Procedural/ethical question that may sound like a relationship question
January 29, 2014 8:15 PM   Subscribe

This is a financial/procedural/ethical question, not a relationship question. My SO and I recently bought a house together. The loan is in SO's name, because we got a better rate that way. SO is therefore the official owner right now. Our verbal agreement upon commencing the search for a house, and what we both decided was fair, was that my name would be added to the deed after we closed. We also talked about what we'd do if we split up, and we agreed that one would buy the other out, or we'd split the money from the sale of the home (minus our individual contributions to the down payment). We've moved in, and in typical fashion, haven't gotten around to the deed bit. Actual question after the jump.

We split the mortgage and the bills 50/50. SO paid less than half of the rent -- actually only about 33% -- and none of the utilities in the place we previously shared for five years (for reasons I never agreed with and that still chafe me, but which I can't and couldn't do anything to change). That inequity led to serious financial instability for me (but added stability for SO), and was the partial basis for my condition that I be added to the deed, and for our agreement to either buy the other out or split the proceeds from the sale of the home if it came to that. (SO put down the majority of the down payment on the house we bought.) SO agreed that making me an official half owner after the house was ours would be the equitable and thing to do, since I carried us for so long in the old place, and we both agreed that we'd be "even."

What you probably see coming is that I'm growing increasingly aware that I'm unhappy, and have been for a while. (No lectures about then buying a home, please. It is what it is.) I don't know what I/we will do about it, and I don't know what our future looks like. I have not made up my mind to leave, but it is among the options. I would like to be on the deed, even (or especially) in the event that it comes to that. It's what we agreed to. I've already put a lot of money and sweat into a house that, on paper, I do not own. And if I were to go, I would need the money. (One other factoid: We are not married, but are relationship is recognized and deemed legal and official by the state we live in.)

I'd like to move forward on the deed thing, which will require my being proactive and doing the legwork and stuff. But I feel guilty engineering the whole thing, or even bringing it up, since the idea of leaving exists in a shadowy place in the back of my mind. I feel manipulative and pushy and scammy, but I also know that I would be protecting myself.

What's the right thing to do here? I'm not ready to discuss leaving with my SO, because I have a whole lot of thinking to do first and SO is the type to freak out and shut down rather than discuss. So saying "Hey, I'd like to move forward on that deed thing because the thought of leaving you has crossed my mind" wouldn't be productive and isn't an option I'm considering. (And that makes me feel dishonest.)

In this context, is being proactive and assertive about finishing what really should have been the final step of buying this house a manipulative act on my part?

And to reiterate: This is a financial/procedural/ethical question, not a relationship question.
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (23 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
If you have been completely truthful, and circumstances are and have been exactly as you described, I would not fault you for for doing what you need to get your name on the deed. On the contrary, I'd hope that you would do so to protect yourself - and really, to protect your relationship, because this imbalance can only harm it. (It occurs to me that framing it in a "protect the relationship, reduce the imbalance" might be necessary to make progress.

If you have any concerns that your partner has no intention of going through with adding you to the deed - or might change their mind at some point - I'd double that "do it" and add an ASAP. Also, what happens if partner decides they're having relationship doubts while the current situation exists?

Granted, should you have some kind of documentation, along with a legally recognized partnership, you may be protected somewhat by the law already- or you may not at all.

All in all, I'm a firm believer in trust, but protect yourself.
posted by stormyteal at 8:32 PM on January 29, 2014

Straight forward would seem the best manner, i.e. it's time to take care of our agreement. You shouldn't need to have a reason, other than it's what you agreed to do.

If you feel you need to be able to state a reason, depending on your understanding about inheritance, and the laws of your state, it could be significant for your (other) legal heirs to you have your name on the deed. It would also allow you to claim tax deductions for interest, etc.

Mainly, though, because it is apparently what you agreed to do. Do it.
posted by uncaken at 8:33 PM on January 29, 2014 [2 favorites]

yeah, just get your name on there. you might find that all these questions melt away the moment your name is on that deed and things feel equal, in which case, it solved the romantic side of things (even though that' s not the point). Or, those questions might still be there. Who knows. Just do it. It's not dishonest to do the thing you have been planning to do all along.
posted by andreapandrea at 8:35 PM on January 29, 2014 [2 favorites]

This is a complex legal question about which you should consult a lawyer. Note I don't necessarily mean this in an "OMG lawyer up now!" sense; you and your SO could have an entirely amicable conference with a lawyer who specializes in real estate, family law and/or estate planning. The answer will depend a lot on what state you're in, and depending on that, potentially how long you've been together, cohabiting, etc. A lawyer will be able to tell you what the ACTUAL status of the property is, and what to do to change the status to what you want it to be. In particular, one of your statements - "The loan is in SO's name, because we got a better rate that way. SO is therefore the official owner right now" - is confusing to me because it contains a non sequitur: the "official owner" of a property owner can easily be different than the person(s) who are obligated on the mortgage. Not being your lawyer nor probably even licensed in your state, I can't tell you the full implications of that for you, but a lawyer can if you sit down with him or her for a brief consultation.
posted by Joey Buttafoucault at 8:35 PM on January 29, 2014 [7 favorites]

Do it because that's what you both agreed to do beforehand. Do it sooner rather than later because what happens if your partner dies? You are left being a renter in his/her house with no rights to it. You are doing it to protect yourself no matter what state the relationship is in - even if you live together happily for the rest of your lives you need to be on the deed, for your monetary security. Please also write up wills and healthcare paperwork.
posted by Joh at 8:37 PM on January 29, 2014

My boyfriend and I bought a house together, and in the process of doing so, worked together with a lawyer to come up with an agreement regarding what happens if we split up, or if either of us died. He was able to write us up a contract that we both were happy with and signed.

Obviously, this is different from the way you've approached things, in that we settled it all at the same time as we closed - however, the thing that we both still have to do is to make up a proper will. This may be something to look at as another good reason to have the deed issue settled - if you go to a lawyer to make a will, getting your name on the deed can be part of that same process. I don't think that it is manipulative to want to have your affairs settled, you are perfectly justified in doing so. It might be a good idea for you to try to separate need to get the legal paperwork settled from the idea of leaving in your mind. They are two separate issues.
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 8:39 PM on January 29, 2014

Imagine if every instance of "partner" were "neighbor" or "good friend" instead. Would anything be different in this calculus? You need to protect your investment.
posted by flyingfork at 8:43 PM on January 29, 2014

you and your SO could have an entirely amicable conference with a lawyer who specializes in real estate, family law and/or estate planning

yes, this is exactly what we did, we went to a lawyer that was recommended to us by a friend, and was a really nice guy; he took us through the whole process, it was a piece of cake.
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 8:45 PM on January 29, 2014 [1 favorite]

-You're already splitting the mortgage payments 50/50,
- You're already splitting the bills 50/50
- you already made a contribution to the downpayment,
-you've already agreed with your SO that if the house is sold each of you gets back your individual downpayment before splitting the excess.
- in exchange you get 50% ownership on the deed.

The above sounds very fair to me. It even protects the SO if SO contributed more to the d/p than you did. You have every right to get your name on the deed even if you two split the day after.
posted by mono blanco at 8:51 PM on January 29, 2014

Should you be added to the mortgage/deed because that's what y'all agreed to do? Yes.

Are you being manipulative about doing so because you're thinking about leaving the relationship? Yes.

If you're thinking about leaving - which sounds like MORE than just 'thinking' about - I suggest you think more about the legal entanglements of co-ownership of the home. After all, once you're on the deed it won't be a matter of who payed how much up front or what percentages on previous rental properties. That's juvenile.

If you're gonna leave, right now you have no legal standing. You're a tenant. Easy peasy and no need to buy the SO out. On the other hand if you get on the deed, we'll you're just setting yourself up for a ton of legal headaches.

It's funny that you insist this isn't a relationship question, because by buying a house together with a verbal agreement you've tied your financial/procedural/ethical dilemma to a personal situation.
posted by matty at 8:56 PM on January 29, 2014 [1 favorite]

If you're already considering moving out and you guys aren't sitting on a giant chunk of equity, the fact that it looks like a lovely house does not mean much. It's a lovely house in a potentially dubious real estate climate less a realtor's commission less the mortgage less whatever costs need to be incurred to bring the house to sale. Or else it's a lovely house that comes with a giant argument about who's moving and where that person is going to come up with a big chunk of change to pay off the other person and how much that amount ought to be. Owning half of that is a lot less attractive, in the middle of a breakup. Even if it might mean that you're financially not in quite as good a position afterwards, I think you need to do a serious cost-benefit analysis about whether that theoretical benefit is actually worth what you're going to have to go through to get it.
posted by Sequence at 10:01 PM on January 29, 2014 [3 favorites]

Your goal is unclear. Do you want the house, or your money back? I'm not sure being on the deed will help. A friend of mine went through this with an ex. They did everything by the book and the money issues still took almost a decade to sort out.
posted by BabeTheBlueOX at 10:20 PM on January 29, 2014 [1 favorite]

I don't think you need to feel manipulative or shady about this. It was already agreed upon in case the relationship ever came to this. You both had considered this possibility, which is why the agreement was to put you on the deed. So it's hardly shady that you want to be on the deed in case this ever happens, even if now it seems increasingly likely it will happen. If you're not ready to have a talk about how happy you are in the relationship, you don't have to. Just say you were thinking how if anything happened, you'd be out of a home, which is true. Then you can work through your feelings, but feel protected in doing so.
posted by AppleTurnover at 12:09 AM on January 30, 2014

Nthing the advice to see a lawyer. Even if your SO is completely on board and you decide not to leave at this point, a lawyer will be able to advise you on how best to make sure what's yours remains yours.

With the caveat that the laws where you live are unlikely to be the same as where I live, and IANYL etc:

1. adding your name to the deed may have other legal and financial implications - eg tax.
2. if you are in a relationship that is legally treated the same as a marriage, the laws relating to family law division of property may apply if you split up. You might find that under those laws, the name on the deed and any agreement about buying each other out may not be as relevant as you think.
posted by pianissimo at 1:15 AM on January 30, 2014 [1 favorite]

Was there a reason why none of this was put down on paper? Is it possible that your SO wants to be the only name on things?
posted by Jamesonian at 3:08 AM on January 30, 2014 [1 favorite]

Are you sure you could get on the deed given that the bank has a mortgage? I would confirm that first since it may moot the question.

(My wife and I did a similar move with our house: I took out the mortgage so we could get a better rate, now she wants on the title to the house, but some cursory googling several months ago suggested it may be tricky)

if you can, I wouldn't even think twice. Do it.
posted by jpe at 4:11 AM on January 30, 2014


Oh good god, your first step needs to be for you, personally, to get your own lawyer to determine what your rights and risks are here. As noted above, getting your name on the deed will require getting your name approved by the mortgage lenders and added to the mortgage (thus making you legally responsible for the full cost of the home on a joint and several basis, and they may have issues with a portion of the down payment coming from someone who was not at the time an owner (i.e., undocumented loan)), may have significant tax implications (i.e., if you are not an owner of the house and are added to the deed, that may well be treated as a gift of some portion of the home to you, and the limit for gifts between non-spouses is $14K or so per year), and honestly, to me yes, this feels very scammy.

Put in another hypothetical scenario, if you said, "My boyfriend owes me $10,000, and has promised he'll pay me back, but I'm thinking of breaking up so I want to be named a co-owner of his bank account so that I can be assured I can get my money, since we didn't write anything down--how do I do this?" man, I'd flag that question.

This is not legal advice, and I'm not your lawyer. You two will need a lawyer to do all this work for you, but before you get that lawyer, get a lawyer who can tell you your rights and risks here, including tax, property division, and potentially civil and/or criminal fraud. Seriously--I'd tread very lightly here.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 4:18 AM on January 30, 2014 [7 favorites]

Ethical? Ethical would have been that your SO moved heaven and earth to add you to the deed INSTANTLY!

You need to have two different conversations with your SO.

1. We need to get our legal shit in order.

2. I'm unhappy, we should probably get some couples counseling.

The way to bring this up is to say, "This is long overdue, we need to make legal arrangements regarding our finances. I feel insecure because it's been five years and I'm not on the deed of the house. Also, a lot of how we're handling finances stresses me out and I'm becoming resentful, I think it would be really helpful if we could go to couples counseling so that we have a healthy place to discuss issues that tend to freak you out and cause you to shut down."

This is simply a legal question, therefore the ONLY answer is: Get a lawyer who can get you both set up, then get into therapy, because if he won't discuss things, and you let yourself continue in this arrangement all this time without asserting your rights, you BOTH need to get your heads on straight.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 5:25 AM on January 30, 2014 [6 favorites]

Are you worried that SO is going to go back on their promise to add you to the deed? You have a verbal agreement, but SO also has a history of, well, monetarily screwing you to their benefit (at least based on how you've described it here). I'd be worried too, and in your situation, I'd probably have procrastinated on getting myself put on the deed, because I'd have been worried about him refusing to add me when push came to shove.

If you had a verbal agreement before purchasing the house, I think it's ethical to protect your ability to get your original investment out at a minimum. However, I would not automatically assume that being put on the deed is the best way to do that.

How well can you document your spending on the house (down payment, mortgage payments, and any money for improvements)? Keep that documentation together.

And then, yes, talk to a family lawyer before you do anything. The law is weird and unpredictable, and they will give you the best possible chance at protecting your own interests. Your SO has demonstrated that they have not protected your interests in the past. Don't feel guilty about doing so yourself.
posted by pie ninja at 5:27 AM on January 30, 2014 [1 favorite]

Forget about the plans that may or may not be lurking in the back of your head. SO agreed that making me an official half owner after the house was ours would be the equitable and thing to do, since I carried us for so long in the old place, and we both agreed that we'd be "even." This is the only thing that matters. You both agreed to this course of action, so follow through.

It sucks that you need to push to get what you want, but that's a separate issue. Maybe leave that a topic for discussion somewhere down the road. Right now, call a lawyer and find out what it will take to add your name to the deed. (I had the same situation when Wifey and I bought our house; my credit was awesome, hers not so much, so the mortgage and deed were in my name, and our attorney filed a quit claim a few months after closing to add her name to the deed, even though my name was still the only one on the mortgage. Then we refinanced a few years later, her credit was better, so then we were both on the mortgage. And I really don't know any specifics about the whole process. That's why I had a lawyer there to explain things to me using small words. Which he did.)

Now, if SO has changed hir mind, well, that's a discussion that you'll need to have. But again, come back to your original agreement. The house belongs to both of you, all you're doing is codifying it legally. Worst case, SO gets run over by a cement mixer tomorrow, some shitty relative of hirs challenges probate, and you get kicked out of your house. Your name needs to be on that deed to avoid that. Probably, and again, this is why you pay a lawyer.
posted by disconnect at 7:45 AM on January 30, 2014

In this context, is being proactive and assertive about finishing what really should have been the final step of buying this house a manipulative act on my part?

Not at all. Its an agreement rooted in protecting your interests either way.

I bought a place with my partner within the last year and the deposit came from me, so we agreed how things would be split if we split up. That's a sensible legal protection for both partners, so that (a) I get my funds back first if we split and sell up, (b) she doesn't pay half the mortgage then get nothing out if she DTMFA.

A colleague is currently in a difficult position because they had verbal agreements before they split but can't be sure they would carry into being the basis for a legal agreement that would stand up, and they have separated. Get some advice on what should be in an agreement to protect you in difficult circumstances (what happens if you want to sell and he makes it difficult, etc) and then get a legal agreement drawn up, asap.
posted by biffa at 10:11 AM on January 30, 2014

Please see your own personal lawyer to weigh options before going forward with anything. Yes you've put money into the house, but what happens if you get your name on the deed, decide to break up a month later, and then your SO insists they should get to keep the house and be bought out. What sort of legal proceedings would have to take place in your state if you disagreed on the matter? What types of proof do you have of the money you gave your SO for the down payment and mortgage payments and is it enough? If you were forced to buy them out do you have that much money? If you had to borrow it, where would it come from? If they offered to buy you out, how would that agreement be enforced? If you left and weren't on the deed how do verbal contracts made factor in?

This isn't so much a situation that is ethically black and white. Your SO, in signing the mortgage, took responsibility for that debt and property. They should have done exactly what you need to do, which is get personal legal advice on all the implications.
posted by itsonreserve at 12:39 PM on January 30, 2014

"Oh good god, your first step needs to be for you, personally, to get your own lawyer to determine what your rights and risks are here."

Yeah, totally. Especially when you realize that the laws that govern this stuff can vary a lot from place to place, especially outside of marriage. Hell, in California, with the most protective domestic partnership rules in the country, we're still working through this stuff. If you guys happen to be LGBT, it might be worth a call to Lambda Legal to suss out what your obligations and protections are. (People call us all the time, and I always have to send them there for real legal advice, since we're not primarily lawyers.)

I'm kinda surprised at how overlooked this is by the other answers. I dunno if this is just because AskMe is generally averse to getting the law involved with relationships or what, but this can be contentious even for married couples, so it seems pretty grievous to overlook getting actual legal counsel when dealing with this, which may very well be a legal question sooner than later.
posted by klangklangston at 4:44 PM on January 30, 2014

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