really helpful for both people to get clear individually on their “must haves” and their "deal breakers." Only then can they come together and make decisions that will be mutually beneficial, Cheryl said.
In her experience as a real estate agent, Cheryl has seen couples argue about a huge variety of things. Often, they’re really big things such as location and number of bedrooms. Other times, they’re about things such as architecture style or lot layout.
“Two people shopping for anything are going to have differences of opinion,” Cheryl said. “Learn how to have respectful differences of opinion."
Cheryl shared her favorite questions for having tricky conversations:
- Tell me more about why you want that
- Tell me why it's important to you
- Help me understand
"Just listen without argument and enjoy the process, enjoy the journey, find ways to take a stressful situation and to make it fun," said Cheryl, who's helped all kinds of families find their own way home. "Realize that home is beautiful, home is magical, home is the end goal on the heroes journey."
3. Figure out a budget
Before you start shopping in earnest, it’s going to be really helpful to have an idea of your housing budget, Cheryl said. One of the best ways to know what you can afford is to get pre-qualified by a lender you trust.
But you don’t necessarily have to buy as much house as you qualify for. Most financial experts recommend spending no more than about 30% of your income on housing, but it’s perfectly fine to spend less. That way, you can keep funds free for savings, travel, and maybe even starting a family a few years down the road.
This conversation on what you can afford can be one of the really clunky ones that Melinda mentioned, so remember to approach it with a team spirit, and a lot of grace (for both yourself and your partner).
4. Think about the future
For some couples, their first home together is the only property they’ll ever need. Others may choose their starter home for budget reasons and have big plans to move up (or move away) a few years down the road.
Whatever you have planned for your future, make sure your partner knows about it and is fully onboard. Then, you can make joint decisions about buying a home that makes sense for now and for the future.
If you’re not sure about the loan or property type that might work best for your future plans, your real estate agent and Loan Officer can point you in the right direction.
5. Embrace your delicious “yes”
If you get into the process but find that you have a sick feeling in your stomach, or a sudden impression that it's all too hard, maybe you need to take a step back. In those times, you need to be really careful about the stories you're telling yourself.
“It’s about not making up stories to talk yourself into and out of things,” Melinda said. “If you’re talking yourself into living with that six-foot ceiling in the basement, well, you probably can’t live with it.”
But if everything's in order with the home, the relationship, and your shared budget, something serendipitous is sure to come your way. When it does, you'll have that “sparkly intuition" that means everything is just right, Melinda said.
“Get really clear on your intuition and your own delicious yes—where that lives in your body,” she said. "Trust that."
ConclusionWhen you’re ready to start the homebuying process in earnest, check out these articles on building your team:
- How to Find a Great Real Estate Agent
- How to Find a Great Loan Officer
- Questions to Ask Your Loan Officer