Real Estate & Retail

Single women opt for owning homes: Marriage and home ownership aren't always synonymous

April 10, 2006

Apparently, Dorothy's still right.

There is no place like home, particularly if you are a single woman with good credit.

Single women now are significant players in the real estate market. In fact, one out of every five homebuyers nationwide in 2004 was a single woman-and locally the percentage is even higher.

According to a 2004 study by the Metropolitan Indianapolis Board of Realtors, almost 25 percent of homebuyers in the area were single women. The national figure, compiled by the National Association of Realtors and cited in the same report, was 21 percent. Harvard University's Joint Center for Housing Studies found that unmarried women accounted for 30 percent of the growth in homeownership between 1994 and 2002.

The percentage of single women buyers is even higher in some of the submarkets. Tina Pasquinelli, vice president and Indiana division manager for Chicago-based Portrait Homes, which specializes in building condominiums and attached ranch houses, said last year's sales figures showed 29 percent of its customers were single women.

The trend is a long-standing one and apparently reflects many of the changes in American society over the last few decades. Claire Belby, MIBOR's communication director, says that many single women are college-educated professionals with incomes to match. "They see the tax advantages of owning their own homes," she said.

Tax advantages certainly were on Indianapolis resident Jeri Watts's mind when she was in the market for a house. In 2000, Watts bought one in Meridian-Kessler and a different home in the same neighborhood in 2005.

"You get to a point when you're in the right income tax bracket that if you don't have the mortgage deduction you're going to take a tax hit," she said. "There's no deduction like the mortgage deduction."

Renee Mickler bought a condo in downtown Indianapolis in 1988 to get the tax deduction as well. "I was making some big bonuses at the time and people always said, 'You've got to get a condo,'" Mickler remembered. She stayed in her condo until 2003, when she got the chance to buy a ranch house in southwest Hamilton County that belonged to longtime family friends.

Changes in marriage patterns also play a role in driving home sales. Women today tend to marry later in life, and they don't see a reason to wait until they have a husband to buy a home. "They don't make the old connection between buying a home and starting a family anymore," Belby said.

Linda Freeman, an associate broker at Real Estate Links in Carmel, offered a similar analysis. "I think the reasons are low interest rates, affordability, tax advantages and for an investment," she said. Still, it's not just financial issues that move them from renter to homeowner.

Michele Lassaux, for example, bought a ranch house last July in a Portrait Homes development in Carmel.

"I wanted a little more space, a yard, a little more privacy for myself," she said.

After her divorce in the 1990s, Zionsville resident Pam Kuehl and her children rented an apartment, but she put all her effort into buying a house-which she did in 2000. "I wanted to build some equity," she said.

Pasquinelli says increasing divorce rates put more newly single women in the market-many who still have careers or the financial resources to purchase a place of their own.

"The effect of the trends in divorce is huge," Pasquinelli said. "When divorce wasn't acceptable, women weren't buying homes."

The Chicago-based National Association of Realtors' biannual homebuyer's profiles, which go back to the mid-1980s, track the growing role of single women in the real estate market. Walt Malony, a spokesman in the group's Washington office, noted that in 1985 and 1987 approximately 10 percent of homebuyers were single women; by 2001 the number rose to 21 percent.

Malony said the association doesn't have statistics on single women buyers prior to the 1980s, but he's certain that the numbers were much lower.

"Think back to the 1970s," he said. "It was very hard for a single woman to get the credit from a lender she needed to buy a house." Until Congress amended the Fair Housing Act to halt sex discrimination, it was nearly impossible for single women to obtain a credit card, let alone a mortgage, in their own names.

The survey by the National Association of Realtors shows that 60 percent of women buyers purchased traditional singlefamily homes while another 35 percent bought condominiums, a category that includes townhomes.

And perhaps surprisingly, single women are buying homes at a much higher rate than single men. Pasquinelli said her company's records show that only 15 percent of its customers are single men-about half the number of single women. "We keep asking ourselves, 'Where are the men going? Why aren't men buying?'" she said.

There is an even greater disparity on the national level. Malony said the association's survey shows single men make up only 9 to 10 percent of the national market, and that figure has remained constant since 1997.

Both Malony and Pasquinelli agree that women seem more aware of the tax and equity advantages of home ownership than single men. Single men also seem more interested in spending money on expensive consumer goods and an active social life, Malony noted.

Female homebuyers say there are plenty of emotional rewards as well in owning a home. For Mickler, it's independence.

"What I like about owning is that you can do anything you want to it," she said. "It's yours; there's no landlord."

Kuehl said she had her family in mind when she bought her house. "I wanted my kids to have a home to remember growing up in."
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