Condo Quandary

14th June, 2008

I am about to be married, and have no doubts about the relationship. But there is one nagging worry: my fiance co-owns a condo overlooking the Pacific Ocean near San Francisco – with an ex-girlfriend, who lives next door to it. She is not in a position to buy him out of his investment, and although they rent it out, the mortgage is steep. I believe the condo is an investment specific to the former relationship and would like it divested – but the housing market is a shambles.

Dear Mary,

While I sympathise with your problem, I must correct you. A relationship-specific investment is one that is worth more within a relationship than outside it, such as a set of wedding photos. The condo is not relationship-specific, just unprofitable and illiquid.

The condo can therefore be disposed of without destroying value – but not, it seems, by either side buying the other side out.

If your fiance sold his share to a stranger, he’d sell at a loss. But in truth, the loss has already happened; his reluctance to sell suggests he’s pig-headed as well as an incompetent investor.

So I recommend that you buy out your fiance’s share, at a fire-sale price. Subsequent negotiations about the condo would then be between you and the ex. Should your marriage work out, you can share the profits with your fiance. And if not, at least you will have prearranged some compensation.

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