The Rise of the Single Female Homeowner
Many women aren't waiting for a man or a marriage before they buy a home nowadays.
Eighteen percent of homebuyers in 2017 were single women, according to the National Association of Realtors.(Getty Images)
Single women may not have as much buying power as single men, but they aren't letting that stop them from achieving homeownership. While a 2018 Zillow study indicates single women can only afford to purchase 39 percent of U.S. homes on the market, they are buying them at a rate that far exceeds that of single men, who are able to purchase more than half of the homes currently for sale.
Eighteen percent of homebuyers in 2017 were single women, according to the National Association of Realtors. Meanwhile, only 7 percent of single men bought a home last year. The association notes the percentage of homebuyers who are single women has risen for the last three years and is up from 11 percent in 1981.
As for why women are buying homes in greater numbers, professionals in the real estate and finance industries point to delayed marriages, higher incomes and personal satisfaction as main catalysts.
[Read: The Guide to Buying a Home.]
Reasons single women buy homes. Shant Banosian, a branch manager with Guaranteed Rate in Waltham, Massachusetts, and one of the company's top loan officers, says his experience mimics that of the NAR findings. "My second-biggest class of homebuyers is single women," he says, adding that they account for about 20 percent of his buyers. Banosian says he has a significant share of women buyers who earn six-digit incomes and find it makes more sense financially to buy a home that will gain value rather than rent.
However, it isn't only working women who want to buy a house. "At least once each month, one of our 60-something, single female clients schedules a meeting with us to discuss the best way for them to buy a home," says Drew Kellerman, founder of Phase 2 Wealth Advisors in Gig Harbor, Washington. "In most cases, these successful ladies are retired," he explains. Many times, the single women are looking to downsize after retirement, the death of a spouse or a divorce.
Maria Daou, an agent with Warburg Realty in New York City, notes parenthood is what spurs some women to buy a home on their own. "More women are choosing to remain single and have a child or children on their own and want to own a home to raise their kids in," she says. The Pew Research Center found 53 percent of unmarried parents in 2017 were solo moms.
[Read: The Guide for First-Time Homebuyers.]
Obstacles to overcome. Despite making up a sizable portion of the buying market, single women don't necessarily have a simple path to homeownership. "I think there is still a stigma attached to being a single woman and buying a home, especially when it comes to a New York City co-op board," Daou says. These boards have the power to approve or deny sales at co-op properties in the city. "They might think that a woman or a single mom will have trouble covering the maintenance and mortgage while raising a child alone and keeping a career going."
Saving up for a down payment can also be challenging for a single woman. Zillow estimates it will take a single person 11 years to save up for a 20 percent down payment on a typical U.S. home. In an expensive housing market like San Francisco, it could be decades before a single woman has saved enough to make a purchase.
Still, those in the industry have an optimistic outlook. "Your average single woman is making more money than they did in the past," Banosian says. As incomes increase, it could be only natural for unattached females to gravitate toward property purchases. "It's empowering to be a homeowner," he notes.
Community is important. While both men and women may be looking for similar things in terms of space, value and location, single females may place a greater emphasis on safety and the surrounding community. For instance, Banosian remembers one single female client who didn't want to be on the ground floor of a building because of safety concerns.
"They also want a solid promise of security in their new spaces," says Carly Frieling, a financial advisor with Northwestern Mutual. She notes women often show a preference for condominiums rather than single-family homes. Condos are not only lower maintenance, but they are found in community settings, which single homeowners might find appealing for safety reasons.
Daou, a single mother herself, says women might seek out places where groceries, schools and parks are all in close proximity. "By being in an area where everything is close by and there is a tight community, single moms can rely on neighbors as well," she says.
Financial considerations for single women. Without a partner's income to supplement their own, single women need to ensure they don't overextend themselves financially. "Budgeting for a house is a lot different than budgeting for rent," Frieling says "With owning a house comes the property taxes, maintenance [and] potential renovating expenses, as well as the insurance."
Women must also consider the right way to finance a purchase. In particular, retired women may have multiple sources of money, such as brokerage accounts, retirement funds and pensions, from which to pay for a home. While they may have enough in investments to pay cash, Kellerman cautions against liquidating too many assets to buy a home. Meanwhile, a large mortgage payment could cause cash flow issues that impede someone's quality of life. "Often, we'll arrive at a balanced recommendation that doesn't tie up too much of their wealth in their home while keeping their mortgage payment small and manageable," Kellerman says.
Despite the challenges, many single women are finding ways to make homeownership a reality. If current trends continue, it won't be all that unusual to find a new neighbor is a woman who has made the purchase alone.