Why more single women are now first-time home buyers

Single women now make up 23 percent of first-time home buyers, according to the National Associaton of Realtors.

Mark Humphrey/File/AP
This June 4, 2015, photo shows a sign indicating a site has been sold in a new home development in Nashville, Tenn. According to the National Association of Realtors 2014 Profile of Home Buyers and Sellers single women are buying homes at nearly twice the frequency as single men in the economy.

In today's recovering real estate environment, an emerging group of home buyers is carving out a prominent place in the market.

According to the National Association of Realtors (NAR) 2014 Profile of Home Buyers and Sellers, single women are buying homes at nearly twice the frequency as single men.

The report says that single women now constitute 23 percent of first-time buyers and 16 percent of repeat buyers. Single men, on the other hand, comprise 15 percent of first-timers and 8 percent of repeat customers. That's virtually unchanged from last year.

The trend – which the association says originated in the late 1990s – was urged along by legislation like the Fair Housing Act of 1968 and the Equal Credit Opportunity Act of 1974, which made the lending and buying process legally equitable across gender and race.

Prior to the legislation’s passage, few women could be approved for a mortgage or bank loan without being co-signed by a husband or other male family member.

"Once upon a time, you’d market a home only to a family," Steve Melman, director of economic services for the National Association of Home Builders told Dame Magazine. "Only the husband’s income even counted."

Now, about one in five homeowners are single females, which makes them the second-largest home buying demographic after married couples.

While there is little consensus about why single men haven’t caught up in home-buying rates, there are a variety of statistical factors behind the number of single women entering the real estate market.

Demographic changes are driving a large part of the trend, with an increasing number of women acting as the primary breadwinners for unmarried households, according to a 2013 Pew Research Center study. In most metro areas, single women with no children in their 20s outearned their male peers.

Additionally, women home buyers may simply be a more secure investment for lenders.

Experian, a business services company, found that men have a 7 percent higher incidence of late mortgage payments and 4.3 percent more debt than women.

Jessica Lautz, director of survey research for the NAR, pointed to surveys that demonstrate that women place a higher priority on home ownership and have a willingness to give up more in order to attain that goal.

"We asked did they make any sacrifices like cutting spending on entertainment, on luxury items they don't necessarily need, on clothing, even getting a second job," she told NPR. "And consistently, single female buyers are making those sacrifices more than other buyers."

Karen Krupsaw, vice president of real estate operations at Redfin, a real estate company, said women home buyers take into account more than location when looking at a possible purchase.

"[Single women] are a very discriminating buyer," Ms. Krupsaw told the New York Daily News. "I don't think they're unrealistic. They can see beyond the way [a property] may show as well as how they can fix it up and how it can be a dream home."

Increasingly, single women are also turning to property ownership as a secondary income source.

Julia Kushnir said she bought a multifamily house in Yonkers, N.Y. because she said wanted an income-producing investment. While she now lives with her husband and daughter in a different home, she pointed to her original purchase as a part of the reason she was able buy her current home.  

“I would definitely encourage everyone to consider multifamily homes as a way to afford a home,” she told The Journal News.

The larger picture of the real estate market continues somewhat bleak as the economy continues to shake off the lingering effects of the recession.

For first-time home buyers especially, difficulties receiving favorable loans remain a barrier to entering the market, Schuyler Velasco reported in The Christian Science Monitor.

Erika Klein told The Journal News the biggest challenge of solo home ownership was making the initial down payment. She added that she's happy she persevered and rolled the dice on the market.

"I figured I'd do the work myself and eventually sell it – or keep it, whatever I wanted to do – but I never felt that any of that depended on a man," she said.

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