Co-own a home? You need to create, and maintain, a co-ownership agreement. It lays down the rules of co-ownership and evolves with your circumstances. But its value isn’t always appreciated. To protect, future-proof, and build wealth through joint homeownership is more science than art. It all starts with setting up guardrails.
A co-ownership agreement is a legal document that outlines the details of joint ownership and management of a particular property between two or more individuals.
An agreement sets the terms, structure, and management for joint homeownership, associating co-owners and their determinations to a specific property. It's more than just a document—it's the backbone of your co-ownership, adaptable to your needs and expectations.
Without a forward-looking agreement, unexpected changes could force outcomes you never intended. A well-crafted agreement prevents misunderstandings, setting clear roles, rights, and responsibilities for all parties. It also creates a framework for the day-to-day management of the co-ownership arrangement.
Who needs a co-ownership agreement?
Anyone co-investing in a property with friends, family, or a partner. Much like a business partnership, you're pooling resources, cooperating for shared interests, and sharing risks and rewards. A written agreement is your roadmap for success. When properly designed and executed, it also acts as a legally-binding contract.
Why do we need a co-ownership agreement?
Three key elements make co-ownership successful: planning, structure, and management. A written agreement is the foundation. It supports healthy relations, smooth sailing, and return on investment.
1. Streamline operations
An agreement details roles, rights, and responsibilities, making management smoother. It acts as a source of truth that prevents misunderstandings and creates non-repudiation.
2. Prevent conflict
The agreement establishes clear expectations, including expense distribution, property use, and decision-making procedures. This roadmap helps to pre-empt potential disputes and provides a mechanism for resolution, protecting relationships, and stability.
3. Protect against risk
Co-owners don't have the same legal or tax protections as married couples. An agreement provides a legal framework to safeguard co-owners' rights and interests.
4. Limit financial exposure
Co-owners often jointly finance their property, making them equally liable for debt repayment. A comprehensive agreement can protect co-owners from financial mishaps.
5. Simplify the exit
Every co-ownership will eventually dissolve. Developing an exit strategy and documenting it in the agreement can make this process less stressful and expensive.
What does a co-ownership agreement cover?
The content and format of the agreement depend on your situation, preferences, and governing law.
In most cases, you should include:
Property description (must include a proper Legal Description)
Some co-owners prefer to get more granular than others. The best agreements are those you all create together and commit to.
⚠️ Heads up!
How you hold Title to the property impacts the structure and composition of your co-ownership agreement. It also affects decision-making around ownership structure.
Many co-owners choose Tenants in Common (TIC) or Joint Tenants with Right of Survivorship (JTROS). In contrast, a Limited Liability Company (LLC) is generally better suited for investors managing a real estate portfolio.
In addition to the basic components, be sure to include:
➡️ Definitions and provisions: Define key terms and conditions within your agreement to prevent misunderstandings and establish clarity.
➡️ Governing law: Specify which state’s law will govern the agreement, which generally corresponds to the state where the property lives.
➡️ Written notice: Outline how formal notices, like changes to the agreement or key decisions, should be communicated. You should identify the method (e.g., email, certified mail) and the timeframe for a response (e.g., 30 days).
➡️ Review and update schedule: Treat your co-ownership agreement as a living document. Schedule regular reviews to make sure it stays up-to-date with your current situation.
➡️ Co-owner contact information: Include current contact information to ensure clear lines of communication.
How to make it official
On its own, a printed document or PDF ain’t worth much. Follow these steps to execute your agreement:
Review and agree: Ensure all co-owners thoroughly review the agreement, understand all provisions, and agree to them. Address and clarify any areas of doubt.
Sign and date: Each co-owner should sign and date the agreement initially and every time it is updated.
Witness, notarize, or digitally sign: This adds an extra layer of legitimacy to the process.
Create a Memorandum of Agreement: This is a shorter, more concise document that outlines the basic terms of the co-ownership. It doesn't include all the agreement details but serves as a public record of the arrangement.
Record your Memorandum of Agreement: Submit or deliver your Memorandum of Agreement to your local County’s recording office to officially record it on the public register. This ensures the agreement is recognized as a matter of public record and establishes constructive notice. Be sure to keep a copy of the filed Memorandum for your records.
Formalizing your co-ownership agreement is essential to protecting your rights and interests as a co-owner. This process helps ensure the agreement is legally binding and practically useful.
Updating your agreement
Your co-ownership agreement is a living document. It should evolve as your circumstances, goals, and the property itself change. Regular updates to your agreement can help you maintain harmony, protect your investment, and ensure the agreement continues to serve its purpose. Here are some key considerations:
✍️ Life developments
Significant events like marriage, childbirth, job changes, financial changes, or the death of a co-owner may require updates to your agreement. Any time a co-owner's circumstances change, review your agreement.
✍️ Asset or liability changes
If you decide to change ownership structure, modify individual ownership interests, refinance, or take on additional debt related to the property, you should update your agreement.
✍️ Property modifications
Changes to the property, such as significant renovations or new features, might warrant updates to your agreement. This is particularly true if these changes affect the use of the property or the financial contributions of the co-owners.
If conflicts arise between co-owners, you may want to update the agreement to better manage these disputes in the future. This could involve clarifying roles, responsibilities, or decision-making procedures.
✍️ Legal landscape evolution
Stay informed about any changes in property, tax, or co-ownership laws that might affect your agreement. If laws change, update your agreement to stay compliant.
It is important to update your co-ownership agreement regularly to ensure it remains a valuable tool and does not become outdated. All co-owners should agree upon, sign, and date all updates.
✍️ Periodic reviews
Set a schedule to review your agreement regularly: quarterly, every six months, or annually. Regular reviews ensure that your agreement stays up-to-date with everyone's current situation and expectations.
Your co-ownership agreement is a living document that reflects dynamic decisions and consensus between co-owners. It’s not a birth certificate. It’s your foundation, and you get out what you put in. It must be complete, authentic, and up-to-date to be effective and enforceable.
Think about the following as you co-create an agreement.
Your agreement should be tamper-proof wherever you decide to store it. A physical copy in your drawer or a digital copy in a shared Google Drive folder falls short. Your largest asset, home, and relationship(s) are on the line. Think like a Swiss bank.
Make sure each co-owner has clear and easy access to all versions of the agreement.
🪄 Easy to modify
Life changes, family situations change, and jobs change. Birth, death, coupling, breakup, divorce, and illness are all possible, as are changes to your financial affairs. As circumstances evolve, so should your agreement.
Track all changes to your agreement. A stale agreement is like a used pull tab—no good. It’s not just for cases of conflict: IRS audits, external legal challenges, or the death of a co-owner could all require details of change history.
An agreement is only as good as its ability to be verified. If you can't prove that it's authentic, updated, and executed, it's worthless. A scanned PDF with scribbled signatures could be challenged in court, probate, or an audit.
An agreement is an output—a few pieces of paper or a PDF, neither of which are inherently valuable. The usefulness of a co-ownership agreement stems from the dynamic decision-making and consensus between co-owners that it represents.
Too often, we see co-owners focus on ticking the box. But it’s not about creating a contract so you can take your granny to court if something goes wrong! It’s about making informed decisions and getting on the same page regarding your largest asset and home. Co-creating and maintaining a co-ownership agreement helps you avoid conflict and protect the interests of everyone involved in various situations, even those that don't involve a disagreement between co-owners.
⚠️ Putting it off
Many co-owners invest more time (and money) in Netflix than planning, structuring, and managing their most important asset. An agreement isn’t a lawyer, and it can’t automatically rescue you when sh** hits the fan.
⚠️ Neglecting it all together
Friends, family, and loved ones are not immune to risk in joint homeownership. The strength of your relationship(s) isn’t a substitute for a proper agreement: it's a great reason to take it seriously! Your home, relationship(s), and financial investment are worth protecting.
• Start early
The earlier, the better. You’ll tease out hairy issues before they become problems, save time and money, and gain peace of mind.
• Think about the big picture
An agreement is an artifact that ties together the many moving parts involved in co-ownership. The usefulness depends on it being accurate, current, and comprehensive.
• Formalize your agreement
Not documented? It didn’t happen. Not executed? It didn’t happen.
• Keep your agreement up-to-date
Treat your agreement as dynamic, because it is. The return on investment to actively managing co-ownership versus posting on social media, zombie scrolling, and fantasy football? Potentially hundreds of thousands of dollars.
💡The terms you set in your agreement are a backstop. If things go well, you can remove the training wheels. If things don’t go well, you’ll be glad you set up guardrails.
Frequently asked questions
Can’t we just use a templated document?
A co-ownership agreement is not a fill-in-the-blank job. It’s the product of dynamic decision-making between multi-parties who co-investment and co-manage a home. A template won’t provide guidance or structure decision-making around complex issues. In the most optimistic cases, a one-size-fits-all approach will likely fail tests of specificity, completeness, and enforceability.
Imagine you co-own a $750,000 home, and the sh** hits the fan. How would you feel about depending on a $30 template? What if it ends up setting you back $30,000 when someone a co-owner can’t pay, there’s a disagreement, someone dies, it’s time to sell, or another curve ball comes your way? Like most things in life: you get what you pay for.
Do we need an attorney?
You don’t need an attorney to craft a legally binding contract for joint homeownership.
At $500+ per hour, an attorney is an expensive option. An attorney may also lack context into interpersonal, financial, and practical considerations around co-ownership. If you choose this route, select an attorney with experience in residential real estate and co-ownership. Also, remember that you’re paying for a one-off, static document.
How do we update our agreement?
Subscribe to Shared Homeowner OS™? From the dashboard, navigate to your Co-ownership Agreement, choose the section you want to update, and make changes with a few taps. Once all co-owners have agreed, you can digitally sign to re-execute your agreement. It will automatically be recorded to the blockchain with a refreshed Certificate of Completion and can be accessed, downloaded, or shared anytime from your Document Vault.
Otherwise, your best bet is to contact the attorney who helped you create your initial agreement.
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