Finding a House
chapter 9 | Buying a Home Together (and other Real Estate Ventures) | 289 This chapter suggests ways to handle the practical aspects of buying a home. Even if you skipped Chapter 8 on living together contracts, you definitely will need a contract regarding ownership of a house (unless you are married or legally partnered and you are content to accept marital rules). Because it’s so common in the LGBT community to own property with friends or with other couples, some of these contracts are designed for situations other than one couple buying a single-family home. Of course, before you can pin down your agreement, you have to find the house, arrange for financing, and understand the ways in which you can hold title to the property. These steps are discussed just below. Property Through the Years Owning property is another area where not that much has changed— well, outside of the fact that marital rules now apply to many same-sex couples owning property in certain states. While that is a big deal, the basic principles of homebuying and home ownership have stayed the same from the first edition to this one—both books have sections on figuring out how much house you can afford, and both offer sample contracts for owning a home together. These agreements are crucial for same-sex couples, and even those who live in a marriage-equality or marriage-equivalent state may choose to use prenuptial or prepartnership agreements to serve the same purposes that these agreements do. Finding a House Given your needs, tastes, and finances, you probably already have a good idea of the type of house you want to buy. Indeed, if you sit quietly for a few moments, shut your eyes, and let your imagination do the walking, you can probably conjure up an image of the house, or perhaps if you’re a flexible sort, several houses that you would dearly love to call home. 290 | A Legal guide for Lesbian and Gay Couples Some folks love living on a dusty road in outer suburbia; others want the convenience of living in a townhouse in a major city. Many people enjoy fixing a place up, while others insist that it be in move-in condition. Some have to have a big kitchen with lots of cupboards, and for others the back yard is the most important feature. Whatever your preferences, you will need an organized house-buying method to translate your dream into reality. This is particularly true in high-priced markets where most buyers face an affordability gap between the house they’d like to buy and the one they can afford. Without an organized approach, there is a good chance you’ll be talked into compromising on the wrong house by friends, relatives, a real estate agent, or even yourself or your partner. Here is our method to all but ensure that you will buy a house you’ll enjoy living in, even if it’s substantially more modest than your dream house: • Firmly establish your priorities before you look at a house—and that means your shared priorities as a couple. • Insist that any house you offer to buy meets at least your most important priorities. • Insist on your most important priorities even if, in buying the house that meets those priorities, you must compromise in other areas and purchase a house that is less desirable than you really want. The reason this method works well should be obvious. If your priorities are clearly set in advance, you’re likely to compromise on less important features, and not on those that are most important. Otherwise, it’s possible to become so disoriented by the house purchase process that you buy a house that lacks the basic features that motivated you to buy in the first place. Lesbian and gay couples usually have no special problems in finding a house to buy. Be aware, however, that some communities (or neighborhoods) have zoning ordinances prohibiting groups of unrelated people from living together. Most of these laws are aimed at barring groups, foster families, shelters, or boarding houses. Very few prohibit two unrelated adults from living together. But some of these laws have been used to harass lesbians and gays who lived together, just as they have chapter 9 | Buying a Home Together (and other Real Estate Ventures) | 291 been used to discriminate against unmarried heterosexual couples. Before you buy, make sure the town—or neighborhood—isn’t zoned only for people related by “blood, marriage, or adoption.” In some locations a seller may hesitate to sell to you because of a belief that your relationship is immoral or even criminal, or an agent may try to steer you into certain “gay-friendly” neighborhoods. But generally, most sellers feel that lesbian and gay money is as green as all other money. Still, be sensible and strategic if your preferred neighborhood has been hostile to gay buyers. The most common way to find a home is to use an agent, broker, or realtor. (We use the term agent for simplicity.) Again, you may encounter an agent who refuses to work with a lesbian or gay couple. But it’s a rare location that doesn’t have more than one real estate agent, so your best bet is just to look for another agent who is gay or gay friendly. (Ask your gay homeowning friends who they used.) Because the home buying process is a very intense, personal experience, you must feel comfortable being open with your agent. You can also buy on your own, without an agent. Indeed, you may well be tempted to proceed on your own. But bear in mind that buying real estate takes a lot of work and patience, and involves a lot of strange jargon. In some places, where the market is competitive, using an agent is virtually a necessity. And remember, you rarely save much money by not using your own agent, as you are essentially using the seller’s agent, and sellers rarely adjust the price to reflect that, but instead will pocket most of the savings. Given all this, it’s often easier to let someone knowledgeable do the work. If you decide to use an agent, initially you are not obligated to work with just one. Shop around until you find the agent you are most comfortable with. Just as you (the buyers) don’t have to use an agent, neither does the seller. A small but significant number of people sell their homes without an agent. You can find homes sold by owners by checking newspaper ads or driving around and looking for “for sale by owner” or “FSBO” (pronounced fizzbo) signs. You can also check out websites like www. forsalebyowner.com.