Oliver and Cassie Nilsson’s love story began in 2012 at an Outback steakhouse on Federal Highway in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Cassie is a 21-year-old server who lives with her parents, and Oliver is 18 and still in high school. Cassie refuses to move to Alabama with her parents and soon asks Oliver to move in with her, thus beginning their journey of moving back and forth across the state — whether for school or work.
Oliver went on to complete a few years at Broward College in Fort Lauderdale, but the couple then moved to Orlando so he could finish at the University of Central Florida, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in environmental engineering. Meanwhile, Cassie worked as an assistant in an orthodontic and dental practice. They lived and rented an apartment in Orlando for about four and a half years before moving to Tampa, where Oliver found his first post-grad job.
“Our expectation was that we would buy a house right out of college,” Oliver said. “We were thinking of buying a townhouse because we wanted a small yard where the dog could live. But we quickly realized it wasn’t for us, especially with the interest rates being so high.”
Knowing they eventually wanted a home, Oliver, Cassie and their two dachshunds moved in with Oliver’s parents – originally planned to last only three months. But when the couple’s combined salaries were about $100,000, they realized how much it took to put a down payment on a house, and the time they lived under the same roof with their in-laws snowballed for eight months.
During this time, the couple was also planning their wedding. They moved in with Oliver’s parents in January 2023 and had an elopement in Las Vegas the following month that included an Elvis impersonator and cost about $5,000. To help save for a down payment on the house, the couple added a “first home fund” — the only requirement they made at the wedding registry.
First-time home buyers are a growing trend among millennial and Gen Z couples. In fact, 16 percent of couples registering in 2022 have established a family fund, according to Cathryn Haight, gifts and stationery editor at The Knot, a wedding-planning website and vendor marketplace.
“We have been blessed to have lived together for many years,” their wedding registry read. “Back then we had everything we needed inside, now we’re saving the ‘outside’. No obligation to contribute, but if you want to bring us anything, it’s our dream. If you could come to our wedding , this is the best gift we can ask of you!”
Haight said housing funds had emerged as early as 2019.
“But they’ve really grown in the last two years,” Hayter said. “The category shows no signs of slowing down. While some guests may prefer cash gifts for celebrations like honeymoon dinners, there’s something special about wedding donations that can help new spouses achieve another meaningful milestone: owning housing.”
Haight adds that The Knot doesn’t charge a percentage of cash registry gifts, and it’s free to set up a fund, link bank accounts and share your registry. Funding for a first home purchase can be especially valuable for couples as housing affordability becomes increasingly tight. For reference, the average cost of a wedding in the US in 2022 is $30,000, The Knot reported.
“Most of the first-time homebuyers I work with are challenged by affordability and competition,” Realtor Donna Incorvaja of Cassie of RelatedISG Realty and Oliver tells us wealth. “It’s not that they can’t afford it, it’s that what they can afford in today’s market is very different from what the younger generation could buy three or four years ago.”
The money went into a first home fund, which, combined with the money they saved while living with Oliver’s parents, made their dream of buying a home possible. In early August, they bought a $292,000 one-bedroom apartment near the Tarpon River in Fort Lauderdale.
“Truth to God, it’s this [the first home fund] His parents let us stay there,” Cassie said. “We’ll never be able to [to buy]. We will rent for life. “
Even with a down payment saved, it can still be a challenge to find what they want within an affordable range. It can also be difficult to find a home in such good condition that you can move into without extensive renovations, Cassie added.
“Every night we watch [at homes]we’d notice that basically everything was over our price limit,” Oliver said. In fact, some communities required the couple to put down 25 percent of the purchase price, which could equate to around $75,000—which is what they Not prepared to pay the amount. Finding a home that fits them has been a tedious process, Oliver said, adding that some communities don’t accept pets.
“We don’t want to settle,” Casey said. “We’re already living at his parents’ house, so it’s either going to be another few weeks or a few more months.”
Cassie and Oliver ended up paying $292,000 for the 900-square-foot, one-bedroom, one-and-a-half-bath condo, which was listed at $300,000 on a 7 percent mortgage. They also pay about an additional $600 a month in HOA fees, which brings their total monthly housing costs to about $2,300.
While most housing markets are in an affordability crunch, first-time homebuyers now account for 50 percent of all U.S. homebuyers, according to Zillow senior economist Nicole Bachaud wealth.
“Despite challenging affordability in this housing market, first-time homebuyers are getting creative and partnering with 60% of first-time buyers to use at least two sources for their down payment – typically savings and money from family or friends gift,” she said.
Oliver and Cassie’s advice for first home buyers? “do not give up.”
“It’s hard to give advice when you know this was made possible in large part because of our family,” Cassie said. “With the help of our family, we could never have bought this place,” Oliver added.