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Homebuying: Single women winning this battle of the sexes

By   |  Posted in First-Time Homebuyers

On a recent sale, Hartford-area real estate agent Maria Hagan of Prudential Connecticut Realty was dealing with a single-female client who had just sold her condominium and was looking to buy another. The client had a hard time finding anything she liked, until one day she drove past a single-family home on the way to visit her brother.

The property was a two-bedroom, 1,200 square foot ranch. On her first visit to the home, Hagan's client decided to buy it. "The client looked back on why she sold her condo," Hagan explains, "and one of the reasons was lack of privacy." The single-family home afforded the client that sense of non-intrusion she was seeking.

Besides increased privacy, there were other influential reasons the home appealed to Hagan's single, female client. First, it was closer to her brother's home, and the home had a basement where her niece and nephew could play when they came to be babysat. Also, the home's second bedroom could be used as an office. Without plans to start a family of her own anytime soon, the client felt the home would serve her well for a long time.

Since the 1990s, single women have purchased homes at about double the rate of single men, reports Walter Molony, a spokesman for the National Association of Realtors (NAR). According to the NAR's 2010 data, about 20 percent of homebuyers were single women compared with just 12 percent single men.

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Until the early 1980s, single women were at a distinct disadvantage in the marketplace due to lack of credit, Molony notes. "But once that improved you saw single women get up to their natural marketplace share, which is roughly one out of five buyers."

Asked why more single woman buy homes than single men, Molony guesses two, non-economic reasons: Women like to "nest," or create their own living space, while men often don't get serious about real estate "until they meet the right woman."

To that point, several male first-time homebuyers we spoke with explained that their homebuying decisions weren't made in earnest until they were either married or engaged.

For Hagan, most of her single-female clients prefer condominiums or townhomes, which actually turns out to be an anomaly: The NAR's data shows that 62 percent of single women bought single-family residences, compared with 15 percent for townhomes and 15 percent for condominiums.

According to a 2006 study by Harvard University's Joint Center for Housing Studies, though married couples accounted for the majority of homebuyers, their share in the marketplace had been shrinking for the past 50 years. The Harvard study cited numerous reasons for this diminishing trend, including:

  • More unmarried women in the population than in the past;
  • The average age when a woman first marries increased as more women sought education and career before committing to a relationship; and
  • Fewer young-adult women chose to live with parents and instead moved out on their own.

According to the NAR, the most stated reason a single woman buys a home is simply a "desire to own." As was the case with Hagan's client, living closer to friends and family was one of the main reasons she chose to buy. Yet equally important to a single, female homebuyer's decision is the home's affordability, a recent change in family life and, homebuying incentives like the homebuyer tax credit.

Those homebuyers who do go the condominium route have their own important reasons. Samantha Thomas (whose name has been changed for this article), a 29-year-old hair stylist, recently bought a condominium in a Newport Beach, Calif., mid-rise. "I chose the condominium because I am busy and there are people here who do the upkeep, landscaping, pool, etc., and since I don't have children this was simpler," she explains.

The location and security were also important issues. "I'm five miles from work, five miles from the beach and my family is close by," she adds. Since the condominium has a front desk person 24 hours a day, seven days a week, no one can just come into the building. All packages are left at the front desk and the parking garage is secure as well, Samantha says.

Even though the housing market in Orange County has been fairly beaten up recently, Thomas felt the condo was a good investment because of "location, upkeep and quality."

The median age and household income of the single-woman homebuyer, according to NAR, was 41 and $50,600, respectively. The homes purchased were about 1,450 square feet on average.

Hagan says she observes more younger, single-women clients rather than older female clients. As noted, this younger group generally opts for a community property, townhome or condominium, which is not always easy to find in the Hartford area. The problem isn't that there aren't a lot of these types of structures in the area, but the affordable ones, in the high $100,000s to low $200,000s range, were constructed in the mid-1970s when the metro area experienced its last condo-building boom.

"A of lot times these condo units aren't updated," says Hagan. Single women prefer either an updated condominium or single-family home with a newly-remodeled kitchen and bathroom, she says.

This is where Hagan finds the real difference between single female and male homebuyers. "The single woman doesn't want to, or isn't in a position to, do the [upgrade] work," she says. "They don't want to change the cabinets or remodel the bathroom. On the other side, men will often choose a home because it is something they can work on as a project."

What about the older, single-female homebuying audience?

Hagan explains that she does get a fair number of older, single-women clients, and that they tend to buy into communities where the exterior work is taken care of by an association and the homes aren't attached. Many of these women are divorcees or widows and have come from single-family homes. Says Hagan, "They like their privacy and they often have the companionship of an animal, which is a problem at some condominiums."

Regardless of whether they go for the single home or the condo, though, women are taking their place in the market.

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