By Mark Nash
CHICAGO – Many gay and lesbian homebuyers aren’t aware that their rights in 2006 to a non-discriminatory home purchase process could be guaranteed by local or state laws. Mark Nash, real estate author of “1001 Tips for Buying and Selling a Home” shares with single or partnered gay and lesbian homebuyers some do’s and don’ts that can help eliminate headaches and frustrations before and after purchasing a home.
* Do use Pride Source Media Group’s web site to locate a realtor at https://www.pridesource.com. Also see the index of advertisers in this issue.
* Do locate an experienced real estate attorney to advise you on the best way for you and your partner to have the deed and title to a property you purchase delivered to you by the seller. Look for protections in case one of you dies, so the living partner has full rights of survivorship. You don’t want the family of the deceased assuming ownership of your partner’s portion of your home. Have enforceable wills and living wills completed before closing on your new home.
* Do disclose to your agent if you are a partnered couple. Refuse to be positioned as friends, interior designers, brothers or sisters. Gay and lesbian homebuyer dollars are as green as any others. Find an experienced agent that understands how to bridge gay and lesbian homebuyers to property sellers and their realty agents if questions arise.
* Do create independent lists of must-have home features and compare. It can be difficult for newly partnered couples to find a starting point for joint home parameters. I suggest to my clients each list the top ten features they want in their next home and compare with their spouse. You should have at least five matches and less than five requires a discussion before you consider even looking at homes.
* Do determine how much square-footage you need. Gay and lesbian couples usually have lived and possibly owned a home on their own. Don’t think a small place will be romantic; it might be too close for two people stating a life together. A good rule of thumb is to take the square-footage of each of your homes and add together, especially if they worked well for you individually.
* Do plan for everyone’s commuting times. Buyers often overlook both spouses commuting needs for their careers. If you go out to the suburbs and your spouse inherits a long commute along with a new spouse it could be a strain. Your first home most likely won’t be forever, so keep in mind neighborhood familiarity, commuting times and proximity to family and friends.
* Do consider the needs of your partner’s pet. You might have never had a dog or cat, but your partner does and so will you. Plan ahead for the special needs of a dog that needs to be walked (reconsider high-rises), go to the dog park (a walk or a car-ride away) or a cat that will perch on wide window sills instead of the back of your fabulous couch.
* Do look for good resale characteristics. You probably won’t stay more than three or four years in your first home together. Make sure your real estate agent understands that good resale characteristics are at the top of your wish list. Your first investment together should be a positive one. Don’t skip a home inspection or using an attorney when you purchase.
* Do send out change of address announcements. It can be overwhelming after all the civil union or moving transition demands to let people know the address and phone number of your new home. I remember some newly-partnered same gender couples recently telling me after all the attention they received before and during their coupling or ceremony, that now they haven’t heard much from anyone. I told them to let people know of their new address via snail mail or email.
* Do determine if your state, county or local laws include sexual orientation as a protected class under fair housing laws or ordinances. Federal Fair Housing laws do not include sexual orientation as a protected class, but do cover race, color, religion, national origin, sex, martial status, disability, and familial status. Contact or research if you have housing protections under local ordinances or state laws. Many states have recently updated their laws to include sexual orientation (Michigan has not).
* Do realize when discrimination occurs. If your sexual orientation is protected from discrimination by a state, county or local law, understand how discrimination is determined. If, based on your sexual orientation, you are refused the sale of housing, that may fall under your state or city’s protections. Other ways couples can be discriminated against include refusal to negotiate the sale, changing terms, conditions, or services for different individuals, advertising any discriminatory preference in housing or making a discriminatory remarks, claiming an available property is not available, etc.
* Do understand how to report discrimination. Report allegations of housing discrimination to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, the state real estate licensing authority, local, state or national real estate associations, and the local Multiple Listing Service.
* Don’t allow realty agents to steer you into predominantly gay and lesbian neighborhoods. Several lesbian and gay homebuyers have filed complaints with state real estate licensing authorities against realty agents who would only show them properties in known gay and lesbian neighborhoods. This is known as steering and is unlawful. Any realty agent should show you properties anywhere you want to look and live.
* Don’t underestimate the utility of disability or life insurance. Giving up your dream home because of an unexpected disability or death can bring financial hardship to any relationship. Gather three quotes for both disability and life insurance and ensure both partners for the unforeseen.
* Don’t forget to disclose financial problems in advance. Marginal credit histories, bankruptcies, underestimated child support and undisclosed divorces would come up in mortgage applications. Have an honest discussion with your partner before meeting with a mortgage consultant about any of these issues.
* Don’t move in to your partner’s home. To get your life together off to the best start, resist moving into one of your homes. Like it or not, it’s still territorial – when you move into someone else’s space you feel like a visitor or when someone else moves into your space you feel your space is invaded. No one likes to have their decorating challenged or be regulated to the closet in the guest bedroom.
* Don’t burden yourself with multiple homes. Your home, his home and your new home can be a lot to juggle physically and financially. Try to sell both of your existing homes before you close on your new home together.
* Don’t differ unless you mean it. Living together takes time to establish the ebb and flow of your daily lives. If you feel strongly against a proposed paint color, furniture choice or room layout, voice your opinion. Staying silent won’t save your relationship, it could disable it.