The Housing Scene by Lew Sichelman


The average cost of a wedding last year was $31,213, according to popular wedding-planning site The Knot -- a whopping amount that could have been used for a down payment, and then some, on a first house.

RealtyTrac, a real estate information company, massaged the numbers and found that, of the most expensive places to get hitched, San Francisco is the only one where a 5 percent down payment for an average house is greater than the cost of a typical wedding.

Everywhere else, the opposite is true, RealtyTrac found. It is definitely less expensive to use the money you're likely to spend on a wedding for a house instead.

But that begs the question of which is a better choice: a big, boisterous ceremony and party, or your very first home of your own?

Two experts, one on each side of that question, were asked their thoughts. Arguing for buying a home is Matt Phipps, a third-generation Realtor who has held several leadership roles within the National Association of Realtors and who hangs his shingle at Phipps Realty in East Greenwich, Rhode Island. Speaking on behalf of a wedding is Leila Lewis, who runs Be Inspired, a Los Angeles-based wedding and lifestyle public relations firm.

Here's what they had to say.

HOUSE -- Matt Phipps, real estate agent:

"Since living in your parents' basement is most likely not a long-term option, it's best to have a sound long-term plan. While it is ultimately your choice whether to keep up with the Jones' expensive taste in weddings or purchase the house down the street from them, I think it's important to truly consider cost versus long-term value.

"The Knot survey found that the average cost of a wedding was at an all-time high last year -- and 45 percent of the couples exceeded their original budget. Considering that that figure doesn't include the cost of a honeymoon, there is no proverbial cherry atop your wedding cake.

"Meanwhile, the National Association of Realtors' May sales report shows that the national median price of a single-family home was $219,400. After putting 10 percent down (nearly $22,000), you'd still have $9,000 for new furniture or even some home improvement projects (before hitting the $31,000 average-wedding number).

"The most expensive part of a wedding is the 'venue/catering' aspect, which averages over $11,000, according to the website But if you were to put 5 percent down on an average house, you are spending less than $11,000.

"In other words, the one-day (or half-day) rental of a place to have a wedding is MORE than the down payment on the typical house -- a place you could live forever, or at least until you have a gang of kids and need more space.

"Simply put, wedding expenses have escalated to the point in which they are excessive for almost everyone not named Kardashian. Given the abundance of young couples saddled with debt from college loans, coupled with the nationwide increase in rent costs that makes buying cheaper than renting in most places these days, why not invest in a home with your partner rather than splurge on a wedding?

"Americans who have purchased a home in the last two to three years have experienced a median gain of $30,000 in the value of their homes, according to NAR. So which sounds more practical: Dumping $31,000 for the wedding or adding to $30,000 to your net worth?

"The numbers don't lie: Putting your savings toward purchasing a house is a much more sound investment than using those funds toward an extravagant wedding. And your greatest wedding investment should be spent on inviting your family and best friends, who won't care about the per-plate cost. Those folks will dance the night away with you at your wedding, and will be excited to visit you in your new home."

WEDDING -- Leila Lewis, wedding expert:

"Being the founder of a wedding-centric company, I have seen it all -- weddings that are large and extravagant and those that are more intimate and simple. It is an indescribable feeling to watch a bride and groom on their wedding day, surrounded by the love of their family and friends. While it is just one day, it's also a ceremonial beginning of a new life together, and should be given lots of thought and care.

"Sit down with your fiance and discuss your expense priorities together. The most important thing is to be on the same page when making big decisions that will affect your joint future.

"If you do decide to scale back the wedding and save up for your first home, take advantage of the abundant resources online in order to plan your wedding for less. And remember that your first home doesn't have to be your dream home. Homeownership is typically a building block of investments. Don't try to overreach your first time around; there will be many homes to come.

"Ultimately what makes sense for you, as a couple, will be different from what works for other couples. Take the time to have these discussions, keeping an open mind and ear to your partner's opinions.

"Whether you choose to spend a little more on your wedding day or scale back in order to save for a home, it will be the right decision as long as you and your spouse are on the same page. That's the most important start to any marriage!"