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Your house or mine? Coupling later in life requires compromise (2006-12-03)

When older couples create a new household together, there are several hurdles to overcome.

An increasing number of people over 40 are joining as couples and creating new households.

For these people, housing issues can be especially thorny, says Mark Nash, an experienced real estate broker and author of 1001 Tips for Buying & Selling a Home.

“The older you get, the more entrenched your identity becomes. It’s a big change to go from independent to interdependent. Both partners need plenty of personal space in the place they decide to live, or it can be disastrous,” Nash says.

Often both parties will own a home. Ideally, Nash says both properties will be sold, allowing the couple to buy a third place of their own. “It’s incredibly hard for one person to move into another’s turf without encountering issues. Both people need a fresh start in a neutral place,” he says.

Here are several housing pointers for those embarking on a committed relationship late in life:

 Allow ample time to execute a housing transition. “Moving is a huge mess when you’re older. Packing up all your stuff requires time and study,” says Terri Murphy, a professional speaker and trainer in the real estate field.

Four years ago, Murphy — who’s in her mid-50s — married a man slightly older than she and moved to the faraway city where her husband heads his own consulting company. Murphy left a 1,000-square-foot “sky-house” in Chicago with floor-to-ceiling windows for a French provincial property in Memphis with a spectacular view of the Mississippi River.

Before combining their households, Murphy and her husband had multiple issues to sort out — furnishings, the storage of belongings and how extra rooms would be put to use.

“First and foremost, you need a comfort zone that suits your new lifestyle. This is not something you should rush through,” Murphy says. When both parties plan to sell their respective houses and buy a third one together, the change can take up to a year, according to Nash.

 Look for a new home equal in total size to your two current properties. Through the years, Nash has learned that clients who form a household as adults often fare poorly if they buy too small a property.

The need for sufficient “alone space” within the house is especially great if one or both partners has retired or expects to soon. Ideally, each will have at least one room in the house to claim as individual territory.

One feature of new homes that’s quickly gaining popularity is known as a “snore room.” This is a small bedroom that adjoins the master suite, where the partner who snores can sleep independently, allowing both to get their rest.

 Remember the children and grandchildren when buying a home. Home buyers in midlife and beyond are frequently attracted to the notion of downsizing. Those whose children are grown often wish to simplify their lives, purchasing a property with fewer bedrooms.

“But downsizing can backfire on couples. Not only do the partners need individual space to pursue their interests, but they need rooms where their adult children can stay over with their families,” Nash says.

 Reach a compromise on your commuting time. Nash urges new couples to show flexibility when selecting a neighborhood. Neither person should bear the burden of an excessively long commute. However, if you work many fewer hours than your partner, it could be wise to accede to a longer commute than your new spouse.

“Remarriages are fragile, particularly in the early stages. No matter how independent you were in the past, you’ll need to adapt and change. You’ll have to get out of that individualism box and into the relationship box,” Nash says.

Source: • Ellen James Martin

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