Buying a house in a cross-class relationship

In September 2021, my longtime partner and I bought our house. It was challenging because of the market, but it was also an exercise in being two people, with two different experiences of money and financial realities, coming together to Do A Big Hard Thing.

In this video, Ariel and I talk about where we come from, what helped us have the hard conversations*, and the things we had to figure out as we determined how we’d do the money parts of buying a house together. Below the video, read a summary of the takeaways and the statement she and I shared with our community.

The biggest takeaways I had from the conversation were:

  • Being real about money, as our experiences changed over time, made it easier to be real in the midst of a challenging thing – we’re cheerleaders for each others choices and growth, including financial goal-getting, and that history made honesty and clear decisions easier
  • Recognizing where we both had privilege, had made choices, and had financial challenges made it easier to hold space for the complexity of where she and I both have easier aspects of financial realities than the other
  • Understanding that paradigms can shift when family relationships heal, while not planning for family relationships to heal, helped us come from REALLY different places about the role of family
  • I learned that all the amazed conversations we had about the role of secret trust funds in NYC also helped us come together around money. Awwww.

The reality is, it is likely that buying a house with someone else will mean one of you will come from more, one from less. One of you is likely to make more or less money than the other. Your contributions initially and ongoing are likely to be different and that’s ok. Clarity, transparency, and feeling good about where you land is what matters [and, if needed, a pre-nup or written agreement].

Our statement as homebuyers

We shared this with our community in October after we closed –

BIG NEWS: we bought a house! A little 1940s nugget in Wheat Ridge, a suburb 2 blocks west of Denver. It has been a mind-bending journey so far; after a lot of painting, a little fixing up, and building a fence to contain Mr. Snickers, we are moving in next week.

It is a rare and big gift to be able to buy in this housing market. Damien has been working hard and saving hard for a long time to get a down payment together, and accessed the education that opened doors for her work thanks to money she got when her grandparents died. Ariel was able to put up her share of the down payment thanks to an unexpected gift from her mom, whose parents gave it to her. We honor and thank our grandparents for their love and labor. We are still in a cross-class relationship; it feels important to name that two people with different class backgrounds still both got where they are in part thanks to help from their families. 

In buying, it was important to us that we not be first-wave gentrifiers. We picked Wheat Ridge because it is exactly as white as it sounds and we did not want to be the first white faces driving up housing prices and destroying historically POC space. We also fit economically, which was important, so we’re not the weirdly rich white neighbors on the block. We could have spent a lot less but didn’t want to go that road. The actual mortgage monthly is about what it would cost to rent a house in a similar neighborhood; apartments are less but after spending the panini sharing 900 square feet with no outside space we did not come all the way to Colorado to repeat that experience. The people we bought from were using the house as an AirBNB. I hope they are retiring happily! Bye guys! Thanks for the house! 

We are figuring out what the right contribution is to the community writ large – land rent to the Ute, Arapaho, or Cheyenne tribes? Anti-homelessness contributions? Being a stable andBeing a stable and long-term neighbor who gives out big candy bars at Halloween? – and are both incredibly excited to have roots somewhere not at the whim of a landlord.

Property ownership means different things for both of us. For Damien, it’s been a dream; she grew up in shitty apartments. For Ariel, it’s less of a dream, but then she grew up in a home her family owned – and also just assumed it would never happen. For both of us, it is something we were not sure we would pull off until we did and we are still not quite sure it’s real.

The contribution from Ariel’s mom was unexpected but a blessing. For those of you who have followed that story, it’s been a long and harrowing relationship that has, over the past 5 or 6 years, finally evened out. There was a time when it was unimaginable. There has always been a class difference in our relationship but that has been much more frequently about how we worry about our parents (Ariel worries about her mom’s mental health; Damien sends her mom money) than actual resource distribution. It allowed us to put down a full 20%, getting a better rate and avoiding PMI and being competitive buyers in a brutal market. We would have bought anyways – Damien hasn’t been busting ass this hard for nothing! – but this gave us an advantage we want to name and own up to. This is a new era of trying to be honest and allow for both the historical complications of Ariel’s familial relationship and the fact that healing those relationships allows access to capital. 

We celebrate that we have a guest room and hope you all consider using it. We embrace this as a triumph, want to share honestly about how it happened so that people aren’t left wondering, and hope to foster a world where queers celebrate each other’s stability rather than tearing each other down. We hope to welcome a lot of you and to use our space for good – to house us, to house people who need a break, to have seders and picnics, to make stuff, you name it.

two lesbians in front of a house
our lil nugget

Things we’re still figuring out:

  • when and how to contribute meaningfully to and in solidarity with First Nations groups, as true non-local transplants to this land.
  • how to handle the difference in capital contribution in the short term, since I have money to do house upgrades and she doesn’t. Whose decisions get prioritized in this case, and why?
  • how we’re going to put together a post-nup to account for the appreciation and value upgrades if we divorced and had to split it up?