Increasing numbers of Canadians are prioritizing homeownership over marriage. While the two are not mutually exclusive goals, low interest rates and the security of homeownership, have many common law couples saying: “Let’s buy!” before “I do.” Are you thinking of buying your first home with your significant other? Here are three key questions to help assess if you’re ready to buy a house together.
HAVE YOU SEEN ONE ANOTHER’S CREDIT REPORTS?
There should be no secrets or surprises between the two of you if you plan to take on shared homeownership and all its attendant obligations, from mortgage payments, to home insurance, property taxes, utilities, and other monthly expenses.
In order to apply for your mortgage, you’ll need to talk honestly about your credit score (order your credit report from Equifax or TransUnion), debt load, savings, income, and other private financial details. Are you ready?
DO YOU HAVE A SHARED BANK ACCOUNT?
Consider simplify the paying of household expenses with a joint checking account that you each pay into each month.
Create a budget to cover mortgage, utilities, internet, groceries etc., and divide it 50-50 (or whatever proportion makes the most sense to you both).
Maintain your financial independence and credit history by keeping a credit card and savings account in your own name.
ARE YOU READY TO SIGN A WRITTEN AGREEMENT?
While no one likes to think about their relationship breaking up, unmarried, cohabitating couples should plan for this possibility and for the division of your shared property. Why? Because Common law couples do not necessarily share the same rights as married couples. That makes it essential to spell out who owns what (and who gets what in the event of a split) via a cohabitation agreement, whether that’s a 50-50 division, or another figure that reflects what each of you have invested into the joint property.
It’s also important to draft wills if you want your partner to inherit your shared home in the event that you pass away. In certain provinces (including Ontario), blood relatives trump common law partners in the absence of a will. Consult a lawyer to assist with the planning of the cohabitation agreement, to determine how the property will be held on title, to assist with wills and any other estate or property planning that may be necessary.
These are difficult conversations to have, but making them is a key step to merging your finances via the biggest investment you’ll probably make in your life – your home.