The highs and lows of a home wedding

By Dina ElBoghdady
Saturday, January 9, 2010

Julie McLaughlin singled out her brother's house in Fairfax Station, with its two-tiered deck and garden gazebo, as the ideal spot for her wedding last June.

And the price was right.

"I couldn't swallow spending $3,000 to $5,000 to rent a location," McLaughlin said. "We didn't want to pay. Our total wedding budget was $5,000."

The reasons for having a wedding at home range from the financial to the sentimental. But many couples are taken aback by how much sweat equity it takes to successfully pull off such an event and how quickly the costs mount when you have to rent everything from the tent to the silverware and portable restrooms.

The cost of a wedding averaged about $22,000 in 2008, according to Wedding Report, a wedding market research firm. Of course, averages don't say much when one couple opts for a quickie justice-of-the-peace ceremony and a dinner at home for 10 while another throws a $100,000 soiree for 200 people under a tent fit for a White House state dinner.

But one thing is for sure: Whatever the national average is, the cost is more eye-popping in the Washington region -- about $39,000 -- and other pricey areas. (Check out for the price range in your Zip code.) Many wedding consultants insist that the cost climbs even higher when the wedding takes place at a family home.

"I've never told a client not to have a wedding at their home. But I do tell them that it costs anywhere from 10 to 15 percent more," said Katie Martin, a wedding planner at Elegance & Simplicity in Bethesda. "They have to bring in all sorts of vendors to make it a reality."

Add to that the pressure and angst people feel when they're hosting a large group of guests in their home and -- cha-ching!

"You feel that everything about your home has to be immaculate because so many people will see it," Martin said. "Before you know it, you're spending money to have someone clean up the home, to landscape and even to buy new furniture."

McLaughlin's family managed to dodge some of these costs by taking on a lot of these tasks themselves. But hosting 60 guests wasn't as easy as the bride expected.

For starters, three tree stumps needed to be removed to make room for the buffet tables, and in the end, the caterer needed to use a different space because the ground was too muddy after days of rain.

"That took three weeks of digging and hauling these things out so we could have a nice, flat area," said Melissa McLaughlin, the bride's sister-in-law.

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