Column One:
Eye on Unmarried America

April 30,  2007  



Single women take large share of homebuyer market

By Thomas F. Coleman

Women are doing it own their own.  And in larger numbers than ever before.

I'm referring to home buying, of course.

According to the National Association of Realtors, 22 percent of home buyers in 2006 were single women.  That's up from 14 percent in 1995.

Single men bought only 9 percent of American homes and condos last year. 

While married couples still make the bulk of home purchases -- some 60 percent last year -- their market share has dropped from 70 percent 12 years ago.

A report by Fannie Mae, a corporation promoting home ownership, says that 17 million single women now own homes.  It predicts the number will rise to 30 million by 2010.

Why are so many unmarried women buying homes?

Some analysts see a change in social conditioning.  Most women no longer follow the  pattern of graduating from high school, getting married, buying a home, and having children. 

Buying a home often comes before marrying, partly because people are waiting longer to marry than ever before.  The median age of first marriage is now 25 for women and 27 for men.

Also, women are earning more than before, partly because so many are choosing college and careers as a priority in their twenties, putting marriage and children on the back burner until they are more financially stable.

Demographic expert Peter Francese says that women are 58 percent of U.S. college students and slightly more than half of managerial and professional workers. 

A study by the Joint Center for Housing Studies at Harvard University explains that single women prefer homes in the city to those in the suburbs and that most women are not fond of new construction. Most want smaller homes or more affordable condos -- residences which require less maintenance and give a feeling of greater security.

Single women place safety high on their list of priorities when it comes to buying a home or condo.  Other items on the list include privacy without isolation, energy efficiency, and aesthetically pleasing surroundings.

But why are single women outpacing single men as home buyers by a ratio of more than 2 to 1? 

Francese thinks that men and women generally have different priorities, whether its because of biology or social conditioning.

"One does not need a Ph.D. in demography to know that women are far more interested in a home, in a nest, than men are," he says.  Most single guys just want a place to live while women see homeownership as a desirable step on the path to financial security.

But realtors and mortgage lenders should not ignore single men as potential home buyers.

More than 750,000 single men bought homes in 2005. That's up 72 percent from a decade earlier.

Although single women dominate the numbers, a few home builders have made a strategic decision to target the single male market.  With the sales of new homes slowing down, they are considering specialty markets previously overlooked.

KB Home, which operates in North Carolina, is one of them.

At one of its new subdivisions, KB Home is marketing some town homes to men.  The builder has specifically created a "manly" look to attract single guys.

Buyers won't find mauve walls or white carpet in these units.  Instead, they see stone flooring and stainless steel appliances, as well as glass walled showers rather than bathtubs in the master bedrooms.

KB's marketing approach is working.  Single men bought half of the town homes sold in the first phase. 

But some single men don't care about masculine decor.  They buy homes for economic reasons.

Jeremy Cohen, 25, told the Contra Costra Times that his motivation for buying a home in San Leandro, California, was to save on taxes and build some financial equity.

With all the media attention given recently to the rise in home buying by singles, it shouldn't be long until sales people recognize them as a prime target.

Single homeowners -- get ready for the parade of interior decorators, home security companies, and hardware suppliers.  You're going to be receiving a lot of marketing attention. 

Perhaps the first piece of hardware you might want to buy is a "no solicitors" sign for your front door. Or a recycling bin for junk mail.

To read other editions of Column One, click here.

Unmarried America 2007

Thomas F. Coleman, Executive Director of Unmarried America, is an attorney with 33 years of experience in singles' rights, family diversity, domestic partner benefits, and marital status discrimination.  Each week he adds a new commentary to Column One: Eye on Unmarried America. E-mail: Unmarried America is a nonprofit information service for unmarried employees, consumers, taxpayers, and voters.