It's particularly important to make a written property agreement if you buy a house together; the large financial and emotional commitments involved are good reasons to take extra care with your plans. Your contract should cover at least four major areas:
- How much of the house does each of you own? If it's not 50-50, is there a way for the person who owns less than half to get an increased share -- for example, by fixing up the house or making a larger share of the mortgage payment?
- How is title (ownership) to be listed on the deed? One choice is as "joint tenants with rights of survivorship," meaning that when one of you dies, the other automatically inherits the whole house. Another option is "tenants in common," meaning that, when one of you dies, that person's share of the house goes to whoever is named in a will or trust, or goes to blood relatives if the deceased partner left no estate plan.
- What happens to the house if you break up? Will one of you have the first right to stay in the house (perhaps to care for a young child) and buy the other out, or will the house be sold and the proceeds divided?
- If one of you has a buyout right, how will the house be appraised and how long will the buyout take? Most people agree to have the realtor that helped with the purchase appraise the house and then give the buying partner one to five years to pay off the other.