Michelle Petrocco of Federal Heights, Colo., was a typical modern bride.

She and her husband, Dean, had each been living on their own before they wed, and had all the housewares they needed - in duplicate.

So Ms. Petrocco took a path lenders hope will become more popular: She asked wedding guests to forget the toasters and Cuisinarts, forget the silverware patterns and crystal bowls - and instead make a contribution toward a mortgage down payment.

"What we really want," Ms. Petrocco said, "is to get into a house."

Bridal registry accounts are a new wrinkle in mortgage marketing. A company BankAmerica Corp. acquired last year has been offering them since 1992. Now, the Department of Housing and Urban Development, prodded by the same Colorado lender with which the Petroccos registered, has embraced the idea by relaxing its rules and recruiting other mortgage lenders to participate.

Lenders are eager to capture newlyweds' loyalty by establishing a relationship with them "at the beginning of their buying cycle," said Peter Lansing, president of Universal Lending Corp. in Denver.

And with more couples living together - or at least moving away from home - before to marriage, demographics appears to favor the programs.

To be sure, the idea of giving money for a mortgage as a weeding present may face an uphill battle.

The Petroccos registered with Universal, but they sent the announcement cards provided by the company only to family and some close friends. "We weren't sure how it would be perceived," said Ms. Petrocco. "You don't want people to think that you're just coming out and saying 'give me money.'"

What's more, there is nothing that binds the newlyweds to use the money for a mortgage. They can use the money to buy a car or take a vacation, or simply take their business elsewhere.

But lenders are marketing the loans aggressively. BankAmerica Mortgage even offers participants an incentive: $100 off closing costs if the couple finances a new home with the company.

And last May, Universal Lending received a waiver from a FHA rule that said borrowers could only use gifts for a down payment if they came from a family member who renounced any claim to the funds in writing.

The FHA went further. On Oct. 3, it launched a bridal registry program, recruiting more than 30 other mortgage lenders to participate.

The Housing Department is touting the program as the newest of several efforts on the part of the Clinton administration to raise the homeownership rate among young families.

Days before the initiative was announced, President Clinton signed the 1997 appropriations bill for the Veterans Administration and HUD which included an amendment allowing FHA to consider a loan from a parent as part of a down payment.

HUD spokeswoman Aylin Gonen explained the bridal registry initiative: "It's a government-backed insurance program and the down payment is lower than it would be if it were a conventional mortgage." Typical of FHA programs, the Bridal Registry initiative only requires 3% down.

The FHA program is especially attractive to first-time homebuyers who are just starting out, said Ms. Gonen, "because they find it affordable."

"A lot of people don't think owning a home is economically feasible, but this sort of program allows a bank to tell people, 'yes, it is feasible,'" said Ms. Gonen.

Recent entrants into the program, including NationsBanc Mortgage Corp. and Collateral Mortgage Ltd., said their programs were too new to show results yet, and no participants had completed the process.

One lender pointed out that it could take six or eight months for a couple to go from wedding plans to house hunting.

But for Ms. Petrocco, everything worked out well. Her guests were delighted that they could just mail a check, knowing they were contributing to something the couple really needed, she said.

And it appears to be working out well for Universal, too. When the newlyweds decide on a home, Ms. Petrocco said, they will probably finance it through Universal. "I enjoyed working with them," she said.

Another recent Colorado bride who took part in the program, Amber Miller, said many of her wedding guests "threw them away because they thought they looked like junk mail."

Mr. Lansing acknowledged that "some of the people feel that what we have is too commercial."

There's a very good chance, he said, that Universal will adopt a more elegant announcement card.

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