💡Documentation is the active management of all documents, files, records, and receipts related to the property and the co-ownership arrangement. Co-owners who value their time, cash, and relationships must nail documentation.
Co-owners should keep track of docs, files, records, and receipts. In our most recent survey of 673 co-buyers and co-owners, 71% said they want help to manage documentation and record-keeping. But most co-owners aren't covering their bases. That isn't good. Why? Homeownership is most folks' most significant investment, generally backed by a corresponding debt obligation.
Having dealt with thousands of co-buyers and co-owners, we can confidently say that a badass system for documentation is the #1 way to protect and build wealth in co-ownership. Likewise, poor documentation creates unnecessary friction, costs, and risk. A rule of thumb: if it isn't in writing, it doesn't exist.
Good news: it’s possible to get things in order. You just need a system.
In co-ownership, documentation is the process of getting things in writing and keeping up-to-date records. It spans all aspects of co-ownership: legal, financial, social, day-to-day admin, and risk.
Think of it as collecting artifacts. These can be documents, records, certificates, contracts, receipts, or other logs that reference a time, event, agreement, or intention. But it doesn't stop there. There are different kinds of artifacts. Some are one-off, and others are recurring. It's like a library. Remember those? You have the classics, which don't change. But you also have the periodicals section full of current newspapers and magazines. In the back, you even have a cache of periodicals going back to before any of us were born.
All these artifacts relate to your most important asset.
Why is documentation critical?
Have you ever had trouble organizing dinner on Friday night? Or experienced issues when it came time to split the bill? These things should be simple, but they can be damn hard. When you own a home with someone—anyone—you can expect more of this. Some of these situations are trickier or more frequent than others. Ideally, everything works out well. But with a clear and mutually-agreed source of truth, you minimize the space for disagreements. Why hope things work out? Take action.
What should co-owners track?
There’s a lot to keep up with. Co-owners should track all things related to the co-owned home and the co-ownership arrangement.
We list a few examples below.
When it matters
A common misconception is that documentation only comes into play if there's a major disagreement between co-owners or something terrible happens. In reality, poor record-keeping can lead to unnecessary costs and pain even when all co-owners have good intentions.
Specifically, documentation can make or break things when co-owners…
→ Square up expenses → Make payments → Dispute charges → File taxes → Refinance → Apply for credit → Open joint financial accounts → Purchase insurance → Make an insurance claim → Repair or service home systems or the property → Renovate or improve the property → Initiate or face legal action → Get audited by the IRS → Experience the death of a co-owner → Face identity theft, financial difficulties, or bankruptcy → Need to make important decisions about the property → Transfer ownership → Sell the home
Common reasons why sh*t hits the fan
In terms of organizing and managing documentation, co-owners often:
a. Do nothing, and leave things to chance b. Do too little, like passively filing some documents in a cabinet or on Google Drive c. Act too late, usually in reaction to a problem or crisis
2. Arguments over money and finances
Co-owners quite rightly care about money. When asked what motivated the decision to co-buy and co-own a home, more folks point to financial factors (69%) than social factors or even the desire to own a home. Pile on the need to manage a range of recurring expenses, maintenance, repairs, incidentals—it's easy to appreciate how easily conflict erupts without solid documentation.
3. Conflicting expectations
Communication breakdowns often stem from a failure to align expectations and set boundaries. Common flashpoints:
Guests:A co-owner takes a relatively more lax approach to who is allowed to stay over and for how long and has their friend, family members, or lover over beyond what another co-owner feels is reasonable.
Responsibilities:Rifts develop between co-owners over real or perceived contributions to cooking, cleaning, yard work, or other routine household activities.
Plans for the property:One co-owner believes the home requires a necessary repair, while another sees the proposed work as an improvement or upgrade.
4. Missed or late payments
Multi-party finances can be a b****! Especially for co-owners.
👉 Payments must come from one source 👉 Coordination is required 👉 Individual contributions can vary 👉 Missed or late payments impact everyone
Take monthly mortgage payments, for example. For a group of three co-owners who are all co-borrowers on a mortgage, each is joint and severally liable. If one co-owner fails to make payment for any reason at all, the loan servicer holds all co-borrowers accountable. Personal credit scores, ability to borrow, and even possession of the home can be affected by a single point of failure.
5. Verbal agreements
Informal agreements are murky and subject to doubt. But the problem here is much bigger. An agreement based on a handshake and a wink doesn't pass muster today. As far as the law, the courts, and the IRS are concerned, any decisions or determinations that aren't properly documented do not exist. If a co-owner dies, becomes incapacitated, or is otherwise indisposed, any perceived benefits are likewise moot.
6. Information gaps
Uncertainty exists where information does not. Unsurprisingly, a recent study by a team of leading international neuroscientists links uncertainty to negative emotional states such as fear and anxiety (Morriss et al., 2022). Mountains of research support the notion that ambiguity, fear, and anxiety are counterproductive to success in any joint venture (i.e., co-ownership).
Information gaps can occur between, among, or independent of individual co-owners.
Example: three family members co-own a home
Scenario A: one co-owner fails to disclose they're facing financial criminal proceedings to other co-owners.
Scenario B: all three co-owners fail to discuss their estate planning with one another, but each has named separate parties as beneficiaries to their respective ownership in interest in the property.
Scenario C: none of the co-owners are savvy to mortgage interest tax deductions, so no one claims the benefit.
7. Lack of controls & safeguards
Most co-owners neglect to implement adequate controls and safeguards. This is worrying in a situation that intertwines financial outcomes and property—such as co-ownership.
The Co-owners neglect to define and assign responsibilities for maintenance. Co-owners see each other daily, but no checklist or schedule is agreed upon to review basic household systems, appliances, and fixtures. Clogged water gutters on the roof fill with leaves. Fall comes, and rainwater overflows causing $8,000 in damage and repairs.
Example 2: personal property
After five years of owning a home, co-owners decide to sell on amicable terms. Together, they've purchased and own $15,000 worth of furniture, kitchenware, and electronics. Individually, they've also contributed previously-owned items to the household. When it comes time to divvy things up, they disagree on who contributed what and how to split things up. They have no log of previously-owned personal items, they didn't document receipts, and there's no plan for splitting shared effects.
How to beat a broken system
Homeownership is tough enough, and the systems that enable and support homeowners certainly weren't built with co-owners in mind. Legal, financial, tax, and accounting frameworks assume a default—that every household contains a married couple. Co-ownership is multiplayer, which adds layers of complexity and demands coordination, communication, and consensus.
So what's the solution? Co-owners need a system for documentation that makes it easy to get sh** in order and keep it that way.
Benefits of a Document Management System
A document management system creates a single source of truth that:
✅ Streamlines admin ✅ Improves transparency ✅ Reduces manual labor ✅ Minimizes costs ✅ Mitigates risks ✅ Provides peace of mind ✅ Increases Return on Investment
Implementing a document management system is probably the highest ROI activity co-owners can take. With the right system, you'll save and make money. But there is a catch: it requires a plan and follow-through to see results.
Document Management System essentials
Just like you can technically build a house with only a hammer and a saw, it's possible to nail documentation with existing tools. But…why? Here's a checklist of considerations your bada** document management system should address:
Getting on the same page about important issues can be a major hurdle. But it doesn't have to be. With a tool like Shared Homeowner OS™, you can swiftly draft a co-ownership agreement that forms the backbone of your co-ownership. Editable anytime, anywhere, this digital document streamlines your decisions and ensures a smooth shared homeownership journey.
The last thing you need in a co-ownership situation is sensitive information falling into the wrong hands. Your document management system should offer top-notch security features that protect your shared files from cyber threats and unauthorized access. This ensures your investment stays your business, and no one else's.
Co-ownership means multiple people need access to documents, often at the same time. You need a document management system that provides instant, on-demand access to important records from anywhere, anytime. This keeps everyone on the same page, enhancing transparency and fostering trust among co-owners.
In disputes or legal scenarios, you need to prove that your documents are original and authentic. A reliable document management system will validate and certify your documents with digital signatures from all co-owners, adding a layer of trust and reliability to your co-ownership.
Once a document is in the system, it should not be subject to unauthorized alterations or easily lost. An ideal document management system ensures the immutability of records, preserving their original state and maintaining a credible history of your shared homeownership.
Ever tried to figure out which of the ten "final" versions of a document is actually the final one? A solid document management system will track all changes and updates, maintaining document versions to avoid confusion and ensuring you always have the latest and most accurate information.
A good system should not require a tech guru to operate. Look for a user-friendly document management system that simplifies the process of uploading, sharing, and tracking documents. This will save you time, reduce frustration, and let you focus on the joys of co-ownership rather than the headaches of paperwork.
As co-owners, your home is more than just a property—it's a shared investment, a common dream, a combined responsibility. Each document you sign, each agreement you make, every expense you split is a thread in the fabric of your co-ownership experience.
But without a diligent system for tracking, organizing, and managing all these threads, the fabric can unravel. The resultant tangles of miscommunication, misunderstanding, and missed opportunities are not just inconvenient—they can be costly, risky, and even relationship-damaging.
That's why proper documentation is your greatest ally. It's the key to maintaining a smooth, efficient, and transparent co-ownership experience. It helps you keep track of the important stuff, ensures nothing falls through the cracks, and gives you peace of mind knowing that all your co-ownership essentials are safely, securely, and efficiently managed.
So, don't just leave things to chance. Take control. Implement a robust document management system that respects the unique demands of co-ownership. Start building the framework to uphold your co-ownership and transform it from an overwhelming challenge into a rewarding journey.
After all, as co-owners, you're on this journey together. As the saying goes, if it's worth doing, it's worth doing right. Co-ownership, with all its moving parts, is no exception. Embrace the power of proper documentation. You won't just survive co-ownership; you'll ace it.
Need help? Meet Shared Homeowner OS™
We've spent 31,680 hours cracking co-ownership–so you don't have to. With Shared Homeowner OS™, it’s easy to plan, structure, and manage co-ownership.
🤝 Streamline decisions 📝 Co-create agreements ✍️ Digitally sign from anywhere 🔐 Manage documentation 🚪 Plan an exit strategy ⚡️ Update anytime
One app to put you and your co-owners in control. Eliminate guesswork, avoid conflict, save $1,000s on legal fees, and cut 120 hours of admin a year.