REAL ESTATE: New ‘Ikea therapy’ concept aims to help bickering couples resolve issues

Question: Do you know anything about something called “IKEA assembly relationship therapy”?

Answer: Sure. It’s a concept recently developed by a Southern California clinical psychologist and marriage counselor that calls for couples who are having trouble in their relationship to go and purchase a large, do-it-yourself piece of furniture from home-furnishing giant IKEA or a similar retailer.

It’s important that the item be complicated enough that it will take two people to assemble, because the primary goal is to foster communication and cooperation between the bickering pair. The couple later return to the therapist to discuss what went right and what went wrong during the furniture-building “exercise.”

Some touchy interrelational subjects can come up even before the assembly begins: When a couple walks past the store’s new-kitchen displays, it sometimes triggers a discussion about who does the most cooking or the washing of dirty dishes. A trip past the new-bathroom setups may get the pair talking about who does the most cleaning around the house.

And when a couple walks past the store’s baby-furniture section, well, guess what sometimes-controversial subject that brings up?

Q: Our daughter has asked us to co-sign a lease so she can get her first apartment. We have no doubt that she will always pay her rent on time. The problem is that she will be renting with a roommate, whom we don’t even know. If the roommate eventually misses a payment, would we have to make up her share of the rent?

A: Yes, you’d likely be on the hook for the roomie’s missing payment. In nearly all jurisdictions, the co-signer of a lease is responsible for ensuring that the landlord receives the monthly rent in full, regardless of the co-signer’s relationship to the tenant or co-tenants.

If you’re sure that you want to co-sign the lease, make your generous offer contingent on getting the roommate’s parents to co-sign too. It’s not a perfect solution to your dilemma, but it will lessen the chance that you’ll eventually wind up footing the bill for someone else’s kid.

Real estate trivia: A record 82 percent of all new apartment construction projects across the U.S. are now geared toward the high-end rental market, realty research firm CoStar Group reports, pushing rents up sharply at moderately priced developments as tenants compete for the dwindling number of more affordable units.

Q: My husband and I are about to apply for a mortgage. I am 10 weeks pregnant and plan to take three months off from my job after our baby is born later this year. Will we have to disclose this plan to our lender because our income will drop while I am on unpaid maternity leave?

A: No, you’re under no legal obligation to disclose your maternity-leave plans to the bank. The federal Fair Housing Act prevents lenders from asking about an applicant’s childbearing plans, or what the woman (or father) might do after a baby is born. The application must be judged by the income and credit score you have today, not what might happen later.

Though the Housing Act will protect you against discrimination from lenders because you already have kids or expect to have one soon, it allows the bank to start foreclosure proceedings if you and your husband fall behind on your payments while you are on maternity leave. Make sure you have enough money set aside to continue making those mortgage payments during the three months that you’ll be out of work.

Q: My wife and I formed the type of living trust that you often recommend, and we put our home’s title into it. When we die, the home will be sold and the proceeds will be split evenly between our three grown children. Lately, though, we started wondering: How will the Internal Revenue Service treat the money that our kids eventually will receive?

A: Your grown children probably won’t owe any income taxes on the sale proceeds. That’s because when you die, or your spouse passes away (depending on who goes last), the home’s value will be updated to its market value on the date of the second spouse’s death. So, if the children then sell the home right away, no income taxes will be owed on their respective share of the profit.

If your home is your only major asset, your kids probably won’t owe any federal estate or inheritance taxes either. Still, it would be a good idea to consult with an accountant or estate planner for details.

David M. Myers’ column is distributed by Cowles Syndicate, Inc.