Single ladies in Texas more willing to commit … to housing purchases

A pool for the sweltering summertime, more space for her young teens to stretch out with their friends and access to the Richardson school district.

Those were 42-year-old Christine Burns’ criteria when she started looking for a new home.

When Maggie Lewis, 28, decided to find a place several years ago, she was in the market for something else: a low-maintenance townhouse, not far from the running trails and yoga studios she’d come to love as a renter in her Allen neighborhood.

Both, however, represent a perhaps unexpected force in the housing market: single women.

Texas Association of Realtors data shows that from mid-2014 to 2015, single women in the state were twice as likely to buy homes as unmarried men.

Across the country, single women have consistently purchased homes more often than single men since at least 2001, National Association of Realtors data shows.

The Texas association’s recent residential buyers and sellers report also found that the proportion of married couples buying homes in Texas decreased year-over-year by 2 percentage points.

That’s not a staggering change, experts say, but it’s telling in part because it contrasts with national numbers, which showed that the percentage of married couples buying homes trended up during that time. Experts say that’s in large part because young people are struggling to keep up with student loan payments, which can put on hold their ability to take on more debt.

Together, the stats point to the sway of single buyers — women, in particular — over the Texas housing market.

Kristi Davis, a real estate agent for Ebby Halliday who recently made a solo home purchase herself, said she’s noticed an increase in single women homebuyers.

“I think women are more able and more willing in the last several years to begin making that commitment, to feel like they’re not throwing money away on rent,” she said. “They could be the first woman that’s doing that for themselves in a family. … It’s a very empowering thing as a female to be able to have that ability to invest back into yourself and have a home.”

Wealth builder

Davis, 46, said she bought her townhouse after living in an apartment for a short time after the end of a long relationship.

It was her second time buying a place on her own. Her first was a condo shortly after she graduated from college, although it was in a much slower condo market.

Now she encounters buyers looking for “lock-and-go” properties like Lewis’ that don’t require as much upkeep but are still solid investments.

That’s true for younger first-time buyers and older empty-nesters, Davis said.

Jim Gaines, chief economist for Texas AM University’s Real Estate Center, said that the uptick in unmarried homebuyers could reflect the influx of college-educated workers moving into the state’s metro areas for high-paying jobs.

In metro areas like Dallas-Fort Worth, which make up most of the statewide home sales data, Gaines said, rising rents have prompted residents to rethink the traditional trajectory of life milestones: graduate from college, find a job, get married and buy a home.

“In Dallas, the rental market has gotten to the point financially, economically, if you can afford to buy a house, it’s a good wealth builder,” he said. “But you’ve got to be able to hold a house for at least three years, preferably five, to make any real money.”

He pointed to the report’s finding that first-time homebuyers in Texas got younger from 2014 to 2015 as a sign that the influx of young workers into urban areas like Dallas and Austin is affecting the housing market.

The trends

The gap between single men and women could be the result of a combination of factors, Gaines said — there’s no clear economic incentive for a man or a woman in a similar financial position to buy a house.

Nevertheless, some demographic trends might provide clues. Census data show that both men and women are marrying much later in life. And, according to a recent Census Bureau report, women have outpaced men in educational attainment for two decades.

That has led to increasing, if still unequal, representation in the workforce, which means single women have more economic weight than in decades past.

“There are more women in the corporate world than there has ever been before,” Leslie Rouda Smith, chairman of the Texas Association of Realtors, wrote in an email.

She added that, according to the national association’s chief economist, women tend to focusing on prudent financial decisions earlier than men.

Single mom factor

Finally, there’s the prevalence of single mothers — a number that census data shows has grown nationwide the last few decades to 9.9 million in 2015. That’s compared with about 1.9 million American families that were headed by fathers only.

Burns rented a home with her kids for several years after she separated from her now-ex-husband.

Though she felt comfortable renting and “it was kind of scary to tack on more expense” for a home, she didn’t want to keep paying about $2,300 per month for a four-bedroom house she didn’t own.

Her North Dallas house was the third she’d bought but her first as a solo buyer.

“When I was married, he did all the financial stuff, all the paperwork, so me doing that was definitely a learning experience and stressful,” Burns said. “It felt good to do it on my own.”

Now Burns said she sees the house, which she bought in late 2014, as an investment, a place where she can raise her kids before moving closer into town.

“When my kids are done, I’m moving closer to the city,” she said.

Family advice

Lewis said that at age 24, she knew she had a job she liked in a community she loved. So, with advice from her dad, brother and sister-in-law — both of whom are in real estate — she took the plunge.

She bought a three-bedroom townhouse for about $163,000, a price she says has jumped to the $215,000 range. At first, she rented space to a roommate.

“I live alone now, and it’s no big deal,” she said. “I’ve got a security system and I know how to use a gun.”

Eventually, Lewis said, the house would be a good place for her and a future husband to start out. Then, she said, she could see the home becoming a rental property.

“If it makes sense for you in the market, it’s really nice having your own place,” she said. “I’ll get married at some point, and I will make smart financial decisions in the meantime.”

 

Twitter: @jillcowan