07/19/2013 08:42 am ET Updated Sep 18, 2013

On The Fly: Is Homeownership The New Relationship Deal-Breaker?

I know a 20-something woman ready to buy her first house; she spends every night online looking at listings and saving links to homes she likes.

The problem is that her fiancé isn't quite on board with the idea. Actually, he pretty much hates the plan and has been singing the refrain of "Houses Always Need Fixing." He sometimes changes his tune to "We Can't Afford To Buy A House" or that other popular hit, "What's Wrong With Renting, Anyway?"

I admit that the advice I gave her might seem extreme, but I meant every word of it. What I said was: If two people don't agree on homeownership, they don't belong together.

"You mean break up with him?" she asked incredulously.

"Yep," I replied, and explained why.

I know young couples who ended things because one of them wanted kids and the other didn't. Homeownership is the same kind of deal breaker. It speaks to lifestyle choices, values and what things you're willing to sacrifice for.

If you and your intended don't share the same beliefs about what's important, one of you is going to wind up compromising until they feel compromised -- and that's not a good thing.

For the record, I don't believe that everyone should own a home. I just think people and their partners need to be in agreement on whether they want to.

Owning a home carries with it a lot of responsibility. It isn't just a bunch of walls you finally get to paint a color the landlord would never permit. It's more than just being able to finally get a dog (although, I admit, that was why I bought my first house).

Buying a home is the largest purchase of your life and there's no return-it-with-a-receipt-within-30-days policy. So yes, home ownership is a seriously big deal and something I think both partners need to discuss before committing to each other for the rest of their lives. For real.

Personally, I absolutely love the idea of homeownership. But of late, I've been wondering if that's just because I'm a product of my generation. I grew up believing that owning a house was what we all should aspire to -- the American Dream and all that. I bought my first house as a single woman (with an Olde English Sheepdog) when I was 22 years old and have been in homes I've owned ever since. I've also owned vacation homes, rental income properties and condos that have served as both vacation and rental income places.

Homeownership has been a source of acquired wealth for me; we flipped houses during the real estate market's heyday. I remember the glory days when you could buy a house, slap a coat of paint on the walls over the weekend and be $50,000 richer for the effort. But homeownership isn't about the financial investment (although I love that part, too).

For me, a house is the nest from which all else springs forth. It's where you make your babies, where you stage your memories, where you drop your anchor into adulthood. Sure, life obviously happens in rented apartments, but it's not the same as owning your home. There's no planted rosebush to mark the spot where your beloved Fluffy's ashes are buried. There's no doorway frame to the garage where your kids' heights are duly recorded each July 4th. There's no big oak tree in the yard that bears your initials in a heart with your honey's.

There is nothing -- not getting married, not living together, not even having kids -- that makes you feel as much like a grownup than signing your name to a foot-high stack of papers committing you to homeownership. The first time I did it, I alternated between shaking and weeping and occasionally broke into peals of maniacal laughter.

My break-up-if-your-intended-doesn't-want-to-buy-a-house advice is heartfelt. You need to figure out the why, I told my young friend. Why doesn't your fiancé want to own a house? Is it because he feels uncertain about his ability to sustain his income? Is it because he wants to travel the world more and not be tied down? Have you discussed having kids, and if so, when and where will you put them? Without answers, I told her, how are you sure you're both on the same life stages page?

And please don't interpret my advice lightly. I'm not talking about ending a relationship just because you don't both like the same style of house. I am a sucker for Mediterraneans with arches and high ceilings, and my long-suffering husband always looks longingly at one-story California ranches.

But the idea of whether you should be a homeowner or not? If you don't agree on that, there is trouble in River City, my friend.

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