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Single women buy homes more than men

25 Jan 2018

I often hear that single women are more likely than single men to buy homes on their own.

In my early twenties, anecdotal research backed this up: many women in my friend group were purchasing their own homes, or dreaming about doing so, and not waiting for a significant other to do it.

Behind couples, single women are the largest group of home buyers. Single men made up just 7% of buyers within the same period.

Dinesh Dookan, residential sales agent at Wakefields Estate Agents on the Durban Berea, said: "When it comes to higher end properties, between R2.5 and R7 million, it is mostly couples who are buying. The maximum cost of property single people are investing in is R2m.

"It is also mostly single, working-class women between the ages of 20-30 who are buying property - more flats than houses."

Though women and men are getting closer to wage parity, women still earn less than men, so income doesn't explain the gap between single male and female homebuyers.

Meghan Daum, Los Angeles Times author of Life Would Be Perfect If I Lived in That House, posits that the female urge to own a home might be similar to the biological clock.

"I never had a biological clock with actual children, I had no interest in having a baby, so a lot of the energy other people would devote to having a baby I would devote to having a house," she says. "If somebody had a great apartment, I'd have major envy."

Even if they do want kids some day, Daum has noticed a moment in her female friends' lives when they become more interested in decorating their homes and buying furniture than in shopping for clothes.

"It's not that you've given up on your appearance, but somehow it's so much more interesting to think about the aesthetics of your space than the aesthetics of yourself," she said.

Daum has noticed similar feelings among male friends, but they seem unwilling to buy on their own.

"This is purely anecdotal, but men just seem not as interested in doing that unless they have a partner. I can't tell you how many men I know who say: 'Yeah, I'd love to buy a house, but I'm not going to do it by myself '."

Though Daum has always had a sense of pride in her home, owning wasn't always on her mind.

"It was never on my radar to buy anything until I was probably in my early thirties. But I was always interested in having a nice apartment."

Like Daum, I also felt an urge to buy as I neared my thirties. I was living with a roommate in a home she owned, and I had the entire top floor to do with as I saw fit.

When she invited her boyfriend to move in, I started looking for a house to buy, not wanting to move into an impersonal apartment.

From a young age, I started preparing to have a place of my own someday. In middle school, I started collecting glassware and checked out decorating books from the library.

In college and after, I put as much of a personal stamp as possible on each home I lived in, however temporary.

In my late twenties, as friends, coupled or not, expressed a desire to have children, I couldn't relate. But I did feel a pull to put paint on my own walls and add heated tiles to a bathroom floor.

Unlike men, women haven't always been able to purchase homes on their own.

As recently as the 1970s, women needed a male relative's signature to apply for any kind of credit.

"Women are making a lot more money and are capable of making more money than they were in the past on their own," says Sarah Minka Jackson, an estate agent in Los Angeles.

"We're in a time when being a strong, independent woman is on the rise, so I think women are coming out of the mindset of 'I need to be married to buy a house', 'I need to have a family'. Now it's like 'I can do this myself. I don't need to wait for anybody'."

In Joan Caton Cromwell's 15 years as an estate agent in the Washington area, she's helped many single women purchase homes.

"If they're watching home design TV channels they're like 'I want to decorate; I want to hang wallpaper'. They have this vision of what it is they want, and they just want to put down roots and nest a little bit," she says.

While many of Cromwell's clients are interested in the practical elements of purchasing a home, it's usually about a lot more.

"They want to make sure it's a good investment, but really they want to put down roots and be a part of a community," she says. "I definitely see that with women in their mid-thirties, like 'Okay, I'm not going to wait around for a guy to do this. I'm going to go ahead and do this on my own'."

It's this philosophical pull that has Cromwell predicting that the recently passed US tax bill won't keep people from buying homes, single or not.

"I've never had a buyer come to me to purchase a home solely for tax purposes. Most buyers buy because they want the sense of permanence that being a homeowner can provide," she says.

Once Daum purchased her first home, she found it met her expectations.

"It lived up to the hype. I just felt like I was at home," she says. Her experience is echoed in many single women homeowners, including Tara Friesen, who bought her home weeks before her 27th birthday.

"I've always thought I wanted to buy a house," she says. "I've never really thought about waiting for any specific time."

So once she had saved up about $10 000 (R120 000) for a down payment and paid off her student loans, Friesen decided it was time to buy.

She loves to bake, so she took the kitchen, which hadn't been remodelled since the 1970s, down to the studs. Then she re-plastered the walls, put in tall cabinets, granite counter tops and open shelving. "Only the ceiling and floors stayed," she says.

Friesen's thoughts about homeownership sound a lot like women I've known who chose to have children on their own. "I think the world we live in now just doesn't feel like you need to do anything in any particular order," she says.

"When you're ready, you can do what you want... before you may have waited until you were married; I just don't think that's a rule anymore."

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