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Choosing a First Place to Live
by James Houran, Ph.D.

Psychologists and couples-counselors have talked and written much about the many relationships issues facing couples that are newly wed or newly cohabitating. One issue I don’t see discussed much is the type of place new couples should choose to live. This is not a trivial issue – physical environments influence our attitudes and moods, and our residences are often a reflection of our personalities. Plus, the process of finding a place to live ideally is a cooperative effort that takes into account the needs of both partners. In a real sense, this is one of the first opportunities for a couple to negotiate their “couple identity” and living style. Simply put, it is an important exercise in working together.

The Big Picture
Understanding how your personality style is compatible with certain housing and community features will help steer you towards a home that is likely to keep you both happy. Being initially attracted to a property and being satisfied with it over time are two separate things. To illustrate this, consider couples’ romantic compatibility. Most romantic partners are initially attracted to one another because of beauty and proximity. That is, most people screen or choose partners initially based on how attractive and accessible the prospect is. The same is basically true of housing as well. However, beauty and proximity don’t sustain happiness over the life of a relationship. The interplay and negotiation between the two’s lifestyle personalities, personal preferences, attitudes and behaviors is what truly bonds couples together and keeps them satisfied with one another.

Similarly, homeowners have a relationship with their property and community. We want you to fall in love with your home and surrounding community. While most homebuyers regard price (“attractiveness”) and location (“proximity”) as the most crucial variables that attract buyers to a particular home, these elements are not what maintain satisfaction with that home over five years or more.

The Little Details
New research conducted by my team and Cambridge University psychologists identified four broad categories of “housing” variables that define long-term satisfaction for a couple’s residence:

    • Aesthetic – the appearance and style of the residence and community
    • Physical Attributes – the physical features and layout of a residence
    • “Feel” of Community – the demographic make-up of the neighborhood, the prevailing interests and hobbies, and social cohesion. 
    • Functional Considerations – resources that are situated near the residential community like shopping outlets, schools, or mass transportation

These four categories break out to several easy-to-understand features of a home and community. However, some of these features are more highly correlated with homeowner satisfaction than others. For instance, regardless of age, people pretty much agree on the importance of factors like Quality of Home, Design Features, Size, and Neighborhood. The relative importance of these features is shown below.

Key Housing Questions Couples Should Discuss

There are a myriad of things homebuyers need to consider when assessing Quality – some of these are “big picture” issues while others are little details.

With respect to the big picture, take a step back and consider the emotional impact the house makes on you. Now answer these questions honestly and discuss them with your partner:

  • I have considered the general condition of this place
  • I like the style, age, condition and placement of the major appliances in this place
  • I have considered and am satisfied with the condition and quality of the landscape materials
  • I have visited this place at various times of day and feel the same about the place’s overall appearance each time
  • I have evaluated of the relative size, placement and condition of the windows in this place
“Design Features”
With respect to the big picture, take a step back and consider the emotional impact the Design Features have on you both:
  • I feel seduced by the staging and presentation of this place
  • I like the age and history (or lack thereof) of this place
  • This place fits my current and anticipated physical abilities or needs
  • I can visualize how all of the rooms and spaces of this place will be used by my family
  • I believe this place has adequate storage for my needs now and five years from now

The old “Brady Bunch” television show reminded us that blended families are not uncommon. With this in mind, some couples may need to consider the impact of schools for their new family. On the other hand, the issue of schools is still relevant for couples without children in the family. Specifically, it can be stressful for some couples to “endure” the noise and activity levels associated with being in a family-oriented community:

  • I feel positively towards the rankings of the elementary, middle or high schools in this school district
  • I am satisfied with the distance between the school(s) and this place
  • I am satisfied with the safety of school children in this community
  • I am fine with the idea of living near many children
  • Frequent noise from other people’s outside activities gets on my nerves

It’s no myth that in some circumstances, size does matter. Housing is one of those situations. Besides the practicalities of having enough physical living space, a couple also needs to consider the notion of “psychological space”:

  • I can easily visualize a place for all the belongings and activity of my household in this place
  • I can easily and pleasantly visualize how my household will use and maintain the space outside this place
  • I am confident that the storage, workshop and parking spaces of this place will suit my family
  • There is room for me to be separate from the family when I need alone time
  • The layout is such that I will not feel trapped or that I have no personal space

Remember that all homeowners are joining a neighborhood. That said, couples should reflect on questions such as:

  • This house is located near everything my household needs.
  • I feel safe in this neighborhood
  • I like the character of this neighborhood
  • This house is quite near enough all my needed transportation options
  • I am close enough or far enough away from people and places significant to me.

Final Thoughts
These questions are just examples of the types of issues a couple should discuss in-depth before settling on a place to live as they start a new chapter in their life together. The main idea here is that a “place to live” is more than a mere residence – the couple is really choosing a community and a lifestyle.

That lifestyle and community must be compatible with the needs and preferences of both partners. It is a process that can take time and much compromise, but done well, it is an exciting experience rather than a stressful one. And it is a process that will yield a residence that will bring a couple closer together and solidify a couple’s “identity” and sense of home.


***Note: James Houran and Integrated Knowledge Systems, Inc copyright the specific questions and statements given above. This content is reproduced here for an individual’s or couple’s private, non-commercial use only. All rights reserved.

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