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Moving in together: Are you ready?

Valentine's Day is fast approaching, and that means a flurry of wedding proposals. In fact, four million Americans are expected to propose or be proposed to on Feb. 14. With marriage on the horizon, these couples will soon be living together, if they aren't already. Those doing the proposing better have a pretty great apartment if they want things to go smoothly.

According to a recent survey, 14 percent of renters consider the appearance of their partner's home to be "very important," and 57 percent consider it to be "sort of important." And with nearly one-third of Americans willing to choose their dream home over their significant other, it seems a killer pad is just as important as physical and personal traits when trying to attract a mate.

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Moving in before marriage is becoming more common these days. Whether it's to save money or to work out the kinks before tying the knot, couples from all walks of life are getting settled in apartments they hope to stay in. According to the survey, the desire to stay in a certain apartment trumps breaking up with someone you no longer want to be with.

Live-in couples will wait a while to end things if it means spending more time in their dream apartment. Nearly one quarter of Americans have delayed breaking up with someone they were living with because they didn't want to find a new place to live. Thirty-seven percent of Americans who delayed a breakup say they've waited more than a year to cut ties. That's not surprising when you consider found 30 percent of Americans would choose their dream home over their significant other.

Dr. Robert Solley, a licensed California-based psychologist, advises on his blog that couples should wait at least nine months before making the decision to live together due to the "honeymoon effect." "The central questions are not whether the order of events will make a difference in your relationship," Solley writes, but "how you feel about your partner and relationship, and what you do with that."

If you've thought long and hard about it and still feel ready to move in together, take a few things into account:

-- Finances. Is your partner a spender or a saver? Is he or she good at budgeting? Know what you're in for before you shack up to avoid any problems - after all, financial issues are big relationship stressors.

-- Space. Do you have enough of it? Some couples can get along quite well in a studio apartment, but most of us need a little bit of space. Make sure you have enough room to live together comfortably. If not, it might be time to find a brand new place the two of you can enjoy.

-- Expectations. This is a big one. Are you planning to get married one day, or are you simply moving in together to save money? Have this talk before moving in to avoid any broken hearts.

-- Kids. If either of you has kids, take their feelings into consideration. The last thing anyone wants is to drag children into adult relationship problems.

Despite all the warnings you might hear about pre-marital cohabitation, moving in together doesn't have to be the death knell of your relationship. Just make sure you're prepared. You may even consider a "living together contract" to help you make clear your intentions about property ownership and household expenses.

Whatever you decide, make sure you're not moving in with your love solely based on a really fab apartment you found over the weekend but can't afford solo.

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