Instead of feathering the nest, gift registry collects 'hay' to buy it

April 20, 1992|By Phyllis Brill | Phyllis Brill,Staff Writer

Forget the espresso machine, the sterling silver platter, the lovely place setting of Limoges china. Today's brides have little use for exclusive wedding gifts designed for exclusive occasions.

Give them something practical, something useful, something they can appreciate every day.

Give them a house.

Come again?

Well, not exactly a whole house. But, face it, if all the guests at a 250-strong reception channeled the money they spent in wedding gifts into a united fund, the happy couple could probably afford the down payment on a nice little bungalow even before the honeymoon aura wore off.

At least that's the point the Arbor National Mortgage Co. is trying to make with its Arbor Home Bridal Registry. Arbor's registry works much like one at a department store, where the bride records her favorite china, crystal and silver patterns as gift suggestions for her wedding.

In this case, the bride and groom register their bank account and guests contribute cold, hard cash toward a down payment on a house.

The Westbury, N.Y.-based mortgage company serves as a sort of go-between, establishing a money-market account in the couple's name at Chase Manhattan Bank and channeling monetary gifts from the bride and groom's friends and relatives into it as deposits. The fund earns interest at the bank's going rate and, if the couple is lucky, their little nest egg starts growing even before the nuptials take place.

Couples may use word-of-mouth to spread the news of their interest in collecting cash rather than cappuccino cups, or they might choose a "tastefully worded," engraved announcement provided by the registry that can be inserted in the wedding invitation.

"The braver ones will use the cards," says Nancy Boles, vice president of marketing for Arbor, which has offices in several East Coast cities. The only Maryland branch of Arbor is in Rockville, though it hasn't had any bridal registrants yet.

Friends and relatives who choose to contribute to the fund call an 800 number, sign a couple of forms that arrive in the mail and

send in their checks. They get an acknowledgment card in return that they may pass along to the bride and groom. It's a little like participating in a Jerry Lewis telethon.

"I think it's tasteless," says Letitia Baldrige, the manners maven of the '90s, of the unusual registry. "A bridal registry is for gifts for the home," she says, not for the home itself. "Having someone contribute cash to a specific mortgage loan is something only family should be involved in," says the author of "Letitia Baldridge's Complete Guide to Executive Manners."

Judith Martin -- better known as "Miss Manners" -- who dispenses advice on decorum with aplomb in her syndicated newspaper column (including in The Sun and Sunday Sun) is equally appalled by the suggestion of solicitation.

"It's unspeakable," she says of the idea of channeling one's gifts receivable into an interest-bearing account. "What makes anyone think that getting married constitutes an excuse for a charitable fund-raising drive?

"What we have here is unbridled greed," she concludes.

"We realize some people look at it as tacky," says Ms. Boles. "But, on the other hand, it does have a historical precedent -- like the families that would set up a dowry in the old days."

Whatever its measure on the taste meter, the home bridal bTC registry is stirring interest. Arbor reports the company has received about four dozen calls from brides-to-be, as well as parents and grandparents. But, only one couple, a Long island pair marrying later this spring, has actually registered since the program began about a month ago.

Obviously, the mortgage company's motive for this venture is not totally benign. Arbor hopes the young marrieds will choose it as their lender when the time comes to buy a house. As an incentive, it offers new homeowners a $100 "wedding gift" to be applied to closing costs when they do sign on the dotted line for a mortgage.

"This is very practical," says Ms. Boles. "It's something that will build over time." The account can remain open and accrue funds as long as the couple chooses. By the same token, they can dig into it at any time after a six-month period for any purpose they choose, not necessarily for a mortgage.

"But because they've publicly notified people that it is for a house, this becomes a strong incentive to get with the program," says Ms. Boles.

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