While married couples still dominate the pool of homebuyers, single women buyers are making a splash as the second largest share of buyers in the U.S. market.
Prior to 1974, when the Equal Opportunity to Credit Act passed, single, widowed or divorced women needed a man to cosign a mortgage application, no matter how much income they earned. If a single woman earned $30,000 in 1973, the median income that year for females, a lender could discount the value of those wages when determining how much she could borrow, up to as much as 50 percent.
Times have changed. Single women homebuyers represented 18 percent of all buyers in 2017, according to the 2018 Home Buyer and Generational Trends report by the National Association of Realtors. Single men were just seven percent of all buyers. The share of single women buyers was just 9.1 percent in 1981, according to research by Veritas Urbis Economics.
Single women buyers, a diverse group that includes single mothers and women who are single by choice, divorced or widowed, have somewhat different priorities than single male buyers and couples.
“Basic home features like the size and the number of bedrooms are secondary to women buyers,” says Amy Rino, division president of Taylor Morrison Houston and Darling Homes Houston. “They’re more focused on finding match with a community that has the features they want first and then finding a house that meets their needs.”
Social life, security and affordability
Single women, regardless of their age, are more focused on price and affordability than single men, according to a fall 2017 survey by John Burns Real Estate Consulting of 23,000 people buyers and potential buyers of new homes.
“Single women in the survey tend to have lower incomes and lower net worth than the men in the survey, so they’re naturally careful with their budget,” says John Burns, CEO of John Burns Real Estate Consulting.
One of the most dramatic gender gaps among single buyers is over organized social activities. Fifty-six percent of women said that a community with plenty of social activities and programs was a priority for them, compared to just 32 percent of men, says Mikaela Sharp, a consultant with John Burns Real Estate Consulting.
“We see consistent demand among women, particularly those looking at active adult developments, for communities where they can make friends easily and socialize,” says Tim Gehman, vice president of creative services for Toll Brothers.
In addition to a swimming pool and fitness center, Rino says single women, particularly in active adult communities, want to live in a resort-like atmosphere with spa options and numerous classes and activities such as wine tastings and cooking classes where they can meet their neighbors. Single mothers, she says, want family activities within the community that they can enjoy with their kids.
“Single women like the idea of buying in a new community at the same time as their peers because they want to grow a community with their friends,” says Rino.
Security, while important to all demographic groups, is a high priority for single women, says Gehman.
“Single mothers in particular want things like keyless front door locks and security cameras so they know their kids are okay if they get home from school first,” says Gehman.
One reason single women are more likely to buy a home in a master-planned community is for the extra sense of security provided by having close neighbors. Some of those communities include a gated entrance or other security features.
Single women prioritize convenience
Single women home buyers place a higher priority on what Gehman calls “frictionless living” particularly if they have children.
“They like everything to be easier if possible because they’re doing it all alone,” says Gehman. “Single mothers, in particular, are more likely to want a home office so they have a place to work at home if their child is sick.”
Women who are working, regardless of whether they have children, want convenience to their employment and to activities, says Rino, which is one reason communities with onsite amenities are particularly popular with single women.
“Women with children are particularly focused on school quality when they buy, followed by security and having family nearby,” says Rino.
Another piece of “frictionless living” is home maintenance.
New homes naturally require less maintenance compared to an older home, which appeals to single women, says Rino.
“Single women tend to buy more attached homes than men because of maintenance issues and they also like communities with a homeowner’s association or within an active adult community that include lawn care and snow shoveling,” says Gehman.
Single women show a greater preference than single men for both age-restricted communities and for multigenerational living, according to Burns’ research. When asked about future housing plans, 22 percent of women over 45 said they preferred an age-restricted community compared to 16 percent of men over 45.
“Thirty-six percent of younger women said they planned to bring in an older parent and were looking for a house that would accommodate multiple generations, compared to 27 percent of single men,” says Sharp. “Among women over 45, 23 percent said they planned to have space for an adult child to live with them, compared to just 14 percent of men in that age group.”
Single women are more likely to be interested in a multigenerational household because they may be able to get help with child care, says Gehman. Even if they don’t have children, they’re likely to find it easier to care for an aging parent in their own home, he says.
In addition to family members, single women are more likely to have and prioritize a pet, which impacts their housing choices. Single women are 10 percent more likely to have a pet than single men, according to Burns’ research. They’re also 10 percent more likely to “treat their pet like royalty” than single men. Dog parks, dog washing stations, dog spas and plenty of walking trails are a high priority for single women with dogs and pet-friendly communities are essential to all pet owners.
Design features prized by single women
Single women tend to focus on flexibility for their floor plans, says Rino, in recognition that they want to buy a home that will meet their needs during different life phases. A home office that can function as a craft area, a formal dining room or a guest bedroom at different times is popular with female buyers.
“Open floor plans and space to entertain friends and family are also important because many single women want to have their social life take place at home and in their community,” says Rino.
Single women buyers have high expectations and are among the best-prepared buyers when they arrive at the design studio, says Lisa McClelland, vice president of design studios for Toll Brothers.
“They tend to focus on trends around cleanliness and convenience, so, for example, they’re interested in touchless faucets,” she says. “They like things to be stylish yet easy to care for, so they’re choosing quartz counters with waterfall edges on the islands and wood-like tile plank flooring instead of real wood.”
While single women often choose properties with a smaller yard so there’s less maintenance, they still want an outdoor living space to enjoy, says McClelland. For example, they’ll choose tile flooring that works indoors and outdoors so they can extend their living space with a fashionable look. This demographic group is also more likely to choose contemporary or transitional look for their home, she says.
“Because single mothers have less opportunities to go out, they tend to be willing to spend a little more money on a luxury indulgence at home such as a spa-like master bathroom with a freestanding tub or a large shower,” says McClelland.
In general, says Burns, women of all ages are more likely to give up square footage for higher quality. In particular, they’re much more willing to take a smaller lot in order to afford a higher-quality house, he says.
Now that more women have college degrees (28 percent, according to Veritas Urbis Economics) and more women are in the workforce than in earlier decades, it’s a natural progression for them to be among the fastest-growing group of homebuyers, too.