• The Price of Compromise

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    photo: somebox

    My husband David and I recently tackled the Big Scary Most-Expensive Thing You’ll Ever Buy investment: buying an apartment. In New York City. It was one of those “well, they say if it doesn’t kill us it’ll make us stronger …” experiences.

    The most financially fraught moments came at the end, at the closing table, where we forked over checks for pretty much every dollar we could lay our hands on legally. (We didn’t end up knocking over any liquor stores, but we briefly considered it when we saw the five-figure bill for property transfer taxes.)

    But emotionally, the big money-related hits came early on, when we had to decide how much we could afford to pay and what trade-offs we’d be willing to make.

    A thing we rarely agreed on. Even the best-matched couples aren’t going to have identical preferences and priorities.

    On the big-picture stuff, David and I were fairly in-sync. We had similar ideas about what kind of total monthly payment we’d be willing to shoulder, and we were both dead-set on only considering a 30-year fixed mortgage — no ARMs or interest-only exotic stuff for us, thanks.

    But within the rough framework of “we can afford X,” we had the usual stack of disagreements about what we should use that money to buy. The #1 rule of NYC real estate is “you will never get everything on your wish list unless you double your price range.” What stuff couldn’t we do without?

    I wanted a short commute. David wanted a second bathroom. I wanted two bedrooms.  David wanted a nice-looking block.

    I didn’t care about the block or the bathrooms; he thought a one-bedroom would be fine and wouldn’t mind an extra half hour on the subway. Everything on the list came with a price tag. So how could we pick? Whose wishes got to win out?

    I’d like to claim we talked it out like sensible adults, calmly bartering swaps from our own personal want lists. “OK, this place is a little further from the subway than I would like, but it has that second bathroom you want, so let’s go for it  …”

    There was some of that. We picked a building fairly quickly — which, I’ll admit, catered more to my preferences than his. Commute: great! Neighborhood aesthetics, not so great.

    But the building is fairly large, with more than 100 apartments and dozens of different floor plans available. Therein commenced the “discussion” about compromises.

    Which eventually escalated to yelling.

    We only had one really epic fight, but it was a full-decibel affair that led to several hours of us speaking to each other only via the cats: “Kea, go tell the human being on the other side of the room that if he wants dinner, I’m leaving it on the counter.”

    Finally, a day later, when we decided to again acknowledge each others’ existence, we hammered out a framework for decisions. The only way we (ok, I) could see to make either-or choices was to bow to the wishes of the partner who cared more about the issue.

    I would have preferred a walk-in closet to a second bathroom. But David felt really strongly about that one, so I said OK to his extra room and goodbye to my shoe-and-handbag haven. On the other hand, I desperately wanted the apartment with a small terrace — the proximate cause of our Waterloo, since David hates heights. After some extensive pleading on my part, he finally agreed to it.

    Buying a house (ok, in our case, “tiny living cube”) isn’t the only pricey investment that brings clashing wants to the fore. Cars, schools for the kids, even expensive appliances or furniture seem likely catalysts for showdowns. I’m curious how other couples have negotiated the peace treaties.


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