What’s a better use of your hard-earned money: a big, beautiful wedding or a house of your own? That’s the question posed on a new Netflix reality show, “Marriage or Mortgage.”
In the show (premiering on Wednesday), real estate agent Nichole Holmes and wedding planner Sarah Miller compete for the business of 10 engaged couples who are trying to decide whether to splurge on a wedding or their first home.
“It’s up to Sarah and myself to make sure that we do right by them,” Holmes says of the couples. “I find the best real estate and offer it up to them, and she shows them the fanciest weddings and then they get to decide.”
And while a big wedding may be lots of fun, Holmes, who hails from Marion, IL, argues that a home is typically the smarter investment.
In this exclusive interview, Holmes dishes about her own personal experience deciding between a wedding and a home, why she regrets her choice, and her hard-won wisdom for other home buyers.
Have you personally ever had to decide between buying a house and having a big wedding?
I have! I’ve been married twice before, it’s my history, so I’m always happy to talk about it.
My first wedding was a very large and extravagant wedding, and my father came to me and said, “Are you sure you don’t want a big down payment on a house or two matching luxury cars in the driveway?” And I was, like, “No, I’ve got to have my big day, Daddy!” Well, fast-forward seven years, and I got divorced. And then I was amortizing how much everything cost, and what it cost per year that the marriage lasted, and I was, like, “Wow, that really wasn’t a smart financial decision on my part!”
When I got married the second time, I learned from the first one, and we went to the courthouse. It was a very low-key wedding, but that one still didn’t work. Still, I understand this is a union that people feel drawn to, and that’s amazing.
Why is a house such a good investment for a couple?
A couple won’t make money off of a wedding. But if they listen to their real estate agent, a home can be a great investment.
So to me, having gone through what I went through, it just makes good sense to me to take that money and put it into a down payment and find the dream home. Or not even a dream home. Maybe you buy your “right now” home because you can make money off those, too.
You spend most of your time on ‘Marriage or Mortgage’ showing couples houses. What should they be looking for?
It’s important for couples to have an open mind. For example, if you perhaps want to be in a specific school district, you may need to compromise on something like yard size. There are always compromises. Otherwise it would be “Marriage and Mortgage,” not “Marriage or Mortgage.”
I once had a young lady who wanted a grand staircase and all of these other things. I was just striking out with each house that I showed her. Everybody’s time is valuable, so I was, like, “You know what, would you be interested in building a home?” Because what she was describing wasn’t necessarily something that I thought we were going to find in the market, at that price range. Yet, they could have built it, at the time, in their price range, so that’s what happened!
Do you have any tips for house-hunting couples who are trying to avoid butting heads?
Go into it with a good, solid budget. Know your parameters, know what you’re willing to stretch up to, or know what you’re willing to put into a house in elbow grease and sweat equity.
It’s important that couples talk amongst themselves before they call a real estate agent to figure out what is important.
Sometimes I feel a little bit more like a referee than a real estate agent, but it’s part of the business—it’s all about managing expectations. It wouldn’t serve any of us very well if I took everything that they described to me, and I showed them that house, and it was $200,000 over their budget. So we just all have to be on the same page.
How much should young couples spend on a house—or a wedding, for that matter?
The national average is between 25% to 35% of a person’s take-home pay goes toward their mortgage. Anything over that is kind of overextending.
[For a wedding], it’s totally up to the couples, and what their income is, and what they’re comfortable with. You may have a couple that’s making excellent money but a wedding’s not that important to them. Or you might have quite the opposite, which is generally the case: They don’t make as much money, but they want the huge house and the huge wedding.
What’s your No. 1 piece of advice for any home buyer—single, married, or otherwise?
Certainly work with a real estate agent. Everyone can look online and find houses or go to open houses—that’s the fun part! But when it comes time to put the offer in, in this market, when there are multiple-offer situations going on, good luck for anyone who’s not in the real estate industry to know what to do.