As the recent report, Buying For Themselves: An Analysis of Unmarried Female
Home Buyers by Rachel Bogardus Drew for the Joint Center for Housing Studies
at Harvard University points out, single female homebuyers as a group have several
characteristics that differentiate them from their unmarried male counterparts
and married couples. Among those that we mentioned earlier are that they are
older, have lower incomes, and a higher percentage of minorities in their ranks.
All of these are of interest to those who hope to market
homes, mortgages, and home improvement products to the fastest growing
segment of the home buying market. But what might be most interesting about
single female home buyers is that they buy different kinds of houses, approach
the process in distinct ways, and even finance them differently than other buyers.
As we mentioned in the second
of this series, women are more likely to buy condos or to purchase
two bedroom units than other groups and they spend less. They are also more
likely to buy newer homes yet still own a greater proportion of substandard
housing than single males or married couples.
The most surprising difference that female homebuyers demonstrated was that
fewer of them financed their homes than any other group. 28
percent of the unmarried women studied purchased their homes outright. This
is less startling, however, when that information is combined with other statistics
in the survey. First, of course, they are more likely to buy smaller and less
expensive homes. Still it takes a chunk of cash to purchase even the most humble
home without a mortgage. But only 41 percent of the females were first-time
home buyers compared to 48 percent of single men. Thus, many probably had equity
from earlier homes and, since nearly two-thirds reported being previously married,
divorce settlements, life insurance, and other forms of household wealth no
doubt enabled many cash purchases. Among the oldest home buyers, lingering memories
(even if second-hand) of the depression still discourage indebtedness. Indeed,
70 percent of senior women bought without mortgage financing and of those that
do finance, the majority put down more than half the purchase price.
The reasons that women purchase homes and where and what they buy also differ
slightly from other groups. Ms. Drew quotes the 2004 National Association of
Realtors' survey referenced earlier that revealed that half of unmarried
women bought houses out of a desire to own a home of their own. 15 percent cited
the need for more space and 9 percent indicated a desire to downsize. 13 percent
bought for reasons of location, either to be closer to family, job, or friends
or because of a job mandated relocation. These reasons were similar to those
given by unmarried men but married couples were more likely to buy for more
space or a change in location. There was no mention of investment as a reason
43 percent of unmarried women chose their location based on proximity
to family and friends (compared to 33 and 37 percent for the other
groups) but placed a lower value on being close to work or school. Only 37 percent
cited such proximity as a reason vs. 40 and 48 percent for the other groups.
"They are also more likely to compromise on the size and cost of their home
in order to get the attributes most important to them, and less likely to compromise
on location or neighborhood quality."
Different groups of home buyers tend to approach the process in different ways.
Drew again uses data from the 2004 NAR survey which included a fourth group,
unmarried couples, in the mix. Single women were, by a large margin, less
likely to use the Internet in their search for a home. Slightly more
than 71 percent cited the Internet as a resource compared to nearly 74 percent
of unmarried males, 78 percent plus of married couples, and 79 percent of unmarried
couples. All four groups were close in their choice to use a real estate
agent but 78 percent of single females and unmarried couples opted
for professional help while the other two groups were about 1.5 percentage points
below this. The unmarried women, however, indicated a greater appreciation of
their agents. 97 percent of single females ranked the value and knowledge and
communications skills of their agents compared to 91.7 percent of single males
and 93.8 percent of married couples. Women are also very loyal to the professionals
who they feel helped them purchase and are more likely to recommend them to
friends and relatives.
A final note about female homebuyers; they are much less likely than their
compatriots to take on large scale remodeling projects. The
study author admits that this data is a little squishy because of the time span
of the underlying survey. However, married couples who composed 63 percent of
the recent buyers in the study accounted for 75 percent of the remodeling dollars
spent by all respondents with over $58.2 million spent in the 2002-2003 time
frame. Unmarried men accounted for $10 million while unmarried women spent a
total of $9.3 million or an average of just under $5,000 per household with
a remodeling project during this period. Where women did remodel, they tended
to favor less expensive projects with 56 percent spending less than $25,000
and only 11 percent spending more than $10,000 compared to 47 and 16 percent
respectively for married couples.
Resourceful real estate agents and mortgage brokers as well as builders will
doubtless see a lot of possibilities for developing a marketing niche
among single women home buyers. We have covered most of the high points, but
the entire study can be accessed at www.jchs.harvard.edu.