Q: I’m buying a house with my girlfriend/partner. She is a busy accountant, so she wants to buy a place in perfect move-in condition. I work at home, and am pretty handy, so I really would like to get more bang out of our buck and buy a place that we can fix up and customize to our own tastes. I want to live in the hills, while she wants to live downtown, although there are a couple of neighborhoods that would work for us both.

Honestly, half the time we can’t even agree on which listings to go see! Do you have any thoughts or ideas for how we can find a place that will work for us both?

A: Opposites may attract, but they also have a hard time house hunting, as you’ve apparently found out!

Occasionally, I’m able to find a home that meets the seemingly conflicted wants and needs of co-buyers. Much more often, though, both folks have to move on some of the items on their "dream home" checklist. Sometimes one moves more than the other, but more often both end up moving, but they move on different items (in your case, e.g., buying a fixer downtown).

It doesn’t usually make sense for both people to move to the middle of the spectrum on which their desires live at extreme ends. When that happens, neither person ends up happy. What makes sense is for you both to clearly write out your vision of this next home, break that down into a list of wants and needs, then prioritize. You could very well realize that your absolute musts don’t really conflict, or that there’s room for compromise.


The other big red flag for me, though, is that it sounds like you two haven’t seen many homes for sale together. Before either of you gets any more committed to your desires, you need to get out and go see a bunch of houses. The reality is that many, many people who think they want a fixer change their mind when they see a Pottery-Barn-perfect, staged-to-the-nines, move-in-ready home with curb appeal galore.

Also, in many areas, homes that need only paint-and-carpet cosmetics are spruced up before going on the market as a matter of course. So there’s not much more available other than pristine properties and total fixers, and the discounts are so minimal that there’s just not much upside (financially speaking) to going with a fixer. …CONTINUED

The opposite is also true: Some who start out their house hunt thinking they want a pristine, move-in-ready home change their minds when they see "the one" and it needs more than a little bit of TLC.

This is the case with all of these issues where your wish lists conflict. Generally, unless you have already owned several homes, what you think you want is subject to change when you actually see it in the flesh (or, in the drywall, as the case may be).

So, get out there and start looking. Keep it low-pressure — maybe each choose two or three places you love, and then ask your broker or agent to suggest a couple that she thinks might work for both of you. (FYI: Experienced agents have a special skill for this, as it is not an uncommon issue.)

Also, avoid making disparaging comments about home features that the other likes that are turn-offs to you. Half the battle of pulling off a successful house hunt when co-buyers have opposite tastes is in keeping them from breaking up over rude comments!

As my grandma says, you’ll both draw plenty more flies with honey than with vinegar, and making the other feel that his or her opinions and desires are fully respected, if not shared, opens the door to understanding and compromise.

Action Plan

1. Separately, get clear on your vision. List out your wants and needs, then prioritize. Then come together and have a conversation about where there is room for reconciling the absolute musts.

2. Get out and start looking at houses — together. Stay open and flexible as to how a home might work for your needs. Ideally, make sure your agent is with you, as they might be able to help mediate or point out potential ways in which you both could make a home’s style, condition or location satisfy both your wish lists.

3. Avoid disrespecting each other’s likes and dislikes.

Tara-Nicholle Nelson is author of "The Savvy Woman’s Homebuying Handbook" and "Trillion Dollar Women: Use Your Power to Make Buying and Remodeling Decisions." Ask her a real estate question online or visit her Web site, www.rethinkrealestate.com.


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