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Netflix's New Show 'Marriage Or Mortgage' Reveals The Emotional Aspects Of Homebuying

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Home prices around the country are soaring with interest rates at near-historic lows. There are more buyers than houses for sale, which means for an increasing number of Americans, getting into a new home is not just a tough financial decision. It's an emotional one.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "MARRIAGE OR MORTGAGE")

ANTONIO: Got a lot to talk about for sure.

RAVEN: Either way, it's life-changing...

ANTONIO: Yeah.

RAVEN: ...For us.

CORNISH: Enter a new Netflix reality series "Marriage Or Mortgage," where young couples with something like $35,000 to spend choose between a dream wedding or a home.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "MARRIAGE OR MORTGAGE")

RAVEN: We have decided to go wedding.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Congratulations.

RAVEN: Thank you.

CORNISH: Real talk - I am obsessed.

MICHELLE SINGLETARY: (Laughter).

CORNISH: And so is Michelle Singletary, personal finance columnist for The Washington Post.

SINGLETARY: You know, you've been together for eight years. You got two kids. I'm sorry. That cake has been cut. Let's just use this money to build your wealth.

CORNISH: To Michelle, "Marriage Or Mortgage" is built on a false premise that a major financial decision, like a house, is somehow equivalent to...

SINGLETARY: A party, which is what it is - it's a party.

CORNISH: And Michelle wrote about this show recently, which, to be fair, was filmed pre-pandemic. But it still reveals a lot about the emotions of home-buying and why, especially right now, it is not for everyone.

SINGLETARY: What I was intrigued by this show, however, after watching it was the decision-making process that these couples were making. And one of the things I tell people all the time is you cannot make sound financial decisions based on your emotions. And this is what all those folks are doing. Oh, I dreamed of having a wedding since I was 6. Really, 6 - 6?

CORNISH: But I remember that couple. The - they felt as though they were entitled to it. And I don't mean that in a mean way but that they had been together for a long time, and they had not gotten to have this moment. And this is...

SINGLETARY: That's right.

CORNISH: ...Where, I guess, behavioral economics comes in, right?

SINGLETARY: And I want to just tell you, I am not of the ilk that thinks that homeownership is an automatic guaranteed wealth-builder. We saw in the Great Recession how that is not always the case. But where it goes off for me in the decision-making process is looking at your finances long term. And this is what I always tell people. If you have no debt and you're saving towards your retirement, if you got kids, you're saving for their college fund, you have an emergency fund and then you've got an extra $35,000, you could do whatever you want with that money. You don't need my advice. But if you can't tick off all those boxes, for me, that is reckless. It's financially reckless.

CORNISH: But as you were watching the show, did you think to yourself, what does this say about people's attitudes towards homeownership?

SINGLETARY: Yeah.

CORNISH: And what conclusions did you come to about that?

SINGLETARY: I do think that - because not all of the couples are younger - they do sort of have this attitude. Well, you know, my parents plopped all their money in a house, and I don't have to follow that path. I actually don't have a problem with that way of thinking because people just don't realize how much of their income they're obligating to that mortgage.

And I know people want to jump on the low interest rates, and I get that. But you cannot jump into a house before you're ready for it. It will create all kinds of economic chaos in your life. There are other ways to build equity for yourself and well - you know, retirement savings, not having debt. So you're saving to send your kids to college, or you're paying off your debt. Those are all ways to secure yourself financially that's not tied to owning a home.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

CORNISH: Michelle - as usual, you're just speaking too many truths.

SINGLETARY: (Laughter).

CORNISH: I'm going to go around telling people, look; that cake has been cut.

SINGLETARY: (Laughter) That's right, right?

CORNISH: I'm going to say that now.

Michelle Singletary, personal finance columnist for The Washington Post. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.