Moving in together can be an exciting time for any couple, but it can also turn into a disaster. If you’re still in the honeymoon stage or just in a major hurry to split rent and save money, you might be willing to skip through the checklist of ways to know you’re ready for this big step. But we’re still going to list them for you.
Talk about what’s important, especially finances
For this piece, Lifehacker spoke to licensed Compass real estate salesperson Chelsea Hale and reviewed legal documents from a young woman who currently has an order of protection against the partner with whom she lived for a few years. Both of them said the same thing: Before you even look at a new place, talk. Then, talk some more. Specifically, talk about finances, and make sure you do it privately and in a comfortable setting.
“By the time they meet with me, I don’t want to be involved at all with them deciding who is paying what,” said Hale. “So, before they come to me, they need to decide, ‘Okay, X partner is paying X amount, and Y partner is paying Y amount.’”
Hale said it’s imperative that individuals be honest about their income and come to conclusions about whether they’ll attempt a 50/50 split on the rent and utilities or divvy costs in ratios that make more sense based on how much they both earn. If one partner is making triple what the other makes, it isn’t unheard of for that partner to pay more in rent.
If that suggestion causes an argument, it’s time to seriously consider whether the union is a real partnership. Disagreements at the outset of the home hunt can point to larger issues that will more than likely crop up once you’re settled in.
The young woman with the protective order—who is due in court later this month in a legal battle for custody of her emotional support animal—agreed, suggesting rent-splitting lovebirds should look at their potential cohabitation through an “equity lens” rather than an “equality lens.”
Her partner, she explained, makes double what she makes but expected her to split the rent almost equally. After that partner, she said, had a few explosively violent episodes in the home and even physically accosted her at one point, she announced her decision to move out. The partner retained a lawyer to gain custody of the emotional support animal and advised the young woman that she should have waited to break up until she was in a better financial position.
The partner also added, the woman said, that she also should have “negotiated” more on her portion of the rent when they first moved in.
Be realistic and think about how to protect yourself
The young woman with the protective order, who Lifehacker isn’t naming due to the ongoing legal battle, said she didn’t see any red flags about her partner’s potential for violent outbursts or financially-decimating retribution tactics. A person who is going to be a terror to live with probably won’t make that evident before you actually move in together, so you need to be extra sure—to the best of your ability, at least—that they’re someone with whom you can coexist. And even still, that assuredness doesn’t always guarantee you’re side-stepping a landmine.
Of course, not every partner is a monster-in-waiting. Plenty of people, likely including your beloved, are totally chill and normal, but you still have to think about your own needs—and an escape plan you’ll hopefully never have to use.
The court-bound young woman urged any potential movers-in to be sure they’d still be able to survive independently before splitting a home and costs with a partner. Even if you never end up having to break a lease, move out, or determine who gets which household items in a contentious split, it’s comforting to know that if you ever had to, you could. Never allow yourself to be stuck in an uncomfortable or unsafe situation just to save money or because you don’t have the resources to extricate yourself. If your partner cares about you, they’ll understand if you want to delay a move-in until you’ve amassed enough money or general assuredness to ensure your safety and wellbeing in the event you find yourself on your own.
Don’t let concerns about being lonely or having to temporarily live somewhere less-than-ideal dissuade you if the cohabitation situation goes south, either. The young woman said she delayed breaking up with her partner after the first violent outburst because she was worried, “Oh, shit, I’ll have to move home.” Living with your parents or finding a few roommates isn’t the end of the world, and it’s certainly not as bad as living somewhere dangerous or miserable.
Hale also pointed out that when looking for a home, each person should be honest about their own unique needs, “especially given this post-COVID world [wherein] a lot of people are working in a hybrid-method office.” Ask yourself, she said, whether you need separate offices or personal space. No matter how much you adore someone, you could find yourself fighting with them if you spend every hour of the day next to them, especially when you’re trying to work. Advocate for yourself during the decision-making process, not least of all because a lack of fulfillment of your needs could end up negatively impacting the relationship itself. Plus, you’re still your own person, even if you’re taking a major unifying step with your partner. You still deserve to have your needs met.
Be ready to compromise
Once you’ve identified any red flags and had the big money talk, you still have more work to do before you ever set foot in a realtor’s office.
“If you’re both working from home, is it going to cause fights?” Hale suggested asking yourself. In that case, “It would be better for you to sacrifice the neighborhood to have a little bit more space. The first thing to ask yourself is, ‘What are the priorities for my lifestyle?’”
By the time you decide to move in together, you should be pretty aware of your partner’s general likes and dislikes. Ideally, you should have common goals and interests, too, and even if you do, don’t be surprised to find that you disagree on a few fundamentals when it comes to where you want to live. One of you might prefer a small apartment on a busy city street and the other might be more inclined to head to the ‘burbs. Both parties, Hale said, should recognize that they’ll need to compromise on something.
If you’re both committed to two very separate lifestyles, pause for a minute. Say you really do want to live in a bustling urban environment and your partner is unwavering in their commitment to, like, Long Island—if you both stick to your guns, you could break up, but that might not be the worst scenario. Sometimes, it takes a serious conversation about moving forward to realize why you shouldn’t. If you don’t think you’d be happy away from your favorite place, you probably wouldn’t be, and it’s okay to admit that. Sometimes, you want different things. Don’t nuke your own life and dreams in the service of someone else’s and consider that a run-of-the-mill “compromise.”
In every part of your relationship, you need to communicate clearly and honestly, while prioritizing yourself and nurturing the union and your shared goals. If you’re skipping over that part because your current lease is expiring or you want to jump into a phase of the relationship you see as more stable, reconsider. You have options.
If you’re ready—really ready—after all those longs talks and self-reflection, practice compromising and mutual problem-solving by both agreeing on which realtor to call. Go on. Test it out.