Her goal growing up was to own a home by the age of 30. One year before her deadline, she purchased a foreclosed condo in the Boston area.
Smialek, a freelance writer, faced some resistance when shopping for a new property. She wanted a project and was willing to renovate the property by herself. Her male realtor was skeptical, but it did not sway her.
“It honestly made me more determined,” Smialek said. “Just because I am a woman, or single, it doesn’t mean I shouldn’t do those things.”
Smialek is part of a population of single female homeowners that are pursuing large property purchases without a male or female partner.
Since the mid-1990s, single women purchased homes at double the rate of single men, according to a report by the National Association of Realtors (NAR). The single female buyer now represents 18 percent of the real estate market in comparison to 10 percent for their male counterparts.
Due to her interest in personal finance, Smialek said she was not surprised by the NAR report.
“While men might have a leg up on investing in the stock market, women gravitate towards property,” she said.
April Masini, relationship expert and writer of advice column “Ask April” agrees that women put their money in large purchases.
“Single women are staying single longer, and while they may delay marriage, they aren’t delaying retail therapy including home buying,” she said.
The increase in single female homeowners can be attributed partly to an emotional attachment. According to Redfin’s Q2 2013 Homebuyer Survey, women look for a home they love whereas men look for a good value. Forty-six percent of single female buyers reported that they rely on their emotions to evaluate a home whereas 56 percent think more about value and cost. Conversely, 76 percent of men are concerned primarily with a home’s value.
Shift in Laws and Customs
The financial freedom for women that is almost overlooked in today’s economy was not guaranteed 50 years ago.
Before the Fair Housing Act of 1968 was passed, female consumers were usually barred from making large financial decisions. Women were routinely turned away from credit card applications, mortgage loans, and other consumer credit without a husband or father’s signature.
Beyond laws, customs have changed significantly, according to Brett West, a licensed realtor in the DC Metro Area.
“Where the tradition of being a young professional, finding your mate and settling down in a new home together was once commonplace, today’s young professional female is less likely to wait,” he said.
Nowadays, women are waiting longer to get married, attending colleges at an increasing rate, and reducing the wage gap.
These overall upswings are also fueled by smaller but still impactful shifts. A constant increase in online communication has allowed the housing industry to evolve. Masini said that due to Skype and an acceptance of online dating, “dating to marry, buy a home and start a family [is] not the only option any more, and while it is an option for many, it’s being delayed.”
She continued stating that some men move back into their parents homes, either after college or after a failed relationship, which stagnates their purchasing power.
Financial and Emotional Outcome of the Trend
The significant impact that single female homeowners have made on the real estate industry is undeniable. According to experts, the trend is an outcome of positive employment conditions.
Karen Krupsaw, vice president of real estate operations for Redfin, said the trend follows economic advancement and the careers offered to women.
“Single women tend to be successful, busy professionals,” she explained stating that women no longer feel the need to be married to make large purchases. “The knowledge is there. The finances are in place. There is no reason to delay.”
Buying a home is typically the largest financial commitment for consumers. But if done properly, it can save owners a significant amount of money over the long-term. In many cities including Birmingham, Ala. and Cleveland, Ohio, owning a home is a smart economic purchase.
West said that paying rent each month only “puts wealth into the pockets of property owners.”
But just because the trend is a positive sign for women’s employment, it does not stop some of the lingering emotions with moving into a home alone.
Small business owner Denise Olibeira remembers the period when she first purchased her condo and her overwhelming desire to proceed with a husband.
“I thought, this is the kind of decision I wanted to be making as a unit,” she said. “I was a single woman buying real estate but I didn’t want to be. It felt wrong somehow.”
“I remember my dad saying, ‘You have to live in the reality you are in right now,’” she said.
Despite the concern about venturing out on her own, Olibeira was able to make a sound investment on her first of three purchases.
When Olibeira bought a condo in Cambridge, Mass., she was working as an associate at a law firm in Boston. Her brother was leaving their rental property and it was time for her to move on. The current low interest rates, coupled with her high income, were enough to steer her towards buying her first place. Her decision was based dually out of necessity and an interest in building her equity.
“I was trying to be really smart and intentional about my money,” Olibeira said. “I thought that buying made more sense than renting.”
After living in the condo for three years, and renting it out for one year afterwards, she sold it for an undisclosed, but significant profit.
This new bout of confidence transferred to her next purchase, but with poor results.
After accepting a temporary job in Madison, Wis., she purchased a home there. When she moved away later on, she lost all of the money that she made in the sale of her Cambridge home.
“I regret buying that. I felt so confident as a homeowner,” Olibeira said, attributing the loss to a reluctance to step back into the rental market. “Once you are a homeowner it’s really hard to go back to renting because you feel like you are throwing your money away.”
Despite her investment loss, with the help of her parents and their financial support, she now lives in a purchased apartment in Manhattan, her third and most recent real estate purchase.
The temperamental nature of real estate can be experienced by most buyers.
Buyer’s experiences are shared then interpreted for the market by Stephanie Sims. As the managing editor of Chicago Agent Magazine, Sims used her insider knowledge from her job when she decided to purchase a top-floor condo near her office.
“I knew mortgage rates were at their lowest point and home prices had bottomed and had nowhere to go but up in about a year’s time,” she said.
Sims believes that if her job didn’t focus on the real estate market, she wouldn’t have paid attention to the small fluctuations.
Although she noticed some differences in male versus female buyers, including two single male friends that purchased a condo without considering what it would take to resell the property, the hurdles facing both men and women are similar. And so are the benefits.
“If anyone knows what they want, what they can afford and thinks about how the place will sell down the line, they’ll make smart purchases,” Sims said.