Wedding Preparations – Where do we live?
Engaged, With Mortgage Payments; For Some Couples, Buying a Home Is Part of the Wedding Preparations
Since they announced their engagement in October 1994, dental hygienist Sandra Coggins and grocery store manager John Burington have had their hands full. First, they were busy with all the details for their upcoming June wedding at Arlington Baptist Church. Next, they were consumed by plans for a 300-person reception at the Crystal City Sheraton and two-week honeymoon in the Caribbean. Then, as if the engagement wasn’t hectic enough, Burington and Coggins decided they wanted to purchase a three-bedroom house in Reston.
“We had planned on waiting to buy a house until after the wedding, but with mortgage rates so low, we went ahead and bought,” said Coggins, who cashed in savings bonds for part of the down payment on the $ 172,000 property. “Because we plan to start a family, we wanted a single-family house, not a town house.” To sweeten their deal, the pair secured a 7 percent, 30-year fixed-rate mortgage on the property and obtained financial and household assistance from their parents. They also have acquired furniture and decorations, and plan to erect a fence around the house. Burington, 37, who had been renting an apartment for $ 900 a month, now resides in the 18-year-old split-level home. Coggins, 30, plans to continue living at her parents’ Annandale home until the wedding day. “My parents are paying for the wedding and [supplemented] my down payment, while both our parents bought furniture and appliances for the house,” Coggins said. “We wanted to go ahead with the purchase before the wedding because John plans to change his job soon and I don’t expect [to collect] more savings later.”
Do people really look at buying a home as part of Wedding Preparations? Unlike engaged couples in previous decades who married, then typically rented apartments and saved until they could afford to buy a home, Coggins and Burington and their 1990s counterparts are not willing to wait until after their wedding day to buy their first homes. First-time buyers accounted for 47 percent of Washington area sales last year. Instead, many of these recently engaged couples view house-buying as a rite of passage and the first home as a trophy for their wedding trousseau. “Why are we buying a house before the wedding? Because we can afford to do it,” said management consultant Michael O’Kane, 39, who is planning to marry programmer Catherine Hashemi, 24, of Rockville, in October.
“Buying a house seems to be a natural development of dual-income couples,” said O’Kane, who this month plans to sell an Annandale house he has owned for 10 years and buy a house for himself and his fiancee in Montgomery or Fairfax county. “We’ve already agreed [it] may not be our dream house, but we would like to start fresh in our own house,” Hashemi said. O’Kane added, “With a market like this, my instinct is to buy. We’re ready to move and there’s nothing stopping us.” A sizable portion of the 40,000 Washington area couples who marry each year are eager to capitalize on the region’s depressed housing prices, easy-entry mortgages and still-low interest rates before their wedding, according to realty agents, mortgage lenders and bridal planners.
Augmenting these prenuptial purchases are the buyers’ dual incomes, credit histories, savings, supportive families and desire to build home equity early in their married lives. “About 10 percent of first-time buyers are engaged couples in their late twenties to early thirties who will marry within six months but want to make their investment now,” said Potomac loan officer Heidi Clarke. “They can see this is a buyer’s market.” Recently engaged couples want to find out how much house they can afford, their mortgage options and how fast they can accumulate equity in a home, Clarke said. “They realize buying a house is hard, so they ask a lot of what-if questions,” she said. “Most of them expect to sell this [first] house at a later time and purchase their dream home” in a move-up transaction. Engagements have lengthened in recent years to accommodate all the plans couples make, including buying a house, said Sharon Lewis, publisher of Premier Bride Magazine, which is distributed to bridal shops and wedding showcases in the Washington area. “A typical engagement used to be six months, which was enough to plan a wedding, but now, one to two years is more common,” Lewis said. “Couples need more time to plan the wedding event, which averages $ 20,000 in the D.C. area, as well as the honeymoon and the house. To have it all, they are engaged longer.”
Unlike their parents, engaged couples don’t want to wait before buying their first home, said Gigi Warren, manager of a designer-gown bridal salon in the District. “It used to be you had an engagement of six to 12 months, planned your wedding and reception, and your parents went into debt [to pay] for the wedding,” she said. “Today, I see a professional woman and her groom paying for the wedding along with their parents. As soon as they get engaged, they start saving for the house.” Saving for a house has been a high priority for Kristy Driskill, 21, and Michael Perry, 22, since August, when the pair became engaged to marry. “I doubt we’ll have a honeymoon because we really want to save for the house,” said Driskill, an administrative assistant who plans to begin shopping for a home in Stafford County this month, purchase by August and marry Perry, an engineering apprentice, in October.
The couple also is trying to economize by reducing the size and expense of their wedding reception, Driskill said. “Instead of 200 to 250 guests and an open bar, we’re planning a buffet for 150 guests at the Holiday Inn in Alexandria,” she said. “We figure, why put a lot money into a reception when you can put it into something more long-lasting like a house.” Realty agents are eager to help these first-time home buyers because they realize engaged couples are serious buyers, said loan expert Clarke. “Real estate agents used to think these couples were too young, didn’t have enough income or didn’t know what they wanted,” she said. “Now agents realize these couples are determined to buy.” Some agents attend bridal fashion shows and wedding showcases to seek out engaged couples who soon may buy houses. “For a lot of these people, their first priority is the wedding, but a lot of them are concerned about where they are going to live,” said White Flint realty agent Liliana Peralta, who recently teamed up with agent Mary Miller-Jones and Rockville mortgage broker Bill Rozek at bridal shows in White Flint and Chevy Chase. “When you prospect for real estate buyers at bridal shows, sales don’t happen right away,” Peralta said. “It may happen a year from now, so we’ll be in touch a couple times before they buy a house. We’ll also offer first-time buyers’ kits and flyers on mortgage brokers and settlement firms.”
Buying a house before the wedding as wedding preparations, has become a form of commitment for engaged couples, suggested Potomac realty agent Robin Rothstein. And though it may complicate the couple’s engagement, the purchase of a house often is a satisfying event for the newly engaged couple. “Sometimes, it adds one more thing to handle and I have to tell them to put [the purchase] off, but usually they’ve thought about [the house],” Rothstein said. “Unlike the wedding, there are fewer details to arrange, fewer decisions to make and fewer people to please when a couple buys a house.” Often, a house purchase is timed to match the lapse of a lease for either or both of the partners, who are determined to escape rents and apartment living, and start their married life in a home they own, Rothstein said. “They’ve already saved some money, their parents are contributing gifts for the house or furniture and they realize they can do better” in the long term by owning rather than renting, she said. “Besides, nice rentals are hard to come by near Washington,” Rothstein said. “Even engaged couples know that.”