- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Women have been taking a larger role in homeownership during the past few years, according to a new study from the Joint Center for Housing Studies at Harvard University.

“Not only are unmarried women a large segment of the home-buying population,” says Rachel Bogardus Drew, author of the report, “but they are fast-growing, too, increasing their share of home buyers by 50 percent in eight years. The value of their home purchases over a three-plus-year period totaled more than $550 billion.”

The study is as much a report on the sociological changes in our country as it is on women’s buying practices. The continued breakdown of the family has pushed women to start fending for themselves financially instead of waiting to combine salaries with a mate to purchase a home.

“Two out of three female buyers were previously married, though that share drops significantly for younger buyers,” Ms. Drew says. “They also have lower incomes than unmarried men and married home buyers.”

The overwhelming buying segment is made up of married couples at 63 percent. Unmarried women make up the next-largest buying group, according to marital status, at 20 percent in the past three years.

Unmarried men make up 17 percent of the buying pool.

The demographics depict single female buyers as being older than their unmarried male counterparts and facing many obstacles, demonstrating their determination to get in the real estate ownership circle. For instance, they tend to have lower incomes than other buyers, and many of them — 30 percent — have children.

Financially, they have demonstrated that even with lower incomes, homeownership is available. At $37,000, their median annual income is 11 percent lower than the median for single men and accounts for why they are less likely than married couples to live in single-family homes. However, the majority of them were move-up buyers in the past three years. They are plodding along, growing wealth, taking a patient path to building their net worth by buying low, selling when the market grows and moving into a larger, more expensive dwelling.

The growth of this demographic has not gone unnoticed; both for-profit and not-for-profit entities have established initiatives to help women in their quest for homeownership.

One group, the Women’s Mortgage Industry Network (WMIN), opened four years ago and is sponsored by the Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corp. (Freddie Mac).

The group’s goals include engaging “the mortgage industry and nonfinancial service providers in a targeted education and counseling campaign that it believes will help close the gap in homeownership rates,” according to information at FreddieMac.com.

One of the most interesting findings Ms. Drew uncovered in her report is the number of single women purchasing in a co-housing community.

“Co-housing communities, though relatively small in number — about 50 in the U.S. — are an attractive choice for women who want the privacy of their own home with the benefit of a supportive, surrounding community. These communities typically consist of 12 to 42 self-sufficient private dwelling units but also include a common kitchen/dining space where meals are shared, as well as communal outdoor space. Other arrangements help to pair single mothers looking for a shared living situation,” she writes.

“By pooling incomes, single mothers can often afford to buy a more desirable home, and by living together they can share household tasks and child care, which can free up valuable time,” she continues. “Living with someone can also provide critical emotional support and help make single parenting less exhausting and lonely.”

This is a growing segment of the real estate industry and will continue its upward trend with the aging of the baby boom generation and the natural selection of women living an average seven years longer than men.

M. Anthony Carr has written about real estate since 1989. He is the author of “Real Estate Investing Made Simple.” Post questions and comments at his Web log (https://commonsenserealestate.blogspot.com).

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