It has become more common in recent years to see unmarried couples purchasing a home together. Rising rent costs and an uncertain economy have couples trading wedding bells for the jingle of new house keys. Purchasing a house with your partner and moving in together can be an exciting time. But there are some steps you should take to protect yourself and your investments, including ownership and financial obligations.

Sole Ownership

One of the first steps is to decide how you and your partner will own the property. This is sometimes referred to as “taking title.” Assuming that you’re buying the house for personal use and not for business use, there are three options: sole owner, joint tenants, or tenants in common. 

With sole ownership, one person holds title to the property. They are the only legal owner. A sole owner has full power to sell the house, leave it in their will to a family member or loved one (not necessarily their partner), and make other key decisions as to repairs and upgrades. On the plus side, if you’re the sole owner, you don’t have to worry about claims on your property if the relationship doesn’t work out. On the minus side, if you are not the sole owner, you do not have legal rights to the property – even if you’ve been financially contributing to the mortgage or upkeep. Some couples may be tempted to put only one name on the house deed to save on taxes, but if the sole owner suddenly passes away, the surviving partner may not be able to claim ownership of the house.

Joint Tenancy

Another option is taking title of the home as joint tenants. With joint tenancy, both parties have equal ownership of the property. They cannot sell the house or make any significant changes without the other partner’s approval. Sometimes, joint tenants also have “right of survivorship,” which means that if one owner dies, the surviving partner will receive their share of the property. This is one of the advantages of joint tenancy with right of survivorship – both partners have equal ownership and use of the house, and if one partner passes away, the survivor can stay in the house. If you and your partner break up; however, it can be difficult to determine what happens with the house.

Tenants in Common

The third option for taking title as unmarried partners is tenants in common. Similar to joint tenancy, tenants in common have equal shares of the property. But they are able to do whatever they want with their share of the property; they don’t need the other owner’s approval to make major upgrades, sell the house, or leave the home in their will to a family member. If the couple breaks up, they can sell their share of the property. It’s an advantage that the partners are not as entangled in the property if they want to sell it; however, the partners would have no say in who the other person sells to. They could, in theory, sell their share of the house to a complete stranger.


Homeownership Contract

After the couple decides how they want to take title to their house, it’s a good idea to develop a Homeownership Contract. This is a legal document that details the partners’ rights and responsibilities concerning the house. It can include provisions on sharing the mortgage and utility bills, handling unexpected expenses and repairs, or paying for improvement projects. Does the couple want to split expenses 50-50? Will one partner pay a larger portion of the bills, or be responsible for more of the house upkeep and repairs? You can also include a section on how financial contributions will be addressed if the couple wants to sell the house in the future. 

While a homeownership contract may not be the most romantic topic of discussion, talking about property interests now can save you some money and stress in the long run. An experienced real estate attorney can ensure that you’ve discussed the relevant details and help draft the contract. It’s important to note that homeownership contracts are legally enforceable. 

Have Additional Questions? Contact Brian M. Douglas & Associates

Owning a home with your partner can be exciting and fulfilling. But property rights can be a little different when the couple isn’t married. A house is one of the most significant investments you’ll make, so it’s important to protect yourself and your finances. If you have questions about home ownership and purchasing a house as partners, please reach out to our team of experienced real estate attorneys. We can walk you through your different options and make sure you have the best plan in place for you and your partner. Contact us today at (770) 933-9009 or via our online contact page.