Make sure you can cooperate before you co-habitate

By Geoff Kirbyson

            A box of chocolates, a bouquet of flowers, a candlelit dinner and a three-bedroom bungalow?

            Depending on where you are in your life - and your relationship - Valentine’s Day gifts can set you back anywhere from a few dollars to requiring a meeting with your bank manager.

            But while everybody has the best intentions, one local expert warns you’ve got to do your homework if you’re putting a ribbon on real estate.

            Maureen Scurfield, perhaps better known as Miss Lonelyhearts, the author of the longest-running advice column in Canada, said unmarried couples will often move in together as a trial run to see if things will work out.

            “They hope having a home together will show them that it will be successful. If it isn’t, they won’t have to go through the lawyers and endless hassle (if they were married),” she said.

            People looking to create a Brady Bunch family - blending children from previous relationships on both sides - should consider buying a new home rather than moving into the house of either partner.

            “If you can buy something new, buy it. Otherwise, you’re dealing with a house of memories. It’s memories for one side but not the other one,” she said.

            If that’s not possible, the house could be turned into something relatively new with some significant renovations.

            “Some people would say, ‘go ahead and renovate. I don’t care what you do,’ and then it’s okay,” she said.

            Trouble will eventually arise if one person insists on co-habitating in their house and wants to keep it as is even after their partner and children have moved in. Scurfield said she knows of one couple who moved into one of their houses but the newcomer wasn’t allowed to change the pictures on the walls, rearrange the furniture or pick a new colour scheme.

            Guess what happened?

            One often-unexpected hurdle is dealing with the neighbours, who have to get used to seeing a new person taking out the recycling, planting flowers in the garden or barbecuing over the fence.

            “They might say, ‘we really liked Suzy,’” Scurfield said.

            It’s one thing for two single people to shack up but adding children into the mix can be a real wild card. For one thing, kids from one or both sides might resent their parent’s new partner and go out of their way to cause them grief. In many cases, kids don’t want to move anywhere anyway and are partial to their neighbourhood.

            “Being in the same part of town but having different walls allow a couple to have a better start together,” she said.

            “With kids, I think that relationship has to be solid, not a trial moving in together. It’s hard enough for their kids understanding why their mommy and daddy broke up and now they’re moving into this new house. It can be real shaky, she said.

            If you’re not 100 per cent sure that this person is the one, don’t take the plunge into home ownership, Scurfield said. Stick with a rental, which has far less paperwork and lawyering if the relationship goes south.

            “I think people should be just nuts about each other and be willing to live in each other’s pockets to live with each other. You’ll be giving away a lot of the privacy thatyou’ve gotten used to,” she said.

            “They should be prepared to get married, that’s a better situation. But with the trial ones, you’re both on trial, and that’s not a good feeling.”

            Couples can increase the chances for success if they buy a house that has an extra room, such as a study, that can serve as a buffer zone, she said.

            “If you move into a little place with one bedroom, a living room, a bathroom and a kitchen, that’s pretty squishy for a couple, especially a grown-up couple who has been married before,” she said.