Saturday, April 8, 2006

Spouse vs. house: Communication, flexibility key when couples shop for place to call home

By Liz Garone
Special to Valley Homes

Finding the perfect home to buy is hard enough when a husband and wife are in agreement - but imagine how tough it can be when each spouse has a different idea of what could and couldn't work.

Ruben Rosado should know. He and his wife, Anita, work as a team with another co-worker at ERA Wood and Associates in Oakdale. When the Rosados were looking for a new home a number of years ago, they looked at 30 to 40 houses for sale. Finally, they found a house that Ruben loved, but Anita had a major problem with it. It didn't have a room that could be used for her home office - something she saw as essential.

The answer for the Rosados turned out to be a compromise. The house had two garages: one for three cars and an older one for one car. Ruben told Anita that they could divide the one-car garage into two spaces: a spot for her office and one for extra storage. It worked. They bought the house and are still living in it. "We love it," he says. Anita is happy; she has her own office. Ruben is happy; he has a three-car garage for his "tools and cars, and a place to tinker."

But not every conflict between spouses regarding home purchases can be compromised that easily, says Jeannie Mazzanti, a Realtor with PMZ Real Estate in Modesto. For example, if the address isn't right, it most likely won't result in a sale.

"Location is the biggest deal breaker," she says. Sometimes, a couple will fall in love with a house, but it's on a busy street, and he's thinking, 'We can't even back out of the driveway.' There's nothing you can do to change the street."

The same goes for being "on the wrong side of town," says Mazzanti - especially if one spouse is commuting and the new location would lengthen the drive time to work or require driving through a less-than-desirable area of town. "It's about happy versus unhappy," she says.

Other areas of conflict are easier to negotiate, she says. For example, the house might show dark or is a little bit dated in terms of color or has lots of wallpaper and carpet. "These things can be changed easily," Mazzanti says.

What Mazzanti won't do is try to "sell" a house to a couple if one of them has real issues with it. "I want to see them both in love with the house. There is a home out there for everyone. I really do believe that," she says. "They need to be happy and to have found what they both want before they get into escrow. Once they are in a legal, binding contract, it's pretty tough for them to just walk away."

For Mazzanti, the most successful approach is usually to let the couple work the conflict out on their own without her around. "The best way to handle that is to tell them to take a little bit of time. I'll say to them, 'You really need to go home and think about this before we make an offer.' Usually, they'll make the decision not to do anything and will keep looking."

The easiest couples to work with are those looking at houses as pure investments, Mazzanti says. If they are planning on fixing a house up and then turning around and selling it, the conflicts rarely cause a problem. "It's a very different story. There are no emotions attached," she says.

When it comes to their clients, the Rosados use their own personal experience buying their home to help them find the perfect house. "You have to listen to clients' specific needs," Ruben Rosado says. "Sometimes, you have to help them figure it out, because they don't even know what their specific concerns are until they sit down and talk about them."

He remembers working with a couple for whom he thought he had found the perfect house. That was until the wife saw the kitchen and balked. "We found his garage, but the kitchen was too small for her," Rosado remembers. The couple chose to pass and keep looking.

"Communication is key," says Paul Woodrum, a marriage and family therapist located in Modesto. "They each need to tell the other person how they see the house, what they think about it, how they feel about it, and then listen to what the other person has to say," he says. The emotional conflicts need to be dealt with before the logical arguments, according to Woodrum.

While Woodrum doesn't remember any clients "threatening divorce" over a house decision, it wouldn't surprise him if it happened. A number of years ago, he owned a Christmas tree farm. Couples would arrive at the farm "getting along fine." By the time they left, they would be talking about divorce, he says. "That was over simply choosing a Christmas tree. A house is the biggest investment most people make together. It can cause a great deal of conflict."

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