He said, she said: When spouses clash on houses


December 01, 1991|By ELLEN JAMES MARTIN

Think you know your husband or wife well? Then try shopping for a home without discussing your preferences and watch the sparks fly.

"It's just surprising how little people know about each other's tastes. Sometimes the agent ends up having to be a mediator," says Daryl Jesperson, senior vice president with the RE/MAX International real estate chain.

Some husband-wife housing disputes become so intense that one partner bullies the other into buying a property. In other cases, one spouse stubbornly drops out of the home search because of an inability to get his or her way.

"He says angrily that if the condo complex won't take animals, he'll just stay put where he is now with the dogs. She can go and live anywhere she wants," Mr. Jesperson says, offering a hypothetical example.

But most couples are capable of compromise. And by using a few simple communication techniques, they can meet many of their respective housing objectives and avoid spinning their wheels while shopping.

"Finding a house is very much of a coming together experience. It's more prevalent for people to fall in love with their new houses than to fight over them," says Douglas Bregman, a real estate author and attorney in Silver Spring.

To be sure, no two people are clones. It's inevitable that you and your spouse will have differences of opinion on issues ranging from how much to spend on a property to its age, location and features. Maybe you want a classic Victorian and your spouse wants a new condo overlooking a lake.

But unless you have wholly irreconcilable visions of your lifestyle, you should be able to find middle ground.

"Moving is a very, very emotional experience to begin with. So why not try to avoid creating needless friction?" asks Mr. Jesperson of RE/MAX.

Real estate specialists offer these pointers:

* Sit down with your spouse to list "must have" features before you go shopping for a home.

"Most couples don't communicate first and then -- after they've gone looking -- out come the surprises," Mr. Jesperson says.

But why waste your time looking at homes without garages when your wife is determined to have a place to put her car?

Linda Moreau, a sales associate with Century 21 C.C. Rittenhouse Inc. of Catonsville, suggests that each partner contribute his or her desires to the wish list. Then place the items in priority.

"Committing your wish list to paper is an extremely valuable skill," Ms. Moreau says.

* Don't just ask what your spouse wants. Also ask why.

Sometimes people don't know what's behind an inclination until they've explored further.

Suppose the husband insists on an older home and the wife wants a newer property with luxury bathrooms, walk-in closets and a gourmet kitchen.

If the couple explores the husband's preferences in depth, they might discover that the age of the house isn't the issue. Rather, he wants a home surrounded by grown trees.

Knowing that, the couple would be free to shop for a new house on a heavily wooded lot that would make both happy.

* Seek compromise when major differences arise.

You might be able to find some middle ground by reaching for less-than-obvious solutions. Suppose the wife wants a house in the country where horses could be kept but the husband wants to live in the city. Why not move to a city home -- with the promise that the wife is entitled to board horses at a stable in the country?

Or suppose the wife wants the privacy and garden found in a home with a big suburban yard, but the husband wants to spend less time cutting grass and more playing tennis.

Why not move to a garden home with a tiny plot and buy the husband a tennis club membership?

Or suppose the husband wants an old home with classic architectural features and fine landscaping, but the wife wants a brand new property with all the amenities. Why not buy a 5- to 10-year-old home where the prior owners have already spent a small fortune on landscaping and the addition of built-in cabinets and hardwood floors?

* Keep an open mind when you shop for a home.

Sometimes house shopping proves to people that they don't want what they thought they did, observes Joan Pittroff, assistant sales manager of the Howard County office of Coldwell Banker.

A stately Victorian may sound wonderful to the husband. But when he actually examines such a property, he notices that such a home doesn't provide many of the features he truly wants -- including large storage areas and oversized bathrooms.

* Realize as you're shopping that some home features can be altered for relatively little money.

Your wife doesn't like the porcelain sink? Plan to replace it with a stainless steel sink for a couple hundred dollars. Your husband insists on having a deck? Have one installed for a few thousand dollars.

"People are often surprised," Mr. Jesperson says, "at how cheaply they can cure an inadequacy."

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