Advice for the Unmarried: Building or Buying a House Together

(Really good advice, and free legal documents. What else could you as for?)

So. People tell me there’s a right way to do things. Ladies, you’re supposed to live with your parents until you find a nice man, settle down, get married, and move into his house.

Oh, what? You didn’t get the memo?

Uh, ME EITHER.

And here’s the thing, I could write a very long post on my personal feelings about marriage but I’ll spare you that happy experience and say this: There is nothing wrong with getting and/or being married. Marriage is fine.

As a woman (and let’s face it, a non-traditionalist), there just a few minor details that come along with marriage which set my teeth on edge– namely engagements, weddings, name changing, and being defined by generic social conventions.

But none of that is to say I don’t want a binding and committed relationship, and all the things that come along with it, like, oh say, owning a home together.  My aunt tells me you have to either get married or be single because that’s just the way it’s done. But, oh hey! look at me over here having my cake and eating it too.

So the first thing I’m saying here is, kids, do whatever the hell you want… there are no rules. BUT, that also doesn’t mean you should go do something stupid. Like buying a house together.

Just kidding. It’s not stupid, but there are things you need to do to, as we say, cover your ass. People sometimes don’t do these things because it’s unromantic, or an uncomfortable conversation to have. If you are one of these people, you might as well go away now because I only give good, practical, straightforward advice here. I have no patience for wishy-washy shit.  Shoo.

If you want to make a good, strong, smart decision for yourself, read on. I’m not an expert, but I am an unmarried woman with not-insignificant personal assets who owns a home with a man who rolls his eyes at me so much he can hardly walk straight anymore.  I’ve also spent a lot of time searching  down articles, advice, and legal documents, and it was such a goddamn pain in the ass I felt it was necessary to share it here for the next poor soul that googles “unmarried couple buying house.”

Step 1: Is it a good decision?

Here’s the thing. Everything is a risk these days. I walked out of the house yesterday and got peed on by a squirrel. I mean you just never know, right?

But I would say this, if one of you is looking for a commitment and the other won’t give it, so you’re thinking you’ll buy a house together to wear their resistance down? I’m just going to go ahead and say Bad. Idea.

Other signs it might be a bad idea?

  • If one you has really bad credit but wants to buy a house and is pressuring the other one of you into it.
  • If you’re not sure you want to be together for a really long time
  • If one of you has ever borrowed money from the other and not paid it back, misses car or bill payments, or refuses to let the other party see their credit report.
  • If you can’t afford the mortgage payment on your own.

But hey, it’s your life.

Step 2: You’re gonna do it. Now what?*

DO NOT EVER SIGN A MORTGAGE IF YOUR NAME IS NOT ON THE DEED OF THE HOUSE.

That’s just plain dumb.  You sign a mortgage and you are responsible for the whole thing, even if the other person never pays a cent. So you could end up paying 100k for a house you don’t own, and there isn’t shit you can do about it if your name isn’t on the deed.

Need to get your name on the deed of the house? MysteryMan already had the house in his name so all we needed to do was file a quit-claim deed. A lawyer will charge you a lot of money for this ($200), but you can actually fill out and print one off through legaldocs.com for like $6, or you can have the one we used for free. (Check out the document list below.)

The big deal here is whether or not you list yourself on the deed as Joint Tennants or Tennants in Common. Freeadvice.com says:

Joint Tenancy: property owned by two or more people at the same time in equal shares; typically referred to as the four unities (unity of time, title, interest and possession vesting in each joint tenant). Each joint tenant has an undivided right to possess the whole property and a proportionate right of equal ownership interest. When one joint tenant dies, his/her interest automatically vests in the surviving joint tenant(s) by operation of law. Words in the deed such as “John and Mary, as joint tenants with right of survivorship and not as tenants in common” establishes title in joint tenancy. Not all the states allow this form of property ownership.

Tenants in Common: property owned by two or more persons at the same time. The proportionate interests and right to possess and enjoy the property between the tenants in common do not have to be equal. Upon death, the decedent’ s interest passes to his/her heirs named in the will who then become new tenants in common with the surviving tenants in common. Words in the deed such as “Peter, Paul, John and Mary as tenants in common” establishes tenancy in common.

You can read the full article here.

You fill in “Joint Tenants” or “Tenants in Common”, names, addresses, blah, blah, blah, and then file it with your County Register… it costs like $20. Congratulations you’re ass is half-way covered.

Step 3: You’re not done yet… *

So you’re covered on the mortgage, but what about the rest of it? Who pays the gas bill? Buys groceries? What happens if, god forbid, things don’t work out?

This is my favorite document, the Nonmarital Cohabitation Agreement (aka “Living Together” Agreement). I really think even people who get married should have to do this… it’s like customizing your lives together.

You can put anything you want in these babies, but at minimum you want to figure out who pays for what, what is joint property and what seperately held, and what happens to the lot of it if you decide nonmarital cohabitiation is not for you. I’m also including things like, how many times I’d like to be taken out to dinner per month, and a stipulation about granite countertops. Um. Just kidding MysteryMan.

(We’re still hammering out the details.)

Again, you can go to a lawyer for these, but I put the one I found that can be customized at the end of this post just in case you want to use it for reference.

Step 4: Other documents you should have.*

  • Last Will & Testament- “Inheritance laws often penalize unmarried couples, sometimes in ways it is impossible to avoid. Some say that even if you’re young or poor, one of the most valuable purposes of a will is that it allows you to name an executor, the person who will empty your drawers and find your old love letters. If you don’t want that task falling to your mom or your adult children, you need a will”
  • General Durable Power of Attorney- “Gives the designated person the authority to manage your property and finances if you are unable to do so.”
  • Durable Power of Attorney – Heathcare – Ditto above, but for making medical decisions.
*DISCLAIMER: Let’s just be clear here. I’m not an attorney, and there’s no reason you should take legal advice from me. I found all my legal advice online, and seriously? Can you really trust anything you read on the internet? No. You should probably spend a lot of money on a lawyer… but if you don’t and it doesn’t work out for you Don’t. Blame. Me.

Free Documents you may find useful… I did:

Quit Claim Deed – Joint Tenancy

Non-marital Cohabitation (“Living Together”) Agreement – Template

Last Will & Testament – Template

General Durable Power of Attorney – Template

Durable Power of Attorney for Healthcare – Template

Other Resources:

All kinds of advice from unmarried.org– Excellent resource.

An article from the Wall Street Journal real estate archives.

Unwed buying from Bankrate.com

Now go forth fellow non-traditionalists, and prosper.

12 Responses

  1. Oh no, I think I failed the ‘test’ to see if it’s a good idea to buy with my man. I’m quite certain paying the mortgage alone would break me. I could do it, but there would be no heat in the place. Or I’d have to stop going to Home Desperate. Both options are unappealing.

    1. I want to tell u people out there don’t think u can trust them. I didn’t have my name on anything and we split up even tho I paid for 50% of everything we have he took it all . I don’t quite understand how people can go thru life living that way taking from others so wrongful but it really makes u think the next time, CYA people never ever trust the person u are seeing. Because they really aren’t that trustworthy when it comes down to it all they care about is making u suffer even if it’s their fault u split!

  2. Amazing! All of this would still every argument Husband and I have ever had in it’s tracks. The house was a cash-only dealie-o. I came up with the money, but his name is on the deed. Therefore it’s “his” house. Boys suck.

  3. All good advice. When my fiance’ (then boyfriend) bought our house—we went though all the proper channels. I came up with 80% or our downpayment, he came up with the rest. Both our names are on the deed. We have a seperate joint tenancy on the property that is filed and I call our “house nuptials.” Says who gets what, who brought what to the table, who gets what out of the sale of the house. When we get married—the agreement will become part of our pre-nup, at least until we sell this house…simply because NC is a 50/50 state and I’m not going to settle for getting less than what I brought to the table.

    People are in awe that we did this, but I wonder how people can not do it? You have to be smart.

    1. I may be naïve; but I think somethings cannot be looked at in terms of numbers. Relationships are about give and take. In an ideal world we would all be equal, but that is not always the case. One person might get a great job and the other must settle for something less in order to stay together, those sacrifices should not be undervalued. If you have sense you can sometimes appreciate the support, and sacrifices that took place even if things didn’t work out. I’m not going to say that there is no place for legal protection I definitely do believe it is necessary. But I don’t think evaluating a person’s lesser wealth is a way for a relationship to work out. I do understand about keeping finances separate, when things are still new. But there comes a point where your relationship is no longer new, and when it ends there can be too many what ifs, and unentangling your lives can become messy and difficult.

  4. G: Non-traditionalists unite!

    Sara: Look at me prove myself a hypocrite, but I also have my name on two mortgages (one for my house which we’re hoping to sell) and one for the Memorial house. Could I handle both payments? Like you said, maybe without out gas, electricity, or ever buying groceries. It’s all a bit of a calculated risk… until Garrison sells. And I’m sure it is for all of us at times, but I think it’s safe to say a woman and her credit is MOST protected if she can handle the payment on her own. Then if the worst happens, she’s still covered. But here’s to hoping for the BEST for both of us!

    Andi: Thank god you are actually married and own 50% of his assets (or in this case, the assets you paid for) I’d still file the quit-claim and get your name on the title though! (It’s SO easy)

    Sarah: Um, you go girl! This should be every woman’s mantra “I’m not going to settle for getting less than what I brought to the table.” DAMN STRAIGHT.

  5. Wow Kit. Dead on with all of this. Relationship, love or not…purchasing a home and living together in it is a very serious financial commitment and in respect to that I totally agree all of these things should be laid out and planned for accordingly!

    And Andi says, I really think all of this would keep arguments to an absolute minimum. Great article.

  6. Great post! (Found your blog from YHL.)

    We bought a house “together” very early in our relationship. Since we didn’t pass all the questions in step one, the downpayment was my cash, the mortgage is in my name, the deed is in my name, and I could afford it on my own if needed.

    But before closing on the house, we did a “living together” agreement to spell out how my partner builds equity in the house and how we would deal with that if we split or sold the house. We also spelled out how my partner gets onto the deed in the future. Plus we addressed who pays for repairs, etc.

    I know other unmarried couples who live together without that kind of agreement…and worry that one of my friends will get screwed financially in a breakup.

  7. I have my own feelings on marriage which I won’t trouble you with, but as a former escrow officer I do have some advice on how to take title. If going into the agreement, the thought in your head is, “I want to be able to get out of this if this guy doesn’t do me right,” then tenants in common is the better way to go. You can sell you share any time you want, and you do not need the other’s permission. If you’re thinking, “Hey, we’re going to be together forevermore; we don’t need no stinkin’ piece of paper,” then I would suggest joint tenancy. That way if one of you dies, the other gets the property, no questions asked, no will, no probate, nothing. You just get the property, and you don’t pay any inheritance taxes. The only downside is you need the permission of the other to sell if the relationship goes south, but married people who divorce face the same problem.

  8. Good evening,
    I couldn’t agree more with you as choosing a home is not an easy job, it requires time and effort. I would like to add a simple tip that would be helpful beside your post, Ask about the schools around the area and which one is the best, as well as the driving time from your home to the school so you may know how much time it will take you to drop and pick your kids from school, or you can just assign them to the school bus.
    Sincerely Ann Daniel
    http://www.smart-realestate.com

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