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The Real Deal Miami

The growing gender gap that gets little notice: home buying

By Kenneth Harney | May 11, 2018 09:45AM

It’s the gender gap you don’t hear so much about: Single women are buying homes and condos at what may be more than twice the rate of single males, and the trend appears to be accelerating.

Consider:

— Single women accounted for 18 percent of all home purchases last year compared with just 7 percent by single males, according to survey data from the National Association of Realtors. This makes single women the second largest segment in the entire home-purchase marketplace, behind married couples.

— Citing data from the most recent U.S. Census Current Population Survey, which covered 60,000 households, Ralph McLaughlin, chief economist for consulting firm Veritas Urbis Economics LLC, found that the share of home purchases by single women in 2017 — including never-married individuals, widows and divorcees — hit 22.8 percent, the highest on record. The gap between single females and single men was not as dramatic as in the Realtor study, however.

— Home builders have picked up on the trend and increasingly are designing homes and subdivisions to appeal to women’s preferences, including singles. Pat McKee, president of McKee Homes, a builder active in four North Carolina markets, has found that in some of the company’s developments, significant percentages of the homes — upward of 50 percent in one case — were purchased by single women in their 30s, 40s and older, so this is not just a phenomenon limited to younger singles. Many of these buyers, he told me, “are tired of living in apartments and now feel confident enough to buy a new home.”

— Single female purchasers tend to be more likely to see buying a home as an investment, according to Jessica Lautz, director of demographic and behavioral insights for the National Association of Realtors. Single women pay slightly more on their purchase on average than single men — $185,000 compared with $175,000 — and are more likely to have children under 18 in their households.

— Rising rents appear to be a hotter button for single women than for men. In a recent tracking study conducted by research and publishing firm Builders Digital Experience, 23 percent of single women cited rising rents as a “trigger” motivation behind a home purchase, well above the 16 percent average for all recent buyers.

Colleen Fleming of Chicago illustrates some of the aspects of the single-female buyer trend. She’s an instructional design program manager for the American College of Surgeons and, working with a RE/MAX broker in the city, recently bought her first home — a two-bedroom, two-bath condo with parking space in an uptown neighborhood. The condo cost $307,000 — more than she had originally planned — but far below what comparable units would command in the hyper-expensive San Francisco Bay area, where she previously lived.

“I found it more feasible to buy” than expected, Fleming said in an interview. She “definitely looked at it in investment terms,” but most important of all, “I had gotten to the point where I wanted having a place that’s really mine, where I could make the changes I wanted. Now financially it was a possibility.”

Shoshana Godwin, who is single and works as a real estate agent for brokerage company Redfin in Seattle, bought a condo close to downtown — a two-bedroom, one-bath unit that cost her $285,000 two years ago. Comparable units in her building are now selling for $500,000 in Seattle’s crazy-hot market, confirming her impression that buying instead of renting would be a good investment. She says she encounters “lots of other” single women who are actively seeking the same: A place they can call their own that also will prove to be a productive use of their financial resources.

So what’s with the single guys out there? Why aren’t they doing what smart single women are doing? There appears to be less survey research available on that subject compared with women, but builder Pat McKee says that at least anecdotally from discussions he’s had, “planting roots just doesn’t seem to have the same priority” for single men as for single women.

Godwin, who works extensively with singles of both genders, notes that in markets like Seattle, where job transfers at high-tech companies are commonplace, single men appear to be “more concerned” than women about having to relocate. “They are a little more afraid” to make commitments in real estate but seem to be fine with living in a nice, well-located rental.