It may seem hard to believe that in the early 1970s, a single woman wasn't allowed to get a mortgage in her own name. Fast-forward to today, where nearly 1 in 5 new homebuyers is a woman purchasing on her own, and you can see how much times have changed.
Learn more about the trend of buying a house as a single woman, along with tips on how to navigate the process solo.
- Nearly 20% of new homebuyers are single women, compared to 9% who are single men.
- Many single-women buyers are looking for stability and to provide a home for children and elderly family members.
- Single-women homebuyers often have to overcome the gender pay gap on the road to homeownership.
- Gender-based discrimination is not common in homebuying (and it’s illegal), although single-women homebuyers may still face subtler types of sexism during the process.
What’s Motivating Single Women Homebuyers?
“Women have decided ‘I don’t have to be married to have a stable place to call my own’ and have the dream of home ownership come true,” said Dr. Jessica Lautz, vice president of demographics and behavioral insights at the National Association of Realtors, in a phone call with The Balance. And after a brief decline in the mid 2010s, she said, the percentage of single women homebuyers is on the rise again.
The top reason why? Lautz said it’s most likely that women are seeking the stability of fixed monthly payments. “They know what their mortgage will be for the next 30 years as opposed to knowing that their rent can increase anytime,” said Lautz.
That was the key motivator for Alissa Jean Schafer, a single mom living in South Florida. “With only one income to support the household, I realized that if I was going to continue to be able to afford to live here in a decent neighborhood with good public schools for my daughter, getting a fixed mortgage was going to be the only way I could do it with any peace of mind and stability,” Schafer told The Balance via email.
Consider that the median monthly rent in the U.S. went over $2,000 for the first time in May 2022, according to Redfin. Counter that with The Balance’s analysis of the cost of homeownership, which found an average monthly cost of $1,634, and you can see why it can make more financial sense to buy than to rent—if that option is available to you.
“I knew that locking in a mortgage would at least remove us from the rent rollercoaster and give me a bit of my power back when it comes to monthly expenses—something that was and is important to my ability to plan and provide for my daughter,” said Schafer.
Digging Into the Trend of Single Women Homebuyers
In general, fewer people are getting married or cohabitating. Approximately 4 in 10 adults ages 25 to 54 (38%) were unpartnered, according to a Pew Research Center analysis of Census data. But single men aren’t jumping on the solo homebuying trend nearly as frequently as women are; single men represent 9% of homebuyers compared to 19% of single women.
Lautz said the likely underlying factor is that women are more likely to be caregivers to children under age 18 and also to elderly parents. “Those with additional dependents in tow may need a more stable place to live,” Lautz explained. NAR data shows that 20% of single women buyers have children under the age of 18, while 12% purchased a multigenerational home to care for aging parents or to accommodate children over the age of 18.
Tips for Buying a House as a Single Woman
If you’re a single woman in the market for a home, you’re in good company. “My single female buyers come to me with a good sense of what they want, much more educated on where they want to live, and even what they can afford even before they reach out to me,” said Sara Linton, a Chicago-based broker at Baird & Warner, in a phone call with The Balance.
That said, there are a few things to keep in mind as you decide if now is the right time to buy a home.
Do Your Research
Whether you’re buying a house as a single woman or as part of a couple, you’ll have to meet homebuyer qualifications. These include showing that your debt-to-income ratio meets lender standards, and that you have stable income as well as ample cash reserves. Once you are confident that you can meet mortgage requirements, you’ll need to work the numbers to figure out how much home you can afford. Getting a mortgage preapproval letter is also a good starting point when you’re ready to start home shopping.
Know Your Rights
Gone are the days when lenders, sellers, or other industry pros could get away with holding women to a higher standard than men—or discriminate against them in any way. The Fair Housing Act makes it “illegal to discriminate in the sale or rental of housing, including against individuals seeking a mortgage or housing assistance, or in other housing-related activities… because of race, color, national origin, religion, sex (including gender identity and sexual orientation), familial status, and disability.”
If you feel you are being treated unfairly or differently because of your single-woman status, you can file a complaint with HUD’s Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity office.
Understand You May Have Less Financial Wiggle Room
“Housing affordability has been difficult for homebuyers for the last couple of years, and even more so for any single homebuyer, knowing you do have to have money in reserve and a fall-back plan in case of a job change, relying only on yourself,” said Lautz.
Women in particular are starting out at a disadvantage considering that even in 2022, the gender pay gap is $0.82 for every $1 that men make. Lautz confirmed that NAR data shows that women are purchasing with lower household incomes and therefore need to save for a longer period of time, make more financial sacrifices, and cut back in other areas of their lives.
But buyers like Schafer say the sacrifices are worth it. “The steps I took to get here—living below my means, saving every penny I could, getting my credit back on track—are things I need to continue doing moving forward, and I’ll teach my daughter the same,” said Schafer.
Exercise Your Independence
On the positive side, being an independent buyer can actually give you more flexibility since you don’t have to make compromises with a partner, said Lautz.
Schafer said that was true for her. “The freedom to unapologetically make your own choices is honestly one of the best parts about being single in just about any context, and, for me, it definitely carried over to picking a home,” she said.
Rely on Your Professionals
“Sometimes you need to speak with professionals, and I’ve found [single women buyers] show some hesitancy with that,” said Linton. “It’s OK to trust others in the process—there’s a team trying to help you. And many don’t realize there are so many resources available to them that they don’t have to pay for.”
Be Prepared To Push Back Against Subtle Sexism
“The first lender I worked with kinda pushed the ‘are you sure there’s nobody else who can co-sign?’ thing, and at the advice of my amazing Realtor, I switched to a different lender, who understood what I was bringing to the table,” said Schaffer. “I was also mentally prepared to walk away, or try again after saving up some more of my own cash if things didn’t pan out.”
Linton said that overall, she’s happy to report that she hasn’t seen any flat-out discrimation toward the single-women homebuyers she’s worked with, but she has witnessed a little bit of disrespect. For example, she said she’s witnessed tradespeople who’ve come to look at an issue that came up during the inspection—and ask for a male to speak with about it.
Find the Right Team To Work With
Linton recommended asking your friends and family for referrals. But if you don’t know anyone who has bought in the area you’re looking, go to open houses and meet people that way. When you do meet a potential agent, interview them. “It’s a two-way street. You have to like them and be OK with their communication style. If they’re not delivering, fire them,” said Linton.
As a single woman, you might also feel more comfortable working with other women. For example, Linton herself is a single-female homeowner, so she understands the process on a personal level. “I also made a point to research female attorneys and female lenders—it was important for me as a female broker to want to find females who were great resources,” Linton said.
Homeownership Is a Stake in the Future
It’s been a long-held belief that homeownership is a pathway toward building wealth. That’s especially true as rent prices keep rising, making it challenging for people to save money and accumulate wealth that they can build on and pass on.
The numbers don’t lie: The median net worth of homeowners in 2019 was $255,000 compared to $6,500 for renters, according to research by the Federal Reserve. That’s because with every mortgage payment you make, you’re building equity.
“The world is crazy right now, especially for women. Owning property is a very real way for us to literally stake our claim and invest in our future,” said Schafer. “My first home may not be the dream spot that I had once imagined living in with a partner, but it’s solidly within my budget, it’s comfortable, and it’s as safe and secure as I can make it for me and my daughter.”
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