What could be more romantic than shopping as a couple for the home where you'll build a life together?
Well, the reality can be far less rosy and way more rocky than you imagine -- especially if you and your snuggle puppy have markedly different dream home ideals.
To find out what bumps may be in store, we got three lovebirds to air their dirty laundry on the house-hunting trail, and how they made peace and found a property they both adore.
Scenario 1: She saw her dream home, he saw a nightmare
Cindy and Dave Stevens of Simpsonville, SC
Their story: Three years ago while house hunting, Cindy swore she'd found The One: "It was my dream home," she says. "It had everything I hoped for -- cathedral ceilings, gorgeous kitchen -- plus the asking price has dropped from $495,000 to $300,000. So on top of everything, it was a deal."
But while Cindy was swooning, her husband, Dave, was "down on my knees with a flashlight, inspecting the cracks in the walls, which were literally coming apart," he says. "It was a catastrophe waiting to happen. And I thought the discounted price proved that there were serious structural problems."
Both parties dug in their heels. But eventually Dave's reservations overwhelmed Cindy's fantasies. The couple eventually agreed that the home wasn't worth the risk.
"My husband's worked in construction, and kept saying we'd be stuck with tens of thousands of dollars in renovations," Cindy says. And in the end, she's glad she changed her mind -- they wound up buying another place that's a significantly less flawed version of the first.
"It's Craftsman style like the other, with high ceilings," she says.
"It has most everything she wants," Dave says. "And it has what I'm seeking: a good foundation."
Lesson learned: Don't fall prey to the idea that there's only one "dream home" for you -- and that passing it up due to your partner's reservations means you'll never find love again. There are always more possibilities, and one is bound to fill both of your checklists.
Scenario 2: She wanted a fixer-upper, he wanted turnkey
Lief Simon and Kathleen Peddicord of Panama City (originally from Baltimore, MD)
Their story: "My wife and I have agreed on almost everything in our 18 years together, including the various investment properties we've bought in 15 countries," says Lief. But when they decided to buy a getaway in Medellin, Colombia -- a budding tourist area popular with expats -- they had their first serious clash.
"He'd wanted a budget-friendly, bare-bones box," says, Kathleen, founder of the blog Live and Invest Overseas. But she had her eye on a fixer-upper with a terrace and stunning views that was double the price.
Kathleen finally persuaded Lief by making a concession of her own: "He agreed to buy the place if I agreed to oversee renovations," she says. While it wasn't easy, her love of her new property inspired her to obsess over every upgrade, down to sourcing locally handmade tiles for their new kitchen. The result is a home they both love that they estimate could sell for 30% more than they paid.
Lesson learned: If you want a fixer-upper but your partner doesn't, volunteering to shoulder more of the work can tempt the reluctant party to meet you halfway.
"At first, we'd planned to go there just once a year, then rent it out the rest of the time," Lief says. "But in the end, we decided we wanted to keep the place for ourselves and use it as our romantic getaway."
He wanted amenities, she wanted budget-friendly
Avkash Kana and Sajel Lala, New York City, NY
After Sajel landed a medical residency in New York City, he and his wife, Avkash, had to vacate their spacious 1,000-square-foot apartment in Louisiana and make some tough decisions and trade-offs about what they really wanted in a home.
"I wanted to buy near the hospital, where apartments in our price range were less than 700 square feet," says Sajel. That was a problem for Avkash, who worked from home as a software developer.
"I wanted an apartment with room for my four monitors, whiteboards, and 5-foot desk that's set up like a command center," she says.
The couple also clashed over amenities such as laundry facilities (Sajel wanted to just come home and throw his scrubs in the wash, but Avkash balked at the added price) and elevators (Avkash wanted one, Sajel was fine with a walk-up).
"We bickered back and forth for the first serious time in our four years together," admits Avkash.
Lesson learned: Moving to a more expensive housing market is never easy -- it may very well mean you must settle for a smaller space, fewer features, higher house payments, or a combination of all three. Once they realized the need to compromise, Sajel and Avkash finally found a place.
"I like that our apartment is 20 minutes from work and has laundry," says Sajel. Meanwhile, Avkash is happy that it is budget-friendly and has an elevator -- and she's accepted that in New York, she'll have to make do with less space: "I'll just have to shrink the size of my command center."