Standing at the front of the room of the workshop I was teaching for Canadian Real Estate Wealth’s Investor Forum, I jokingly said “Dave’s not here so I can totally blame this one on him …”
Everyone laughed as I shared a quick snippet from More than Cashflow about our two lemon properties we owned in Niagara Falls. I was making a joke, but it wasn’t even a little funny at the time. Those lemons were one of several major issues that we’ve faced together that nearly tore us apart.
Investing together as a couple has tremendous rewards. You can accomplish far more together than you can apart. It’s not just that there are two people so you can do twice as much work (although that really helps too!). It’s that most couples are made up of two people with very different skills and approaches. That’s a big advantage. It’s also an enormous challenge.
Dave is highly analytical. When he has a problem to solve he busts out the Excel spreadsheets and runs numbers for hours. He’s naturally driven to understand all the finer details. I’ve never had to understand weird mortgage clauses or all the ridiculous insurance requirements because Dave painstakingly goes through them all. Give him a problem to solve and a good reason to solve it, and he will get the job done. Period. In coaching our clients he methodically goes through their issues – especially if there are numbers involved – and gives very thoughtful and detailed advice. He wants to run the numbers himself to make sure something wasn’t missed.
I’m a bigger picture person. I quickly get bogged down in details. When Dave tells me about all his analysis I can quickly lose patience. I am organized. I’m also a fast decision maker. I see bottlenecks and potential pitfalls quickly. I am not always right, but most of the time my sixty second decision is the same conclusion as Dave’s four hour analytical session. I know what’s most important to do and will just go do it. I understand people. I’m highly focused on communication so I am fairly particular about marketing, negotiation and anything that we do where we have to influence others. I’m also a stickler for rules. Oddly, despite a propensity for details, Dave hates rules. When I coach our clients I am focused on the overall picture – where does this person need to go and what do they have to do next?
Together we’re a pretty incredible team. We have all the major skill sets covered when it comes to investing in real estate successfully. We also tackle challenges in totally different ways and think different parts of the problem are the most important.
After coaching many real estate couples over the years I know we’re not alone. Opposites tend to attract … which is kind of cool but also kind of challenging. Not properly understood or appreciated these differences can lead to fights and massive frustration, but it doesn’t have to be like that. If you’ve ever had a fight over something only to realize you were fighting for the same result… just going at it in totally different ways, this is for you!
Real Estate Investing as a Couple: 7 Tips to Stay Happily Married While You Build Your Wealth With Real Estate Together
Tip 1: Share a Common Goal
Sit down and talk about what your ideal typical day looks like. It won’t be identical, but you probably have a lot of common ground to work from.
If at first it seems totally out of alignment, your goal is to understand and appreciate what the other person wants. You’re not going to convince your spouse of anything they don’t already believe, so there’s no point trying to sell them on having the same ideal typical day. Instead, find common ground and create a shared vision of what you want your life to look like together. With that vision firmly in place, you can then figure out how you can get there together.
For example, maybe your wife wants to spend most of her day painting pictures and you want to be negotiating deals and renovating rentals. You don’t need to do the same things. Find where you do want the same thing, like having a schedule you control where both parents can pick up the kids from school or where you take advantage of a last minute vacation deal without counting vacation days. Then, talk about what you can do to create that. The cool thing is that a lot of dreams can be reached with real estate investments, but you need to understand what you’re creating together and why.
With that shared vision, you now must stay focused on it. Every major decision you make comes back to ‘does this move us closer to that shared vision or not?‘
Tip 2: Make Each Other Feel Important
It’s easy to take other people for granted and for some reason it’s even easier when you are married to each other. One of the easiest ways to keep your relationship strong as partners and as spouses is to really appreciate each other and make each other feel important.
Recognize and acknowledge all you’ve got in your partner.
Sure, there are times where you may have handled something differently, but because you have that person on your team you didn’t HAVE to handle it at all. They did. Thank them for it.
Tip 3: Use Your Differences To Make You Stronger
When I walk into a property, I know within two minutes if it’s one I want to own or not. It helps that we buy in the same neighbourhoods, but I’m still a fast decision maker. There’s still due diligence required to ensure it’s a good deal, but I won’t buy anything I don’t get a good feeling about.
That’s not a solid investment strategy though. Imagine telling your private lender, JV partner or mortgage broker “It’s going to be a great deal because my wife thinks it ‘feels good‘”?
That’s where Dave comes in. He’s got the details covered. He makes sure dozens of potential scenarios are accounted for and that we haven’t missed a surprise expense or some other issue with the financial aspect of the home.
The trick is to understand and trust in the strengths of your partner.
Some couples end up with one person on the gas pedal and the other firmly on the brake. That’s not going to get you to your ideal typical day. That’s just going to make you spin in circles.
Acknowledge and appreciate what the other person is bringing to the table and know you are stronger because of it. Listen to what they say with an open mind to make the best decision for you – as a couple. You each have to lift your foot off the pedal a little to get where you want to go … a little less gas and a little less brake and you’ll move forward! If you trust in your partner’s strengths this will be much easier to do (and your approach will probably be pretty rock solid because all angles are covered).
Tip 4: Divide & Conquer – Roles & Responsibilities
If I read every email Dave sent to tenants and partners I would lose my mind. “Why in the world would you say that? Wording it that way can result in them doing this …”
I also get annoyed when Dave doesn’t follow landlord tenant rules to the letter.
I mentioned I am intensely focused on how things get communicated and I am a rule follower, didn’t I?
Those things aren’t my job though. I would do it differently, but I can’t do it all. And, I don’t want to.
To make it work, we have split up who is in charge of what. We have regular meetings to discuss the things that the other person needs to be up to speed on. And, by the way, dinner time is not when you discuss these things if you want to have a strong, loving and long lasting relationship. Set a REAL meeting. I’ll talk about this in a second. First, let’s finish with the roles and responsibilities.
Tasks to consider assigning to one person or the other? Financing, insurance, partners, marketing, renovation project management, deal finding, tenant placement, property purchase, property sale, property management and bookkeeping. And if nobody is good at it (in our case – bookkeeping) for the sake of everyone, hire someone to do it for you. Then, choose who is in charge of communication with that hired professional.
If you’re fighting about something neither of you wants to do (especially when nobody is very good at it) ask yourself when is saving money more important than your relationship? I hope the answer is never.
Those large roles break down into smaller tasks. Some tasks can wait. Some need to be handled in a timely manner. But, if I am away or Dave is unavailable, we each step in to get the job done if it can’t wait.
If you’re in charge of something – do your job. If you’re not in charge of something – let your spouse do their job.
It sounds simpler than it is. There’s a bit of control freak in most of us. But, if you can’t count on your spouse to do what they say they are going to do, you have bigger problems to discuss.
Tip 5: The Dinner Table is Not the Boardroom Table – Set Business Meetings
When you work full time, the only time you sit down with your spouse may be dinner. That doesn’t mean it’s the best time to talk about your real estate portfolio. There’s little point in working so hard to create your ideal day together if your relationship doesn’t survive to enjoy it.
There ARE times where you have to talk about something urgently but most things can wait until you have a designated meeting. That meeting might be over dinner but plan it in advance. Have an agenda. Come prepared to discuss the problems with potential solutions. Planning ensures it’s one dinner in the week that becomes a real estate dinner. For us, we usually book a lunch meeting and go out somewhere for the meeting. That way our kitchen table does not become our meeting space. Plus, lunch out is a business expense so we can get our sushi fix and write off 50% of it.
If you find yourself turning your couple time into business time, help each other by gently saying “I can’t wait to hear about that at our next meeting. Are we still meeting tomorrow?”
Other things you may want to consider:
• No real estate talk after 8pm,
• Phones off at meal times unless there’s something important going on that has to be dealt with immediately,
• No real estate talk with friends or family when you’re socializing as a couple unless they start and keep the conversation going on real estate, and
• Designate real estate free days.
If you’re new to investing, new to each other, or both – it all feels exciting and you may not feel it’s having a negative impact on your relationship. However, over time, the lines blur and you may not see where you stop being business partners and start being loving and supportive spouses. Plus, you may find, over time that your interests and priorities shift. It could be really hard to talk about or even see it, if you’re not used to separating your business relationship from your marital relationship.
You never know … there could come a time when your spouse wants to pursue a totally different career, like being an actor in film & TV. There’s really nothing cooler than watching someone doing something they absolutely LOVE doing. And, that’s a discussion that can’t happen unless you’re supporting each other as a husband and wife team first.
For me, the most important things in my life are my health and my family. I can’t enjoy anything if I am not healthy and I will enjoy things much less without the people I love around me. Put things into perspective once in awhile and you’ll appreciate having a few ground rules to help you be husband and wife first and business partners second.
Tip 6: Renovations and Relationships – Making it or Breaking It
The surprises – there are always surprises (see Adding a Legal Suite to a Rental Property) will test you like few other real estate problems will. There’s a tight time frame, money (often a lot of it), pride and your investment goals all on the line. It’s not a small thing.
Good planning goes a long way. Plan that things will take longer and cost more than you think they will. Build in buffer time and buffer budget.
Put one person in charge of handling contractors. That person should also be good with the big picture and know the overall plan for the project – understanding where the bottlenecks are – because when the electrician doesn’t show up your entire project could get sidelined and someone needs to understand what other tasks must be delayed and if anything else can get done in the meantime.
Someone has to be in charge of shopping for the materials – the person who can figure out if the paint and flooring will look good together. Someone has to be in charge of the plans, the budget and paying the bills.
There’s a lot going on. You might make a mistake. Your spouse might make a mistake. The person who makes a mistake will feel bad enough about it without you adding to it or saying ‘I told you’. It’s a lot of pressure and there’s a lot to learn. Be kind and supportive to each other.
You don’t know what surprises will pop up but you can expect to be surprised. Try to laugh about it. It’s not anyone’s fault that there are three layers of flooring to get through, that the pipes weren’t where you expected them to be or that the electrical behind the walls is a mess. Nobody could have known. That’s part of the fun of renovations – you really never know what you’re dealing with until the walls come down. Deal with it and move forward.
Tip 7: You Win Together and You Lose Together
Celebrate your ‘team’ wins!!
Years ago, we coached a couple that wanted to fire their property manager and take over management of their property themselves. The biggest issue we faced in helping them was their own issues as a couple. They didn’t have established roles and responsibilities, and worse, it seemed like it was a contest regarding who was doing more work and, therefore, who should do the next task required. They were fighting about who should clean, who should show the house to tenants and who was booking the carpet cleaning. The thing they weren’t realizing is: you lose together or you win together – there is no in between.
There are times you have to pitch in and help your partner. Maybe they are away, sick or just overwhelmed. There will be times they do that for you too.
If it were a hockey game, you could put this into perspective. Sometimes there’s an injury. It’s not possible to say ‘Well, he’s out. We’ll just stop playing until they can play again.” Other people on the team have to step up. Same with a mistake. Someone on the team might lose the puck to the other team. Remember it may have been a bad pass to begin with or possibly he was tripped. It’s not always so simple as to say it’s ‘all their fault’ and it doesn’t matter anyway. The most important thing is to rally together and get back in the game.
Real estate investing is not always easy and it definitely can add stress to a relationship when something goes wrong (and something will go wrong – that’s just how it is). You’ll need the support of your spouse to get through the tough times even if they aren’t your partner. If they are your partner, you need to know how best you’ll work together to create a life AND business you love to be in together.
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Side Note: One of the greatest gifts we gave ourselves as a couple to improve how we communicated with each other and how we work together was attending a Couples Retreat run by Philip McKernan. It’s not for everyone, but it is for couples who love each other and want to be stronger together. This is not a paid endorsement … I’m just a really happy and grateful client.
Image Credits: Dreamstime.com