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SMART MOVES

When Husbands and Wives Can't Agree on House to Buy

October 18, 1998|ELLEN JAMES MARTIN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Exasperated.

That's how many marriage partners feel when they can't agree on a home purchase.

Spend a little time with couples involved in house-hunting and you'll often hear the clinking of swords as husband and wife fence over the issue, realty specialists say.

"We're not marriage counselors, but it sometimes feels like we are," said Dorcas Helfant, past president of the National Assn. of Realtors.

Some partners become so livid that, rather than argue, they give each other the silent treatment after a house-hunting expedition proves to be an exercise in futility.

"I've had experiences where couples weren't speaking to each other after looking at homes," said Jacki Moya, the broker-owner of Buyer's Representative, a small realty company in Fullerton.

Your marital union may be very strong, yet two mature adults can still have seemingly irreconcilable differences when selecting a property. Real estate specialists cite these common causes of quarrels between partners:

* One fancies a green lifestyle near a lush golf course somewhere in the deep suburbs or beyond. The other wants the thrill of being downtown, within walking distance of theaters and concerts.

* One wants the warmth and coziness of a traditional home. The other favors a contemporary that's cool, airy and open.

* One wants an established neighborhood with decades-old trees and likes ranch-style houses from the '50s. The other wants the soaring two-story entrance and huge master bedroom suite available in a newly minted home.

What accounts for such glaring differences?

Often people have idealized pictures in their heads of to how they'd like to live. Some see joy in having a large yard with lots of shrubbery and flowers to tend; others see drudgery. Some are willing to renovate; others consider the idea an agonizing hassle. Some see a lengthy commute as a plausible trade-off for the chance to buy a bigger property; others see it solely as an exhausting waste of energy.

But there's hope--even for couples who apparently have widely divergent views, said Jim Cox, who owns Century 21 Ability in Camarillo.

If buyers engage an agent thoroughly acquainted with the area where they're looking, the agent can often help locate a compromise property that satisfies both partners' key preferences, Cox said.

Suppose, for instance, that the husband yearns for a country setting while the wife wants the stimulation of a more urban milieu. An adept agent could help them discover a village-like neighborhood hidden away near a bustling business district.

"I'm a good listener. And if both people really know what they want, I can usually find it for them very quickly, even if they don't agree," said Cox, who has sold real estate for 18 years.

All too often, however, the two partners have fuzzy notions of their goals. So defining preferences and then setting priorities becomes Task No. 1, Cox said.

"Sometimes couples need to take a little relaxed time in a non-stress, noncompetitive atmosphere to decide what they each want in a home," he said.

It's a good idea to create "his and her" preference lists. Then both partners should rank their goals in order of importance. The process will give your agent the information he or she needs to pursue a workable compromise.

By creating priority lists, you may discover that a short commute is far more important to you than a large backyard. Meanwhile, your spouse may discern that a two-car garage tops her list, while an elegant formal dining room is way down on her roster.

Armed with this information, a capable agent can seek out the right two-car-garage property that spares both of you a lengthy commute. Here are three other suggestions to help couples:

No. 1: Go on a "potpourri tour."

Many home buyers cannot find words to describe what they're seeking. They need to see an array of possibilities. Only then do their true preferences reveal themselves.

If you're in this category, ask your agent to piece together an itinerary of varied properties in different settings: a potpourri tour. Then go on this preliminary tour and tell your agent exactly what you think of the different architectural styles, floor plans and neighborhoods presented to you.

After the tour, your wife's interest in that rural homestead, where you'd have to import playmates for the kids, may melt away. Meanwhile, you may find that the city milieu you imagined liking would be too noisy and crowded for your comfort.

If you're lucky, said Cox of Century 21, your potpourri tour will show that you and your spouse are closer together than you thought. Realistically, you'd both be happier in a suburban setting.

At the very least, such a tour should help identify areas of possible compromise, said Moya, the independent real estate broker. For instance, you may both decide you'd rather have a large house with a small yard than vice versa.

No. 2: Try to look at homes together rather than separately.

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