Why do big life events – marriage, birth of a child, graduation – always seem tied to huge financial events, such as buying a new house or new car? It means that we experience major emotional upheavals just as we’re trying to navigate a new money challenge.
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Some couples have decided they don’t want to take it anymore. Instead of getting married and buying a house simultaneously, they’re putting their wedding off so they can take full advantage of this appealing real estate moment. Renia Lusby, 26, and her fiancé, Kristopher Butler, who live in Humble, Texas, started looking for a home as soon as they got engaged last September. “We noticed it would be more financially responsible for us to put one or the other on the backburner,” says Lusby, a special events planner for the University of Houston.
They prioritized their home purchase because they could take advantage of the homebuyers’ tax credit as well as the low interest rates and relatively low prices. They purchased their three-bedroom home in May and moved their wedding to next July. “Now we can take it slow and enjoy [the planning],” she says. Changing up the order also means they can save on nuptial costs, by inviting family members to stay in their new home instead of renting rooms at local hotels.
But buying a home before getting married isn’t for everybody. The biggest risk is that the couple breaks up before the wedding, which could put them at risk for losing a lot of money. Here are some potential pitfalls to watch out for:
- Communication breakdowns: Coldwell Banker real estate consumer specialist Diann Patton says the most important thing is for both people to agree with the plan, whether it’s to wed first or buy a home first. “If one couple wants to [buy a house] and the other doesn’t, obviously it’s not the right thing to do,” she warns. A home purchase can be such a stressful event that it can strain even a strong relationship.
- Buying for the wrong reasons: Sure, rates are down and many markets favor buyers, but market conditions alone aren’t a good enough reason to go home shopping. It has to make sense based on the couple’s financial situation, too. That usually means a sizable down payment and steady income stream.
- Spending more on the wedding than the down payment: With the average wedding running some $20,000, it’s tempting to skimp on the down payment in order to spend more on bridal roses or the salmon entrée. But from a financial perspective, it’s better to put the money into your future home.
- Breaking up, post-home purchase: One risk is that the couple buys a home they can only afford jointly, and then break-up before the wedding day and are forced to sell the house. Or only put one person’s name on the title, leaving the other person with nothing to show for his investment. While married couples can break up too, most states offer legal protections to married couples or formal ways of dividing property through divorce court. Couples who are simply living together or cohabitating are often left to their own devices, which might mean an unfair division of assets. (See Living Together While Keeping Money Unmarried.)
In Lusby’s case, she and her fiancé put the home in her name, but plan to add his name as soon as they marry. Her advice to other couples? “Stay focused,” and don’t forget to take time to enjoy the process of both home-buying and wedding planning.