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Finding a House

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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.
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