The New York Times
Published: August 1, 2013
The number of single people buying homes has dipped in the last few years, but single women remain better represented among buyers than single men. Today they are buying at roughly twice the rate.
According to the National Association of Realtors, single women accounted for 16 percent of home buyers last year, lower than their long-term average of 20 percent. Yet they were still well ahead of single men, who accounted for only 9 percent.
Women began to outpace men in home-buying in the late 1990s, and although no one is really sure why men haven’t caught up, “it may be as simple as most guys don’t get serious about housing until they meet the right woman,” said Walter Molony, a spokesman for the association.
Demographic changes are helping to fuel the trend. More women than ever are the primary earners in their households, according to a recent Pew Research Center study.
In a record 40 percent of American households with children— nearly four times the level in 1960 — women are the breadwinners. And about two-thirds of these breadwinners are single.
“It really is a market that wasn’t there a couple of decades ago,” said Hale Walker, a founder of Michigan Mutual, a mortgage lender in Port Huron, Mich.
In Mr. Walker’s experience, single women are more proactive these days in planning for their financial future, and they often approach a home purchase as a smart addition to their portfolio. He categorizes them with engineers and schoolteachers as the type of client who tends to be focused and organized.
“They’re coming in with a good handle on what they’re trying to accomplish,” he said.
But then again, many single women who have never owned a home are intimidated by the process, said Jeanie Douthitt, an agent with Private Label Realty in the Dallas area.
She tries to ease these fears with a step-by-step program she created called Smart Women Buy Homes. The idea is to educate women new to the market, a group that includes single moms, divorcees, recent college graduates and older professionals who have never been married.
“Qualifying for a mortgage — that is probably the scariest part for single women,” Ms. Douthitt said. “Even if they’ve been married before and bought a home, they often aren’t knowledgeable about the process. They were just signing papers.”
Many are under the impression that they cannot possibly qualify for a loan unless they save enough cash for a 20 percent down payment, which is a particularly daunting prospect for women who have children to support. Instead, Ms. Douthitt said, “we put a lot of women into an F.H.A. loan,” which requires as little as 3.5 percent down.
Cara Hawkins, a production manager at Ameripro Funding who works closely with Ms. Douthitt, has found that single women are more interested than single men in fully understanding the process. For that reason, “they are more apt to reach out for help,” she said, “and if they have a good advocate on their side, they will move faster than men.”
In a 2006 study, the Joint Center for Housing Studies at Harvard calculated the value of home purchases by single women over a three-year period at $550 billion. Ms. Douthitt believes that market would swell considerably if more real estate professionals followed her lead.
“What most people don’t understand is that one out of every five homes being sold are being bought by single women,” Ms. Douthitt said.
“If more people were out there helping single women, that 20 percent would double, I promise you.”