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Searching For Common Ground

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When a couple of lovebirds start looking for a new house, feathers can fly.

Real estate and psychology experts say it’s only natural. Men and women generally have different priorities, after all.

As a rule, men are more likely to want a big garage, a larger piece of land and a space of their own where they can watch a game and enjoy a few beers with their buddies. Women are more apt to look for a luxurious bathroom, a walk-in closet and a big, modern kitchen. They also tend to think along family lines — good schools and safety.

“There are stereotypes for a reason,” said Kelly Chicas, clinical director of Albuquerque Family Counseling and a licensed professional clinical counselor and relationship coach.

“Most of the time with couples, opposites attract. So it becomes even more apparent when these opposites are looking for homes together,” added Realtor Joe Maez of Keller Williams Realty.

Maez and other real estate agents often become unwitting witnesses to the marital discord that can pop up when couples are looking at homes.

“I try to stay out of it,” Maez said. He has watched women look at a spacious, grassy backyard and exclaim over how nice it will be for the children only to hear the husband say, “Kids? We’re having kids?”

“They’re discovering a lot about each other,” Maez said. “I do my best to listen and do my best to show them properties that will make them both happy so they don’t have to give up too much.”

Vern and Kelly Dorris are one of the couples Maez helped. They had few differences about what they wanted in the house. Kelly Dorris insisted on a single-story home, for example, while that didn’t make much difference to Vern.

But they went head-to-head over location.

Vern Dorris, who is in the construction industry and had built the couple’s two previous houses, wanted to build in Rio Rancho. His wife wanted to move to the South Valley. He countered by suggesting Los Lunas where he has friends and they could get a large piece of land. Too far from my parents, she said.

“I timed it out on Google maps,” he said, adding that it was 40 minutes to his in-laws from either location.

Finally, they sat down with pencil and paper and made lists of what they each wanted, and then compared.

“We discovered that we had more things in common than were different,” Vern Dorris said. They decided to find a house they liked and then consider the location.

“We just compromised,” he said, adding they have been married 27 years. “That long a marriage, you don’t have to battle over everything.”

The strategy the Dorrises finally adopted is where couples should start — although they rarely do, Chicas said.

“They just assume that they’re on the same page,” she said.

By talking first and identifying both realistic priorities and deal-breakers, couples can start down the path to compromise. But even that should be a win-win with a little creativity, Chicas said.

“It shouldn’t feel like somebody’s going to have to give up something,” she said, adding that, for example, a couple could choose a house with a less-than-ideal kitchen but remodel it slightly or pick one without a man cave but carve out a space for him somewhere in the home.

Giving up too much can breed resentment.

“It’s really an emotional transaction,” Chicas said. “It’s not just about the house.”

Debbie Rogers, a Silver City Realtor and head of the Realtors Association of New Mexico, has seen emotions flare as couples look at potential new homes.

“I basically have had to say, ‘I’m not doing marriage counseling here. You guys go figure this out,'” she said.

Maez said he has watched women fall in love with a house and then try to “sell” it to their husbands by pointing out the three-car garage or other features that he might like.

“Really, there’s a hidden agenda,” Maez said, adding that in his experience, the wife usually gets what she wants in the end.

“You really see men in a traditional relationship bending over backward for their spouse … to make sure they’re happy,” Maez said.

To ease the bumps on that road to happiness and pick the right house, Rogers recommends the old-fashioned pro and con strategy.

“One thing I suggest to them is taking the houses and writing the pluses and minuses,” she said. “Sometimes when you put it on paper it pulls you more one way.”

Rogers also suggested couples pre-qualify for a loan. “That way they know exactly what they can afford, what their payments are going to be,” she said.

Experts agree that price is one place couples should not compromise. Taking on a more expensive home and mortgage to please one partner can easily lead to trouble later on.

The good news is that current market conditions make it more likely couples will find something they both can agree on.

“These days there’s so much inventory that if they look things over, they should be able to find something close to what they’re looking for,” Rogers said.

That was the case for the Dorrises. They spent two-and-a-half months on their search and looked at more than 100 houses before finding one on Albuquerque’s West Side that they both are happy with.

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