What if you could have your dream house or your dream wedding—but not both?

Which would you choose?

That’s the question posed by Netflix’s new reality show “Marriage or Mortgage,” which premiered on March 10. The series features ten engaged couples who have saved substantial sums—ranging from $20,000 to $35,000—that they can spend on either a down payment for a house or a big, blowout wedding. The friendly, photogenic couples range in age from their 20s to their 50s. Only one has previously owned a home.

The show contributes no money, so the couples really are spending their own savings.

Each pair is shepherded through the decision-making process by the show’s hosts, Nichole Holmes, an affiliate broker with Parks, in Nashville, Tenn., and Sarah Miller, a wedding and events planner. The hosts, pictured above, are both seasoned professionals with a network of contacts throughout the Nashville area, where the series is filmed. Both are also outgoing redheads, though perhaps fittingly, Holmes wears hers chicly short, while Miller sports a cascade of romantic waves. The two engage in a friendly competition in each episode to sway the featured couple over to their respective sides.

The format is the same for each episode: after hearing the featured couples’ dreams for their nuptials and home, Miller gets to work planning their ideal wedding, and Holmes sets out to find the perfect house.

Over the course of the series, Miller offers options tailored to each couple’s desires, ranging from the classic—plated dinners, elegant wedding cakes, and grand exits in horse-drawn carriages or limos—to the eclectic—fountains that gush ranch dressing, doughnut walls in lieu of cake, and an exciting exit in a helicopter.

Once Miller finishes dazzling the couple, Holmes takes over, offering equally enticing delights: spacious living rooms, gourmet kitchens, and big backyards—not to mention custom bathrooms and cavernous garages. And each house is beautifully staged with personal touches—a framed print of a father’s favorite recipe, a child’s bedroom set up for a couple that hopes to adopt, a mom’s room for a busy mother of two who would like a little space of her own.

After Miller and Holmes ferry each couple around Nashville, they all return to the “Marriage or Mortgage” office, where the two ladies make their final presentation—and throw in a few last-minute incentives. Drawing on their excellent relationships with area vendors and businesses, both Miller and Holmes offer price reductions and other goodies to “sweeten the pot.”

Once the presentation is complete, the couples have time to deliberate and come to a decision, and the show does a good job of keeping the viewer in suspense—it’s seldom easy to tell who will choose what.

I hope it’s not too much of a spoiler to reveal that at the end of the 10-episode run, marriage ends up with a slight edge over mortgage.

That might not be much of a surprise to those of you who work in this business. Data shows millennials are putting off buying a home. According to the National Association of REALTORS® 2020 Profile of Home Buyers and Sellers, the average age of a first-time home buyer is 47. Indeed, the couple in their 50s are the only “Marriage or Mortgage” twosome who previously owned a home. Extraordinarily low inventory and rising prices are surely factors; the national median price of $313,000 (as of February 2021) is more than some of the show’s couples could bear.

What’s a first-time home buyer to do? Holmes has an answer.

“Find yourself a good agent that you trust—a good negotiator,” she says. “Find an agent who has lots of experience.”

During the course of the show, Holmes demonstrates just how valuable that experience can be.

In one episode, we see Holmes showing a young couple a home that they love—one that has been on the market for only one day and already has five offers on it. The list price of the house is already at the top of the couple’s range—and Holmes advises that the sale price is likely to go even higher. You’ll have to watch to discover how this plays out, but Holmes’ negotiating skills are on full display. She not only helps the couple to get their offer to the top of the pile but also keeps the price within the couple’s range.

In episode after episode, Holmes finds multiple beautiful homes for the couples that “check all the boxes,” as she is fond of saying. And while the breezy, 40-minute runtime of the show might make it appear that Holmes found the houses in a matter of minutes, the reality was much more complex.

“I actually had three agents at Parks searching like crazy for listings,” says Holmes. “The operation was just like a duck—calm on the surface but paddling furiously underneath.”

Viewers also didn’t see the great listings that the couples lost out on due to the hot market.

“Sometimes the houses would sell before we ever got a chance to look at them,” she says.

Even though the folks at home don’t get to see all the hard work behind the scenes, Holmes says there are plenty of takeaways in the series for the novice home buyer.

“It’s a fun, light-hearted show that people can relax with and enjoy,” she says. “It’s entertaining, and you still get some real estate 101.”

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