There you are looking at online listings. You zero in on traditional two-story houses, in great school districts, with the proverbial “picket fence.”

Meanwhile,  your partner is focused on contemporary homes in urban areas.

While these difference might be stark—and most couples are (ideally!) a little closer together on what their real estate purchase is going to look like, it’s not uncommon for couples to come to the table with different opinions, says Wendi Roudybush, a Realtor with Realty Executives in Prescott, Arizona.

“I’ve experienced actual fights between couples who have not addressed this with each other,” she says. “Buying a house is a huge investment, and it feels like a permanent commitment.”

Translation: Emotions can run high.

Here are some ways to temper the issue before you end up signing divorce papers rather than closing documents.

Tackle the Finances

Every journey must start here: Visiting a mortgage lender for a pre-approval can help you see exactly how much you have to spend—and that can help focus your search on properties that are squarely in your budget, rather than dream homes that are out of reach or would be financially unwise given your other financial goals and budgetary needs.

Talking to a lender brings out another source of contention—and that’s what’s really going on in your finances. For example, your credit score is incredibly important; the better your credit, the more likely you are to get an appealing interest rate. But this is the time that nasty surprises surface over old credit issues that have not been dealt with, some perhaps even stemming from previous relationships, says Roudybush.

Or, sometimes the entire team learns that one buyer’s income is not guaranteed—perhaps their company or their job is on shaky ground—but they haven’t yet come clean with their partner. And are both parties planning to keep working to afford the mortgage payment?

“I have worked with buyers who intended to purchase a home using both incomes to qualify, yet they are planning to have kids and have one parent stay home, which can put unhealthy pressure on the other partner to then make a house payment based on just one income,” says Roudybush.

If you and your partner don’t already know approximately how much money each makes and your respective credit scores and “debt-to-income ratio,” it’s all going to come out now.

“A great loan officer can help you work through this, which is one of the reasons agents want their buyers to work with a respected local lender,” Roudybush says.

The good news is that financial secrets aren’t rare, and once they are out in the open and you know exactly what you’re dealing, your path becomes a lot clearer.

Identify Your Core Needs

If you thought the financial part was tricky, buckle up because the decision making isn’t over yet. Now is the time to talk with your real estate agent about exactly what you are looking for. Often the basics are pretty easy, Roudybush says; it seems most couples are in relative agreement about how many bedrooms and bathrooms, what neighborhood and whether they need a fenced yard.

But if you’re not sure, one of the top things for couples to do is identify their core needs, says Dr. Wyatt Fisher, a marriage counselor in Boulder, Colorado. For example, he says, a core need of one partner may be that the payment is financially comfortable and the home is surrounded by nature; the other partner may have a core need of a neighborhood that’s conducive to building community and a close commute to work.

“They can use those values as a grid through which they evaluate each potential home to ensure both of their core needs are honored,” Fisher said.

Explore “Wants”

Even once the “deal breakers” are taken care of, we all pretty much want more house than we can afford, so the “nice to have” portion is where compromises need to be made.

To start discerning what you truly “need,” it can be helpful for both partners to make their own individual list, then compare them to better understand one another’s perspective.

“Resist the urge to correct your partner on what ‘should’ be a need or want because those items are very subjective based on our history, values and temperament,” Fisher points out.

And while the therapist point of view is helpful, a skilled agent can also help you talk through some issues and find common ground.

  • Must you have a three-car garage or can you make do with a two-car garage and a small shed?
  • If you’re dead set on a particularly desirable area, how much updating will you consider to make it affordable?
  • Are you willing to commute farther in order to have a nicer home?

“I ask about their current and previous homes, what they liked and didn’t, and about any properties they have seen at open houses or online. Verbalizing their desires can uncover a lot of what is truly crucial and allows them to be forthcoming with each other as well,” Roudybush notes.

What if the issue stems from having different tastes? Dr. Fisher offers two potential solutions: One is the “meet in the middle” compromise on a style they both can live with. Or another option is to alternate whose preference wins.

“For example, she may pick the paint for the bathrooms, and he gets to pick the color for the kitchen,” Fisher says.

Once you’ve finished this illuminating exercise, it’s a matter of reconciling what you want with what you can afford and what’s available in your price range.

As Roudybush says, “Sometimes a couple of showings will spark more conversation and help clients realize they ‘can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometimes, you just might find, you get what you need!’”

Cathie Ericson