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Smart Moves: Solving the two-house problem

Are you a two-home couple who will soon marry and need to forge a unified housing plan? If so, these few pointers could prove useful.
By Ellen James Martin Published: June 28, 2014

A trend for marriage in America is that more couples are older when they tie the knot. In fact, an increasing number of people now marry for a second time after their kids have reached adulthood and left the nest. And the older the couple, the more likely they are to each own a home on the day they wed.

Coming into a marriage with two homes raises complicated questions for couples. Should they sell one place and move to the other or sell both properties and buy a new place together? One additional option — increasingly popular with older empty nesters who can afford it — is to retain both their domiciles indefinitely.

Dr. Bonnie Jacobson, a New York therapist specializing in relationship issues, tells the true story of a couple of clients who grappled with the two-home issue and ultimately decided to keep both properties.

The husband is a medical researcher in his 70s who works in the Washington, D.C., area and loves his suburban home there. His new wife, a professor of philosophy in her 60s, owns and enjoys a Manhattan apartment close to her university job.

“They see each other on weekends and during vacations. They have a beautiful marriage, so what’s the big deal? It’s all very romantic,” said Jacobson, the co-author of ”Choose to be Happily Married” and other books on relationships.

Jacobson also said a couple keeping separate homes can sometimes be a good solution for re-marrying couples with grown offspring who wish to keep their estates separate.

“This way when it comes to the kids, you don’t have conflicts over who inherits the property. Each set of children inherits their parent’s home,” Jacobson said.

Are you a two-home couple who will soon marry and need to forge a unified housing plan? If so, these few pointers could prove useful:

Make sure you communicate about your future housing desires.

Many people who marry or remarry in their 30s, 40s, 50s or beyond have spent years living independently and are used to making decisions solo. In such cases, Chris Knight, a certified financial planner, said it’s especially important that they discuss both their financial and lifestyle preferences before making a major housing decision.

Couples who find it hard to reach a conclusion through their own talks might consider hiring a financial adviser to help, if only for a consultation lasting a couple of hours. A skilled adviser will draw out each partner, thereby helping the couple come to a compromise that works for both.

Reaching agreement on housing objectives helps a couple overcome one of the key hurdles they confront in combining their lives.

“When they marry, couples merge legally. But many still don’t merge financially for many years. Reaching a consensus on housing helps people merge financially at an earlier stage in their marriage,” said Knight, who’s affiliated with the Garrett Planning Network.

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