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The Golden Girls approach: Buying homes together amid high prices

Published 08/17/2023, 08:07 AM
Updated 08/17/2023, 08:10 AM
© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Real estate signs advertise new homes for sale in multiple new developments in York County, South Carolina, U.S., February 29, 2020. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson/File Photo

By Chris Taylor

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Maybe Dorothy, Blanche, Rose and Sophia had it right all along.

We remember the stars from the 1980s television series “The Golden Girls” for their wit and quick comebacks, but also for their unique home arrangement: Living (and eventually owning) with each other, without spouses or significant others.

According to a new survey from LendingTree, an eye-opening 29% of Americans are open to the idea. Of those potential homebuyers, 63% said they would consider buying with a family member who is not their spouse, and 57% would do so with a good friend or current roommate.

“That’s quite a lot of people, and I’m not surprised that people are considering it,” says Jacob Channel, senior economist for LendingTree. “It speaks to where we are in the housing market: It’s really expensive to buy a house right now, and a lot of people are looking into alternative ways to purchase.”

Indeed, consider these figures: The median price for existing homes in June was $410,200, near an all-time high, according to the National Association of Realtors. Meanwhile, the average rate on a 30-year mortgage has risen to over 7%, following a series of rate hikes from the Federal Reserve.

Combined, those two factors can make it very challenging to break into the housing market. Just ask Gus Gibbs of Boise, Idaho, who in 2021 bought a three-bedroom house with his partner and her sister.

“All three of our names are on the mortgage, and we threw all the money that we could towards the down payment,” says Gibbs, a devoted ultrarunner. “We were growing weary of high rental prices – and glad we got into the market when we did.”

To be sure, the percentage of people who co-buy with someone other than their spouse or significant other is still a relatively small share of buyers. Currently, it represents about 3% of the housing market, although that rises to 5% among first-time buyers, according to NAR.

“That’s the highest we have seen among first-time buyers,” says Jessica Lautz, NAR’s deputy chief economist and VP of research. “This trend is a good way to pool resources when housing affordability is a challenge.”

While the math may seem attractive, this path to homeownership is also fraught with potential dangers. Here are a few pointers before embarking on a Golden Girls-style co-living arrangement.

TRUST COMES FIRST

Mixing finances with friends or family is always a dangerous business, since money disputes could end up causing serious relationship damage. So this is not something to be entered into lightly, but should only be considered with relationships where there are very high levels of mutual trust.

“I think this is a very tricky situation that has a decent chance of blowing up,” says Howard Pressman, a financial planner in Vienna, Virginia. “I understand the reasons for wanting to do things in this way, but would be very concerned with how this sort of relationship ages.”

GET IT IN WRITING

In any co-buying arrangement, there are all sorts of critical questions to consider: How long do you plan on staying there? What happens if one person wants to sell, and the other does not? Who handles which maintenance costs? And so on.

Not only should you be discussing all those issues beforehand, you should put it all down on paper, with the help of a real estate lawyer. That way you both have a document you can point to later, and avoid potential misunderstandings.

LOOK AT OTHER OPTIONS FIRST

One reason people considering co-buying is because they think purchasing on their own is too far out of reach. Imagining a 20% down payment, for instance, may cause potential buyers to throw up their hands in despair.

But those assumptions may be wrong.

“People think you need 20% down, but the truth is you often don’t,” says LendingTree’s Channel. “Most people put down less than half of that, and with a (Federal Housing Administration) or (Veteran's Administration) loan, you could put down less than 5%. So there is wiggle room, and you might be more equipped to buy on your own than you think.”

© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Real estate signs advertise new homes for sale in multiple new developments in York County, South Carolina, U.S., February 29, 2020. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson/File Photo

Nonetheless, the harsh realities of the housing market may dictate more co-buying in future. With high prices and high interest rates, some potential buyers may not have much of a choice – and this relative rarity in the real estate world may soon become more common.

“There is a very good chance these numbers will increase,” says Channel. “In a few years, I expect that even more people will be considering co-buying.”

Latest comments

Co-buying another result of Bidenomics.
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