Getting married is one thing – sharing a life together is another. One of the biggest steps that a couple will make is choosing a first home where they will make memories and grow as partners. Some newlyweds will be moving in together for the first time, while others may have been cohabitating for a while but want a new place that accommodates their married life.
When choosing a first home as newlyweds – whether it’s a house, a condo, or an apartment – you need to consider everything from the practicals, like finances and square footage to the particulars, like the brand of kitchen appliances and space for a ping pong table. It may not be the place you live forever, but when couples settle into married life, they tend to start thinking about making a home that speaks to them not only as individuals but as a couple.
However, one major pitfall is that newlywed couples expect to get their dream home right away, even if they’re not financially ready for it, says Jordan Abada, a real estate agent with NYC-based Compass. Jordan has been helping people find their first (and second, and third) home in the greater NYC area since 2018. His job, he says, is to help keep expectations realistic while getting couples the best place for their budget.
We spoke with Jordan about the pros and cons of buying or renting, the challenges newlyweds face when looking for a home, and important practical and aesthetic matters every couple should consider.
Q: How did you get into real estate and what experience do you have?
My entire family is in real estate, so it was somewhat of a natural transition. My grandfather, Joshua Muss, was the former principal of Muss Development, a NYC-based developer responsible for developing tens of millions of square feet of commercial and residential property. To some degree, everyone in my family has a toe in the industry.
My decision to transition into the world of residential brokerage was my passion for customer service and the incredible mentorship infrastructure at my disposal that facilitated my success. I’ve been working as a residential broker for about a year. My principal goal is to find my clients the right property with the least amount of stress, while also saving them as much money as possible. I come from a fine dining and luxury hotel background, so customer service is the nucleus in everything that I do.
Q: What is your process when you’re working with a couple to find them a house or apartment, whether to rent or buy?
My first objective is to understand their needs. I schedule a first phone call with them and unpack their criteria, working to get to the root of their desire and try to tease out what their ideal property looks like. The couple, being my clients, is the star of the show. I am simply here to help streamline the process which includes syndicating listings and available homes, coordinating showings, assisting with the applications and providing market knowledge, negotiating lease/sale/contract terms, and ultimately walking my clients to the finish line. My only loyalty is to my clients. It’s important to understand that I am in the relationship business, not the transaction business.
Q: What are the biggest challenges for newlywed couples when looking for their first place together?
Expectations, by far. This is also the hardest part about my job, managing expectations. I deal with a lot of clients – some who think that you can get a $6,000/mo apartment for $3,000/mo or a $1.5mm apartment for $700,000 – that have unreasonable expectations. My job is not necessarily to shove everything that you asked for in front of your face. I’m here to trim the fat and show you what is actually realistic for your budget and desired neighborhood.
Q: What’s the ideal apartment for newlyweds? The ideal house?
That’s up to the client to decide. Put it out on paper, write about it, talk about it. Get yourself thinking – but keep in mind, the only way to actually know what you’re looking for is putting it to the test. Once you start physically taking a look at properties, I assure you your preferences will begin to change during the discovery process.
Q: What things should a couple consider when either buying or renting?
The only thing that matters is what makes sense - not for the brokers, for the seller, for the landlord, attorneys, etc. - but for you, your partner, and your particular situation. My advice for newlyweds/couples is to focus on the tangibles, such as functionality of the apartment itself, square footage distribution, appliances, and finishings. Views are nice – but spending the entire budget for a 400-square-foot box with sweeping views of Central Park and Billionaires Row might not be the best lifestyle for people living together for the first time. Real estate is a constant give and take - it’s up to you to decide what your top three priorities are for your new home. An apartment might be in the exact location you were looking for at your preferred price point, but it might be missing the appliances you were hoping for.
Q: What mistakes do you see newlyweds making when they are looking for a place together?
The biggest roadblock I face with newlyweds making a decision is that they did not come to a consensus beforehand – or if they do, going out into the field and actually looking for an apartment starts to elucidate different priorities. They realize that one of their listed priorities isn’t actually as important as they thought it would be.
Another mistake is couples not being honest with their finances. I often get very different pictures on preferred price points from different stakeholders in the decision - everyone must be on the same page.
Q: What are the benefits of working with a real estate broker when looking for a rental?
There are a lot of reasons: better access to the marketplace, access to off-market listings, ability to negotiate more effectively, evaluate options, assistance with the application and securing an apartment, walking you to the finish line, and providing recommendations for different services (painters, contractors, etc). Being able to filter out the crap the other side throws our way and present the information to you in a rational and calm way is super important. Perhaps the most important aspect is to be here as your advisor every step of the way, by sharing my wealth of market knowledge to help you reach a decision. Almost 98% of the time, if you think you’re getting a better deal by going on your own, you’re wrong. The commission is baked into the sale price, usually split in half between buyers broker and sellers broker, or the full commission straight to the sellers broker. You’re paying for the service regardless, might as well take advantage of it.
Q: What advice do you have for a couple who is moving in together for the first time?
Have an honest conversation with each other and decide on what’s most important. Do you host a lot? Do you want privacy? Is your home your sanctuary or a place to rest your head? It’s your first time living together and to be quite honest, it will likely be a huge learning curve for the both of you in terms of adapting to each others lifestyle and personal preferences.
Q: Which is better for newlyweds – renting or buying?
This question is impossible to answer without context. It depends on many of the factors I’ve talked about, like finances, goals, and future plans. Home ownership is valuable for many reasons - tax deductions and property appreciation, for starters. But renting has its benefits as well.
People think that renting is throwing money out the window. That’s not true. Renting gives you a place to live for a set amount of time, sure. But the real benefit of renting is that it buys you flexibility. It buys you opportunity – the ability to uproot yourself at any given point and move to that new job or relocate due to unforeseen circumstances. It’s a lot harder to do that if you own.
In my experience, it often makes sense for a couple to rent for the first year or two after they’re married. During the first few years of marriage, some things will become more clear and others will become more complicated. During what is often a major discovery period for both people in the relationship, the value of having prior experience living together will be a tremendously helpful navigation system as the couple explores purchasing.
Q: What motivates you in your work?
Buying or renting a home is a major decision. Buying a home is, in many cases, the largest financial decision many people make in their lifetime. Being the advisor to that search and earning my clients’ trust in order to leverage the power of our relationship to find them a home in which they are so incredibly happy is the best feeling in the world. A delighted client by exceeding expectations, providing superior service, and adding value to a remarkably important experience is what pushes me every day.
Should I Buy or Rent? Jordan’s Top Considerations
Can you afford the 20% down payment that is often standard in New York City and closings costs that are around 3% of the purchase price? Some people think the purchase price are the only costs associated with ownership - consider the monthly carrying costs, such as monthly real estate taxes and common charges for a condo, and maintenance fees for a co-op. When you add your mortgage payment on top of that, you can be looking at a monthly payment significantly higher than what you could afford for a rental apartment. It might be helpful to use a Rent vs. Buy calculator for more perspective, which you can view, here.
Do you expect to be living in the home for 3-5 years? If yes, it might make sense to explore buying. Property appreciation, tax benefits, ownership, and the mental satisfaction of owning your own property are all good reasons to buy. But if you’re only going to be living in that location for a year or two, there simply isn’t enough time to get as much value from it as possible. However, if life brings you elsewhere, many condo owners rent out their apartments and have a tenant pay down the mortgage and earn a few extra dollars on the side.
- Family Planning
Do you plan on having children or growing your family in any capacity? Would you want to raise a child in the city or prefer to own an actual house in the suburbs? If you decide you want to raise your child in the city, could you afford to buy an apartment large enough in preparation for that child? If not, renting might be a smart option.
Buying Real Estate in New York City is not just a lifestyle decision. It is an investment. Manhattan real estate has appreciated almost 30% over the course of 10 years from 2006 to 2017. Condos give you ultimate flexibility to rent out your property and earn additional income on the side, while having someone else pay down the mortgage. If you ultimately decide to move elsewhere, that extra income can be quite valuable. New York City has been, is, and always will be a sophisticated, metropolitan hub that attracts everyone with a dream. I think it’s misguided to assume NYC will fall off its pedestal.
- Gut Feeling
If you just don’t know, don’t buy. Give yourself a year to get settled, learn more about the area, and evaluate buying an apartment with your broker when the time is right.
How to Contact Jordan:
Real Estate Agent
Compass Real Estate