Even though millions of Americans buy a home each year, there’s no exact science to it. Each person has a different set of variables to consider, including those in the LGBTQ+ community. Fortunately, you don’t have to navigate the process completely in the dark. Here are 9 things every LGBTQ+ homebuyer should know, along with resources to help you find and settle into the home of your dreams.
1. You have rights against discrimination
In another win for equality, a federal judge recently ruled that the LGBTQ+ community is protected against housing discrimination. That means that no matter where you live in the country, no seller can refuse to sell you a home based on your sexual orientation or gender identity. Unfortunately, we live in an imperfect world, and there is no guarantee that you won’t run into prejudice at any point.
Discrimination can take various forms: a house you’ve shown interest in may disappear off the market, a seller may raise their asking price without warning or cause, or a bank may assign you extra piles of paperwork in order to apply for a loan. Keep a close eye on the process to ensure you’re receiving the same fair treatment as anyone else. Consult friends, family, and neighbors who have recently bought property, and compare your experience to theirs — sometimes, it could be that a process only seems over-complicated, but other times, you may discover you’re taking unnecessary additional steps.
If you believe you’ve faced discrimination on your journey to buy a home, the following resources can help:
- The Fair Housing Act
- Fair Housing — It’s Your Right
- Before You File a Fair Housing Complaint or Claim
- Filing a Housing Discrimination Complaint
- Find Your Local ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union)
2. Just because you aren’t married doesn’t mean you should be at a disadvantage.
Fortunately, federal law now protects the right of members of the LGBTQ+ community to marry and receive equal access to joint loans, mortgages, and tax benefits. Still, buying property as an unmarried couple isn’t uncommon. In fact, one study found that 25 percent of couples between the ages of 18 and 34 bought a house before they were married.
The good news is that your marital status won’t hinder your chances of getting a loan, because banks look at each applicant individually no matter what. It can, however, add a few additional steps to the process, and sometimes that can cause delays. If you can find ways to simplify any aspect — for instance, some couples opt to set up a joint account to dedicate to mortgage payments, insurance, maintenance and repairs, property taxes, and other home-related costs — go for it. But don’t feel pressured to sign on to anything you aren’t completely comfortable with. Weigh all of your options carefully, keep the lines of communication open with your partner, and most importantly, don’t be afraid to ask questions. Your real estate agent and banking professional are excellent resources, so reach out to them as needed.
3. Location, location location: don’t underestimate it.
There are LGBTQ+ communities across the country, but you shouldn’t feel discouraged if your new town doesn’t make any top 10 lists. There are inclusive, welcoming neighborhoods out there — but if you’re shopping from a distance or unsure where to even begin your search, it’s important to communicate with your real estate agent. You can even look at state maps of laws and policies that impact the LGBTQ community and see where the states stand on certain issues.
Some agents even specialize in helping LGBTQ+ families find their dream homes. Make sure you have an agent who truly understands your needs, and let him or her know if you feel like you’re veering away from your goal.
4. All of your finances need to be 100% in order.
Not everyone is great with numbers, and when you’re renting, a budget isn’t as essential. When you decide to buy a house, however, it’s time to seriously buckle down on your finances. You’re going to need to sit down and lay out all of the numbers:
- Active loans
- Grocery and living expenses
- Recreational costs
You need to know flat-out how much you’re bringing in each month versus how much you’re spending. You might discover that you’re in an excellent spot to buy a house, but it’s still important to know exactly how that’s going to impact your current budget. Chances are that you’ll find plenty of ways to start trimming the fat (eating at home rather than out at restaurants and limiting unnecessary spending are great places to start), and with a little time and careful spending, you might even be able to work your buying budget to your favor.
If you have any existing loans, it’s worth finding out what your balance is and looking into refinancing your payments. You might be able to pay something off sooner than you thought and be able to start fresh with a mortgage. For some, even holding off for a few months can make an important impact on planning for your future home. Keep in mind that there are many factors to consider for each individual case, so you should talk to a finance professional before making any major decisions.
5. Buying together is great, but you’ll need to make a lot of decisions upfront.
When you’re purchasing a new home solo, you only have to worry about your own credit, financial, and employment considerations. When someone else comes into the picture, it’s not necessarily as simple as cutting everything down the middle.
If there’s a significant salary difference between you and your home buying partner, for instance, you’ll have some budgeting questions to ask:
- Do you each want to spend the same amount on a monthly mortgage payment, or is the person with a higher salary prepared to pay more in the interest of a larger or nicer house?
- Would the loan and/or deed be in both names?
- Do you each have strong credit?
- Are you both in stable employment situations that aren’t likely to change?
- If the home needs repairs, will you both be able to help cover the costs?
If you’re purchasing property with a friend and will split the time spent there, you’ll want to establish caretaking costs in advance. For example, if the dishwasher breaks while tenant A is living there, are both parties responsible for the cost of repairs? What if tenant B recently replaced the television out-of-pocket? These kinds of details probably sound finicky now, but it’s important that you each understand and feel comfortable with the terms of your joint purchase.
Talk through all the details, get everything in writing, and if you prefer, bring in a lawyer to help mediate. Whether you’re friends or partners, it can help to have an impartial third party to keep the process moving and conversations productive. Buying a home isn’t something you want to do with uncertainties, so get all of your bases covered.
6. There are benefits for veterans.
If you and/or your partner is a veteran, you may qualify for a VA home loan — and for most military families, that means no down payment. Credit guidelines are much more flexible to create better access, and both interest rates and closing costs tend to be much lower. The VA Funding Fee replaces mortgage insurance, and some families will be exempt from the fee altogether.
For more information, check out the following resources:
- VA Home Loans — Eligibility
- American Veterans for Equal Rights
- What is a VA Guaranteed Home Loan?
- 10 Things Many Borrowers Don’t Know About VA Loans
7. Trust your instincts.
Many homebuyers will tell you that when they found the right house, they “just knew” or “had a feeling.” That isn’t to say that if you find a great home but don’t feel warm and fuzzy that it’s a bad choice, but often, you know your dream house when you see it.
It’s important to trust any negative feelings you might get about a house or neighborhood. While the country continues to make progress in terms of equal access for the LGBTQ+ community, some remain resistant. If you visit a home that’s perfect on paper but the neighbors are cordial yet not-so-subtle with their beliefs, don’t rule out other neighborhoods or properties just yet. It’s entirely possible to catch people on a bad or “off” day, but if you consistently get the impression that you wouldn’t exactly be received warmly, it might be worth looking elsewhere completely. Keep your options open to see if you can find the perfect house
8. Be prepared for an adjustment period.
Homebuying is stressful whether you’re doing it single, with a friend, as a couple, or with children in tow. Even once you’ve moved in to your new home, there’s going to be an adjustment period for everyone. You and your partner might bicker over little things you normally wouldn’t, and in some cases, money will become a daily argument. Each relationship and situation is unique but bear in mind that these kinds of moving pains are usually normal and pass with time. Still, some couples will benefit from counseling — and even better if you find a therapist who specializes in LGBTQ+ issues. Under this kind of enormous stress, it can make all the difference to have someone help you refocus on the positives of your relationship and the exciting new path ahead of you, so don’t feel embarrassed or ashamed to reach out.
If you have children, they’ll likely have their own woes about the move. Help them see the light in the situation, but don’t discount their mixed or negative feelings. It’s normal for them to feel sad over “losing” their previous home and to feel displaced if they’ve moved across the city, state, or country. Do what you can to help them adjust by getting them involved in extracurriculars and providing ample opportunity for them to make new friends. Bear in mind that while you should never feel that you have to hide your identity or orientation, your kids may face bullying over it; worse, they may not know how to talk to you about it. Make sure you’re talking to your kids each and every day, and consider counseling if problems persist.
You can check out these resources for more help:
- Moving in Together: Keeping the Peace in Your New Love Nest
- Helping Kids Cope With Moving
- Bullying of LGBT Youth and Those Perceived to Have Different Sexual Orientations
- Prevent Bullying — StopBullying.gov
Buying a home is one of life’s great achievements, so congratulations on becoming a part of the American dream. The paperwork, endless house viewings, number-crunching, and emotional investment will all be well worth it, so hang in there and go find your dream home and a positive, inclusive community.
9. The entire process can take time.
Whether you’re moving across the country and shopping from afar or the bank delays approval on your loan, the home buying process can take anywhere from a couple of weeks to several months. Establish what your priorities are: what you absolutely must have, and what you’re willing to compromise on. Create a budget, including an absolute maximum you’d be willing to spend, and commit to it. Make sure you have a strict mindset about your financial realities from the beginning, because the moment you start shopping, you’ll be tempted to inflate your numbers. It’s not really your dream home if it’s beyond your means, so be willing to give it time.