After eight years of dating, Greg Hebert and Laura Reiffarth knew it was time to take their commitment to each other to the next level. In June 2012, they took the plunge — and bought a home together.
The couple, who have recently gotten engaged, knew then that they would eventually get married, but buying a house first seemed like the right step for them.
“We knew we couldn’t afford to do both at the time, so we had to make a decision,” Reiffarth says. “We felt it was financially and logically smarter to buy the house first.”
It’s a decision more couples are now making. A recent survey by Coldwell Banker found that 1 in 4 married couples between the ages of 18 and 34 purchased a first home together before marriage.
The trend follows the increase in cohabitation documented by the 2010 census and in a recent study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The CDC study found that nearly half of women up to age 44 had cohabitated between 2006 and 2010, compared with 34% in 1995. It also found that 40% of those couples got married within three years of living together.
And for Hebert and Reiffarth, it made more sense from a relationship perspective to buy the house, then tie the knot.
“It’s kind of funny for us to think about how our parents did it,” Reiffarth says. “We look at getting married before moving in together as a huge risk. What if you were married, moved in together and then couldn’t stand the other person? Then you’re kind of stuck, just spent a lot of money on a marriage and a house.”
Psychotherapist Robi Ludwig, who worked with Coldwell Banker on the homebuying study, says couples who are purchasing homes together are definitely commitment-minded, but that the difficult economy has prompted a shift in priorities.
“You have a population that has to be more aware of fiscal realities and responsibilities, and there is kind of more of a sober attitude when it comes to making pragmatic decisions,” she says. “Couples are deciding, ‘We are committed,’ and it makes sense to save money.
“I don’t think you can separate out the economic and fiscal realities with how couples decide to move forward in their lives,” she says. “How they handle finances will have a huge impact on their relationships. It’s not romantic, but it’s real.”
After they married, the couple built a home in Hyde Park, Ohio, and Bhattacharjee says she is glad they waited.
“We were more established in our careers and had more disposable income so we could afford exactly what we wanted,” she says.
Testing the relationship
But for some people, buying a home signifies a much bigger commitment than getting married.
“Owning five or six hundred thousand dollars of property together may actually be a stronger bond, one that can be harder to disentangle, than many marriages, which can often be dissolved rather quickly and easily with a no-fault divorce,” says Barry Maher, a motivational speaker who owns two homes in California with his partner, Rose Fennel.
The couple had lived together for eight years before they made their first co-purchase.
“Living together in a rental home was a commitment, certainly much more of a commitment than dating,” he says. “But obviously, it wasn’t nearly as strong a commitment as marriage. All it would have taken for either of us to get out of the relationship was a U-Haul, a couple of friends and a few trips lugging our stuff to a new location.
“But buying a home together is a major commitment, with promises that have to be kept and major consequences if they aren’t,” Maher says. “Just the fact that we were willing to commit to buying that property showed how strongly we were committed to making the relationship work.”
Ryan Lau and his fiancée, Leina Yokota, bought a house together in Honolulu in September 2012 because it made financial sense, but found that the process was a good test of their relationship.
“A Realtor will tell you the top three things to consider before you buy are location, location, location,” he says. “I say, before you decide to buy with your significant other you need communication, communication, communication. Our plan was one that evolved as we went through this process. We listened to each other, were honest with each other and revised our plan as we went along.”