Economic crises and societal norms have created the perfect storm, forcing young people to decide between buying a home or throwing a wedding due to cost. The show, Marriages or Mortgages on Netflix helps couples with that decision by providing an expert in real estate and an expert in wedding planning. 

The pair competes against one another to convince the couples why homeownership or a wedding is superior. Each meets with the couple and drives them around to various locations in Nashville, Tennessee to help them visualize their future. The couples then sit down and try to rationalize why they picked the wedding, a few of which were actually able to happen due to COVID.

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Netflix 2021

Team House Vs. Team Wedding

The reason the realtor loses so frequently is the sheer number of houses that don’t meet the criteria the clients are looking for. It’s easy to set up a beautiful wedding scene or lure someone with a ranch fountain, but staging generic houses for sentimentality is more difficult. That isn’t to say that Nichole Holmes isn’t a great realtor, it’s the opposite. She does a great job negotiating prices, finding approximations, and finding a place that meets as many of the checkboxes as her clients have. 

But the housing options available to her weren’t great. Each bland modern model home shown to each client made me a little more Team Wedding with each open floor plan and white walls. 

The best team house win was when Nichole just provided her client with the opportunity to build their own house. Their choices were still very traditional but it was their choice and fit them perfectly. So frequently the houses that Nichole showed paled in comparison to the showing status of the “dream” wedding.

The wedding venues were infinitely more interesting than many of the houses. They had personality and character, likely because they were often built as exciting public properties. But the houses were copied and pasted from episode to episode. Why can’t houses be as interesting as wedding venues? Why have our houses become so basic and derivative? Especially as housing prices increase so rapidly?

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Netflix 2021

The Fallacy of the Show

The stagings are incredible and the hosts clearly know how to work with and for their clients. But the competition ends up focusing less on quality design and more on engagement and memories. The long-term investment of having a place to call your own is less immediately gratifying than a giant party professing your love. In fact, all of the couples who chose home over wedding picked it because they had extenuating circumstances that required they get housed soon.

The show creates a false dichotomy. Somehow, the temporary gratification of a costly wedding (and its memories) continuously trumped the necessity of a space that fit each couple. Maslow would be proud. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to celebrate your wedding and your love, but when it comes between your ability to move into a space you feel more comfortable living in, or starting your family, it can probably take less precedence. 

The show made it seem like the decision always came down to housing or wedding and never explored how both of those things could exist simultaneously. 

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Netflix 2021

What It Is And What It Could

It’s fun popcorn tv and good to watch for the Nashville-built environment, adorable couples, and stellar work by the Marriages or Mortgages team. But it doesn’t pose any interesting questions. It doesn’t engage with the market of housing or weddings, much less challenges it. Without serious attempts to revolutionize the way housing and weddings are planned or purchased, realtors will always be at a disadvantage. 

Note, they both do things a little differently than your traditional planner or realtor in this show. Before the couples make their final decision, Nichole and Sarah Miller sweeten the pot however they can, tossing in free or discounted amenities to make their decision easier, or harder, depending on how you want to look at it. But this just isn’t something you’d see outside of the show. This is a competition for Nichole and Sarah, and they want to win. Without that competition, regular people find themselves eating costs they could have avoided with a signed release form.

Marriages or Mortgages would have been infinitely more interesting if it explored how couples can have both, even if that meant downsizing either. It could have explored how manufactured the wedding industry is and how couples could throw a wedding affordably without the same tropes, costs, and commercialization that made the couples believe they had to pick in the first place. 

The show could have explored how the housing crisis has affected people’s abilities to buy (and find) the correct home for them. It could have focused more on design and how that can impact how you interact with the space. They could have explored building your dream home further, especially with the growing popularity of Nashville. It’s a good time waster, but don’t expect to do any critical thinking.

Nia Smith
Author

Nia Smith is an architecture student at Howard University. She uses her background in fashion to design spaces that are useful and beautiful. As an environmental advocate, Nia focuses on low-income housing made sustainably with circular design theories.

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