About 700 miles from home, surrounded by a handful of family and friends, Danielle and Daniel Creegan were married on the sand of North Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. Their 2-year-old Great Dane, Daisy, was one of the select guests of honor.
"We had a small ceremony on the beach and then went out for dinner," said Danielle, 28. "Our biggest expense was hiring a photographer."
Back home, their future awaited: Their house in Farmingdale, which was the reason for the intimate, faraway nuptials.
Amid the rise of local wedding expenses and the increase of home prices across Long Island, the Creegans — and many other Long Island newlyweds and engaged couples — are finding smaller scale ways to celebrate their love and instead putting their money toward buying a house. These couples have opted for low-key wedding ceremonies and receptions, either by hosting the festivities in a family backyard or leaving Long Island to tie the knot.
When it came time to make her guest list, "everybody really understood," said Danielle. "They knew the house took priority. It’s a hard choice because everybody wants that big wedding, but it only lasts for a few hours."
Destination wedding, multiple jobs help pay for gut renovation
Local weddings average $62,000, Heather Cunningham, owner of bridal organization Brides of Long Island, told Newsday in September. And, in October, the median home price in Suffolk County hit a record $600,000, with Nassau County’s median home price reaching $725,000, according to data released by OneKey MLS.
"I think you have to work harder now than ever," said Athan Vorilas, CEO and president of Lighthouse Financial Network in Melville. "When you’re young, you have to sacrifice and work more than you ever did. You might have to work two jobs to get to the point of buying a home or [making] a down payment."
Leading up to their July wedding, the Creegans started working on their house. They inherited it from Daniel’s parents and took over their mortgage. In the meantime, the couple is staying at her parents' house nearby.
Their four-bedroom, 2½-bathroom home required a gut renovation, including plumbing and electricity, costing them $350,000 on top of their mortgage, Danielle said. Of course, finding ways to pay didn’t stop after their wedding day.
"My husband sold his truck to go toward fixing the windows in the house," said Danielle, a paralegal. "And he got a second job." He is an RV mechanic and runs the Zamboni for the New York Islanders practice rink.
It’s a hard choice because everybody wants that big wedding, but it only lasts for a few hours.
— Danielle Creegan
"We’re saving money any way we can: We don’t go out to eat as often, and we cut back on spending if not for the necessities," she added.
The couple spent $5,000 for their wedding photographer, and found ways to save elsewhere. For example, Danielle purchased fake flowers from Michaels and Hobby Lobby, and asked her friend, a floral designer, to make bouquets and boutonnieres with them. They spent about $10,000 on the wedding altogether, she said.
With friends in South Carolina, picking their wedding destination was easy. But once their home renovations are complete (she's hoping by the end of next summer), perhaps they’ll have a small reception with some local pals, Danielle said.
"I haven’t thought that far ahead," she added. "In the next two or three years, maybe we'll do something."
Having a strong safety net is essential as a new homebuyer, said Vorilas. The way expenses add up can be overwhelming, leading to household sacrifices along the way.
"You’re not just buying a house," but must also account for mortgage, taxes, potential family plans and multiple types of insurance, he said. "It’s a different world than it was back in the day, so having that discipline to save money and spend it wisely is the most critical aspect of being successful."
DIY wedding helps boost savings
I know it’s expensive, but our life is here. Our jobs are here, our family is here, so why would we move?
— Justin Marczewski
Jamie Genoa sported a pink-and-blue sundress on her wedding day in August, which took place in her new in-laws’ backyard in Bethpage. She and her husband, Justin Marczewski, 46, live in Islip.
"It was a pizza party," said Genoa, 43. "It was just immediate family; that was it. Not even friends. And everything was DIY."
Genoa’s mother, a judge, officiated the ceremony, while Marczewski’s brother took photos and video. Marczewski’s family also surprised the couple by decorating for the event, which included a large lawn display that read: "Congrats Jamie & Justin."
Right now, the couple lives in a one-bedroom co-op that Marczewski first moved into in 2006. They’re looking for a house within the $500,000-to-$600,000 price range, in eastern Nassau or western Suffolk.
Genoa, a social worker, said the process has been frustrating, noting that the longer it takes to find a home, the more they must push their timeline back while planning for their future.
"I know it’s expensive, but our life is here," said Marczewski, who works for Suffolk County’s information technology department. "Our jobs are here, our family is here, so why would we move?"
Genoa works in Baldwin, while her husband's job is based in Bohemia, so they’re hoping to settle down in between. But searching for that has been a bit discouraging.
"Walking into houses and seeing what we’re actually going to get for our money these days, unfortunately it’s just a constant disappointment," Genoa said.
Patty Vorilas, an agent with Douglas Elliman Real Estate, said many of her clients are forgoing traditional weddings to save for homeownership. As her son gets married, she has seen firsthand how expenses add up.
"Whether they’re having a luncheon at a nice restaurant or not having the band or the DJ, it’s going to cost them a lot less," said Vorilas, who married Athan Vorilas in 1991 and moved to West Babylon together.
Everybody’s going way over asking [price] ... I’m advising them, especially first-time homebuyers, to get a home to grow into and expand if they really love the neighborhood.
— Patty Vorilas, real estate agent with Douglas Elliman
Once young couples finally attain homeownership on Long Island, it can be easy for them to outgrow their starter homes, even after investing so much in them, Vorilas said.
"Everybody’s going way over asking [price]," she said. "And if they buy a three-bedroom, one-bathroom house as newlyweds and have a couple of kids, the house becomes too small for them."
Vorilas also encourages her clients to consider future factors, such as seeing equity in your home purchase.
"I’m advising them, especially first-time homebuyers, to get a home to grow into and expand if they really love the neighborhood," she added.
After house hunting for about a year, Genoa and Marczewski have learned to best help each other through the process.
"Communication is key," Marczewski said. "We’ve been able to communicate our feelings, thoughts and frustrations this whole time, and support each other."
Backyard wedding now, larger reception later
Jenna Mercurio, 27, and her fiance bought their expanded ranch in Medford last summer. It took a year-and-a-half to land their three-bedroom, two-bathroom house.
"It was awful," said Mercurio, a registered nurse. "We had two houses and we were under contract with both of them, and the seller had revoked their offer last-minute because of a cash offer, both times."
The couple got engaged in August 2022 and were living with their respective parents at the time, not wanting to put money into a rental property. They ended up buying directly from the seller, whom the couple knew personally, for $500,000.
"That was the only way you were able to find a house at that time," Mercurio said.
Their closing date was June 15. Exactly one year from that day, the couple will get married in Mercurio’s parents' backyard, in West Islip. The ceremony will be for family only, with a larger reception including friends to follow.
The couple has narrowed down what’s important to them — centerpieces, but no flowers; a barbecue instead of a catered dinner; a DJ to play music, with the help of a family friend to take photos.
"It’s very easy to go overboard with a backyard wedding," Mercurio said. "But we’re just doing a simple tent — nothing too crazy, no bells and whistles."
Having a wedding like this has always been the plan, she added.
"From the very beginning, we said we wanted a house before we wanted a wedding," said Mercurio. "So we knew in the process of buying a house that we were not going to be able to have a typical wedding with a venue and everything. We’re OK with it; we had to put it into terms of what was a priority for us at the time, but everyone’s different."
One day we’ll have a whole house, but for now, we have a home.
— Jamie Genoa
Genoa and Marczewski plan to have a reception with no more than 75 guests next in March, as a belated celebration of their nuptials. They're planning to budget no more than $20,000 for the occasion, Marczewski said.
Until then, the couple and their 6-year-old shih tzu mix, Benny, are making the best of their current living situation, while dreaming of a larger house with a fenced-in yard.
"A one-bedroom is not ideal," said Genoa. "Having to walk our dog in all kinds of weather is not ideal. But we have each other and a roof over our heads, so we’re still so privileged, especially with everything going on in the world. One day we’ll have a whole house, but for now, we have a home."