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Before Buying Your Spouse a Surprise Home, Maybe Don't

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When the savings account balance sheet slips from the birthday card, or the puppy pokes its nose through that layer of Easter grass, you've been given more than just a gift. You've been given a brand new set of expectations and responsibilities, or potentially a whole new lifestyle. Sometimes, as the Wall Street Journal reports, well-meaning people present their loved ones with surprise houses. This often doesn't go over very well.

The red-blooded American businessman has trouble gauging the long-term value of home updates. His track-record in presenting his woman-friend with unexpected real estate is also pretty rough. In one example produced by the Journal, Mabel Simpson's husband, Hugh, thought he was giving his wife a 1930s fixer-upper in Richardson, Texas for her 40th birthday. In her words, the signed contract amounted to a different kind of surprise: "it practically gave me a heart attack."

Corcoran Group real-estate agent Gary DePersia advises unveiling this kind of gift before the deal closes. In one Halstead Property employee's opinion, "a necklace is a lot easier." Real-estate agent Ryan Serhant says that "if you're going to surprise them, make sure it's awesome." To be clear, he means that the property should be awesome, like the $3.7M Manhattan apartment he gave his fiancee, not that the circumstances should be awesome. Though the deed to that Orlando condominium might seem more magical and spontaneous presented after Shamu's show-stopping final splash, it's objective value should be considered with great care.

Serhant has seen surprise homes that weren't so well received. In one instance, a husband bought his wife an apartment in New York, when what she really wanted was one in Miami. It was, in his words, a "disaster," and they ended up renting it out, the lesson here being that getting the location right is pretty important.

The Journal also profiled many couples who turned an initially stressful gift into a beloved new home. Counterintuitively, fixer-uppers are good because they give your loved one a chance to personalize them, turning the wine cellar into "storage space for shoes," for example.

Saudi Arabia-based lawyer Motasem Khashoggi and his wife are one of the success stories. He knew she always wanted a place in L.A., and when he handed her the keys, her reaction was "really priceless." The price was nearly $4M.

· What Happens When Your Husband Buys a House Without Telling You [Wall Street Journal]