The real reason more single women are buying homes

Sep 13, 2014 at 10:14 p.m. ET

It's time for the real estate industry to face the facts: Single women are making quite an entrance into the home buyer market.

The talk of the town

Up from 10 percent in 1980, single women now represent about 20 percent of all recent homebuyers. This rise is a new phenomenon, leaving some industry professionals scratching their heads. What's with the big shift? Well, recent demographic trends and social preferences provide several reasons for the increase in single women homeownership rates: marriage and divorce rates, income levels, educational achievement, employment rates, advertising and, well, emotional appeal. So hold on to your houses, boys, Wisteria Lane may be closer than you think.

Who is she?

Does the name Barbie ring a bell? In an article from Trulia, "In a Barbie World: The Rise of Single Women Homeowners in America," Jed Kolko, chief economist, refers to his subject as Barbie: "a young [25-34], single woman [with no kids] who lives in a [single-family detached] house she owns." Surprisingly, in 1960 (when the Barbie doll was introduced) only 0.1 percent of American women were living like Barbie (as defined above by Kolko). By 2011, that number of women increased by 15 times. To explain this growth, Kolko states it pretty clearly, "big social changes... put Barbie's living situation within reach for many more women today than at almost any other time."

The average age of the single female buyer is 47. Yes, that's a bit older than Barbie, but the average age of first-time single female buyers is 34 (now that sounds more like her). From here, we can break it down much further. But, in a nutshell, our average single female home buyer is white/Caucasian (80 percent), makes a $50,000 annual income and is divorced or separated (50 percent). At a median purchase price of $135,000, here are the stats on what her purchase includes:

- Single-family detached (64 percent)

- Three or more bedrooms (69 percent)

- Two full bathrooms (68 percent)

- 1,500 to 2,000 square feet (36 percent)

Yeah, but why?

The Harvard Joint Center for Housing Studies observed the top three cited influences, in order of importance, for purchasing a home from the female buyer's perspective: (1) desire to nest, (2) need for more space and (3) proximity to work or family.

OK... but what's the reason for the rise? Buying a home is still a priority for women. An article in SmartMoney magazine states the three main factors for the increase in single women homeownership rates: "Women are tying the knot later, pursuing higher degrees and continuing to close the salary gap, with never-married women now earning 94 percent of what their single male counterparts do."

#1: There are more of us.

According to a comprehensive report, The State of Young America: Economic Barriers to the American Dream (2011), 26 is the average age a women gets married; that's five years older than their average age in 1970. Furthermore, a report by the Pew Research Center (2010) found that "in 1960, two-thirds (68 percent) of twenty-somethings were married. In 2008, just 26 percent were." Never-married women, like Barbie, are older now and are not waiting for Ken to hand them a ring before making their first home purchase. Meanwhile, divorcees and single mothers are said to be "seizing control of [their lives] through real estate" (Wall Street Journal).

#2: We're getting smarter.

Education is becoming an important measure of homeownership. Jacki Zehner, a national speaker on market conditions, highlights several empowering facts about women and education: Women in the U.S. today represent 51 percent of the nation's Ph.D.s, 51 percent of business school applicants, 67 percent of college graduates and (my personal favorite) 70 percent of 2012 valedictorians. By striving for higher education, more women are holding higher-paying jobs that were traditionally held in majority by men, including lawyers, doctors and corporate executive positions.

#3: Our purses are bigger.

Higher education leads young women to greater job earning potential, which in turn allows them to be financially independent and be able to purchase a home. In 30 years, from 1980 to 2010, full-time working women between ages 25-34 went from making 70 percent to 90 percent of what young men earn. SmartMoney writes: "In 2008 alone, more men than women lost their jobs by a ratio of three to one... Indeed, [2009] marked the first time that women outnumbered men on the country's payrolls… "

Emotional spending

Let's just admit it: We are emotional geniuses. The emotional appeal of owning a home has caused market professionals to increase marketing and advertising tools geared toward women. Jane Ganahl writes in an article for NBC News, "the concept of home resonates so strongly with women. Realtors and builders are taking notice... Builders are putting in extras such as security features, gourmet kitchens and yards with little to no maintenance required." Another article similarly points out, "... sales teams are exploring selling tactics like paint color psychology and spa nights, while doing everything they can to reduce the intimidation factor of the purchase process for solo women buyers."

"Women make 92 percent of all home decisions, whether it be the location/community, floor plan, features, elevation style, colors, decor. All new home plan designs should appeal to what women want in their homes," says Tony Weremeichik, architect and designer of the Generation X Home in Orlando, Florida. To incorporate women-centric design in his plans, he explains, "We focus on her lifestyle; everything must be considered. Just to name a few, we ensure that there is plenty of storage throughout the home, that garages are sized so she can swing the car door open and assist a child in a car seat, bathroom vanities are equipped with drawers and conveniences for her makeup and beauty supplies, pet-friendly spaces, shoe racks and functional laundry rooms... and not to mention the wine refrigerator."

Happily ever after

Ultimately, the significance of this Barbie trend manifests in three areas.

1. Women drive our economy forward. It is apparent that not only the buying power of women but also their increased educational achievements and higher status in the job market will aid in alleviating any remnant struggles of the recession and revive the down-turned economy.

2. It's time to start tailoring home design toward women. Single women are more likely to buy houses with features that appeal specifically to her needs. Attributes like extra storage, conveniently placed outlets, pet suites and large closets, are little gems that are expected to catch her eye and could possibly seal the deal.

3. Never take Barbie for a "blonde." She's actually a lot smarter, richer and possibly more educated than you. So if you skip out on Barbie, you're skipping out on a billion-dollar opportunity. When Ms. Opportunity knocks, you answer the door.

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