Shacking Up … Buying a House Together in Texas? Some Things You Should Know

Periodically, we run guest columns from our member realtors on their areas, and issues that affect gay and lesbian buyers.  Here’s a great new column from Julie Nelson about buying real estate as a gay or lesbian couple.  (click here to see Gay Realty Network’s Austin, Texas real estate page):

Gay Austin Real Estate

Gay or straight, doesn’t matter.  Two “non-married” persons purchasing a property together in Texas need to know a few things about owning that love shack (or investment shack).  Primarily, co-ownership does not necessarily convey the same rights as with a married couple.  Many of these rights should be specifically created at the time of purchase of the home or shortly thereafter with appropriate legal documents such as a will.

This article is not intended to scare but it is scary how many non-married couples own property together without the appropriate legal documents in place to protect themselves in the case of death, disability or separation.  Lovely topic, we know.

Did you know that if you own property with your friend, steady, lover, partner, college roommate, whatever non-married person you like and he or she dies without the appropriate and challenge-proof legal documents in place, that you now, more or less, own half of that property with their heirs?  Oh joy.  You may love the family to pieces but do you want to be in a business relationship with them?

What are your intentions if one person wants out?  One person needs to move out of state for a new job?  You break up?  Or there is a death or disability.  In the case of partners, is it the intention for the surviving person to keep the house, take over the full responsibility of the loan or does the deceased’s heirs now own half the house?

You could end up putting yourself in a position where you may have to refinance to buy out the other person’s family at today’s market value and mortgage conditions or be forced to sell the home if you do not qualify for the new loan?

If you assume ownership of the property upon the death of the other co-owner, you may potentially have to address probate, inheritance challenges, inheritance taxes or risk the mortgage being called due.  We recommend legal counsel at the time of purchase or shortly thereafter to help you avoid these possibilities.

So a little advice when purchasing property:

* Talk.  Talk about wills and estates and what-ifs.  Call it a pre-nup if you wish, but have an understanding and, best, an actual agreement in writing.

* Ask your agent to put you both on the contract even if just one of you is on the note. It will help get the ball rolling in the right direction.  Some lenders will allow this, some will not.  Consult with your lender and Realtor to assess your best approach.

* Ask your lender and title company about Joint Tenancy With Rights of Survivorship (JTWROS). Many lenders will not permit them, especially if just one of the partners is on the Note.   Sometimes you’ll have a choice, sometimes not but you should ask.

* On tax benefits and who takes what, part or whole, talk to a good CPA for guidance.

We recommend working with Realtors, lenders, attorneys, tax advisors and title companies who are well-versed on working with non-traditional couples, non-married persons as this information is commonplace for them.  A professional who is not may not understand these nuances and may waive them off as not important.

Let’s take care of ourselves and our relationships.  Legally sound home ownership is sound business.

Julie Nelson, Austin Lesbian RealtorThe Nelson Project at Keller Williams Realty in Austin, TX sponsors an annual legal seminar on this topic.  The 10th annual seminar was June 17, 2010.  We have brought this seminar to community groups around Austin including corporate GLBT employee groups at Dell, IBM and Motorola.

Julie Nelson is a top Realtor in Austin and runs The Nelson Project at Keller Williams Realty.  Half of our clients are GLBT and we have an urban focus.  Julie is a leader with the Keller Williams national KW Rainbow Network, a KW faculty member, and a Certified EcoBroker.  Find more about The Nelson Project and search for Austin homes at or check our blog at  If you like this blog, you may want to visit our totally useful Austin neighborhood portal at  And to prepare for your next Austin visit, you may want to check out (tacos first, real estate second).

Disclaimer:  As licensed Realtors, we cannot give legal advice.  We encourage you to discuss the details of your situation with appropriately licensed attorneys, financial and tax advisors