Do you have to be married to buy a house together? No; but it is a big investment, and you should consider your options before you buy. Unmarried people buy houses together for three main reasons: sharing costs as roommates, cohabitation, or investment partners. If you are considering buying a house with someone you aren’t married to, you should consider:
- Your liability and the legal issues that stem from it
- The tax implications of how you own the property
Owning real estate is a big investment no matter what your situation. Talk carefully about how you want to own the house with your partner and with a good real estate attorney and explore all your options.
Buying a House Without Being Married
Many people buy houses together as roommates in order to share expenses and build equity in a property. Others find real estate a good investment but want to share the risk and expense with a partner. Finally, more and more people in the United States are cohabitating without being married.
Bankrate points out that more people are buying real estate with a partner than ever before. While it may seem like a good idea for a variety of reasons, there are some things you should consider.
Pros and Cons of Buying a House if Not Married
The benefits of purchasing a house while not married are mainly to share expenses while building equity in real property. You may feel that you don’t need to fully commit or have more options in the event of a breakup or death, but the law includes protections of married individuals that you will have to agree to on your own if you aren’t married.
Real Estate Law and Unmarried Couples
Real estate law treats unmarried couples as individuals, so the couple must write any rules regarding disposing of the property should a traumatic event occur. While married couples have tough decisions when faced with these situations, there are laws in place with protections. An unmarried couple, roommates, or investors should sign legal documents before buying a house together.
Homeownership is a big responsibility. The process of purchasing a house is complicated because the investment is life-changing. Do not enter such a commitment without legal advice about how to deal with the property in case something goes wrong. A good attorney will help you draw up an agreement which will usually include the following items:
- Type of ownership on the deed
- Percentage of property ownership
- Payment responsibilities
- Buyout Options
- Dispute process
- Exit Options
While this may seem tedious and even unsavory, it is better to do it in the beginning while times are good. Making these decisions during a time of emotional or financial catastrophe will be devastating. Regardless of your situation or your intentions with the house, having someone else own the property with you brings liability.1
Do You Have to be Married to Buy a House Together; What About a Break Up?
Breakups are always difficult. It’s even harder with a jointly owned house. If you made legal arrangements for such an event before you bought the home, then the process takes its course according to the agreement.
If you don’t have such a legal document, then it can be complicated. Since the courts view you as individuals there are no protections or processes other than what you can mutually agree to. Most of the time this is emotional and difficult, especially if it is not an amicable separation.
Do You Have to be Married to Buy a House Together; What About Taxes?
The tax liability for a property you own with an unmarried partner depends on the type of ownership you have. If you are an):
- Individual – Your tax liability depends on your ownership stake, but the government will come after any taxes your partner doesn’t pay
- Joint tenants or tenants with the right of survivorship – Most of the time these are 50/50 arrangements unless otherwise stipulated. Again, the tax authorities will look for the other partner if one tenant doesn’t pay.
- LLC – These limit the liability of each partner. If the other person doesn’t pay, then the government can only come after the percentage that the structure of the corporation stipulates.
As you can see your tax liability depends on how you structure the ownership of the title to begin with. You should always consult a good real estate attorney before entering such a large transaction. How you structure the ownership may impact your liability if something goes wrong.2
Who Claims the Home on Taxes if you are Not Married?
If you are not married, then who claims the home on their taxes depends on the type of ownership. In most cases, you structure the arrangement so that each partner owns 50% of the property. However, you may opt to structure the ownership differently. Here are some reasons you may want to:
- One owner makes a larger down payment.
- One owner pays a larger percentage of the mortgage payments.
- A mutual agreement that one person should have a higher investment stake for personal/family reasons.
Whatever the reason, you should split the taxes based on your ownership position. Split the taxes as well as the mortgage interest according to your agreement. Mortgage interest is important on the federal return, while local taxes are usually important to report on state returns.
Final Thoughts About Do You Have to be Married to Buy a House Together
The main reasons that unmarried people buy a house together are because they will cohabitate, room together, or invest together. Whatever reason you consider it is important to remember that the law protects married individuals in ways it doesn’t individuals.
If you room with someone to save bills, then you might consider renting instead. The liability issues are less. While you won’t build equity in the property you may save yourself a lot of trouble if there is a problem down the road.
Real estate can be a great investment and working with a partner can limit liability and help with decision making. We encourage you to think carefully about who you work with and form an LLC to limit your exposure if something goes wrong.
Finally, if you are considering cohabitation consider the commitment you make when you buy a house. You will be together there almost every day. You will have many bills associated with the home, such as lawn maintenance, plumbing, the roof, paint, etc. Also, the financial commitment for most people is 30 years. That’s a long time. If anything goes wrong most banks have little regard for personal or financial problems. They just want their money. If you aren’t ready to commit to each other in marriage, you may not be ready to commit to a house.