Single and looking: The rise of the solo American homebuyer

Houses
A housing development in Denver in a file photo. REUTERS/Rick Wilking

February 24, 2022

By Chris Taylor

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Sarah Crane is part of a booming proportion of the housing market: solo buyers.

The 39-year-old economist purchased an attached row house in Philadelphia by herself in April 2020.

Move over, couples. Single females now comprise 19% of buyers, according to data from the National Association of Realtors. That is up from 18% in 2020 and 15% in 2015. Single males, for their part, represent another 9% of the market.

“I didn’t imagine I would be buying a house by myself,” Crane says. “But now I’m glad I have one, because I can work from home, enjoy my backyard, build equity, and do whatever I wish.”

Indeed, when Bank of America recently surveyed potential homeowners, the findings were unmistakable. Singles have very little interest in putting off homebuying decisions.

“Two-thirds of single women would rather not wait until marriage to buy a home,” says Kathy Cummings, Bank of America’s senior vice president for affordable housing programs.

A couple of broader societal factors are behind this trend, Cummings says. One is that Americans have been putting off getting married and having children.

Another is that the gender wage gap has been closing over decades, which gives single women more financial resources to make such a major life purchase.

There is also the reality that singles represent a growing proportion of the nation as a whole. Compared to past decades, the notion of being single by choice has become more socially acceptable.

“More and more single people are embracing their single lives, and living their single years fully,” says Bella DePaulo, a social scientist and author of books such as “Singled Out.” “You can see this in the attitudes revealed in the [Bank of America] report: Nearly nine out of 10 single women dismiss the idea that they should be married before buying a home. They see that as old-fashioned thinking.”

MAKING THE MATH WORK

Coming up with a down payment and mortgage approval can be a steeper hill for one person than for two, especially since the housing market is so red-hot. National median prices rose 14.6% in 2021’s fourth quarter compared to a year prior, according to data from NAR.

In addition, singles often feel discriminated against by the lending industry.

“I felt like banks never believed I had the means to do what I wanted to do,” says Dottye Holt, a retiree in McKinney, Texas who has purchased homes as a singleton.

Holt’s advice? “Be prepared for a lot of questions, almost to a suspicious level.”

Here are four tips for single homebuyers.

DO THE ADVANCE PREP

If it is just your balance sheet that the lender is looking at, without the help of a partner’s second income, then your financial house needs to be tidy.

Work on boosting your credit score, which will qualify you for the most attractive mortgage rates, potentially saving you tens of thousands over the life of the loan. Then when the time comes to make a bid, come in armed with bank preapprovals to act fast.

AVOID DOWN PAYMENT DOUBTS

Coming up with a 20% down payment might seem like a very high bar right now. And while that is certainly a wise goal to aim for – it can allow you to sidestep private mortgage insurance, for instance – it’s a “myth” as a must-have, says Cummings.

These days there are fixed-rate mortgage products like Freddie Mac’s Home Possible program with down payments as low as 3%.

TAKE ADVANTAGE OF LENDER-SPECIFIC PROGRAMS

Yes, housing costs can seem daunting right now, especially for singles. But you might be surprised at the number of opportunities available to you: Cummings points to Bank of America’s Home Grant Program of up to $7,500 for closing costs and Down Payment Grants of up to 3% of the purchase price or $10,000 (whichever is less) in select markets.

GIVE YOURSELF A CUSHION

Without a second income to fall back on, single buyers should be careful about not stretching finances too far, advises financial planner Michelle Gessner of Houston.

Income should be “sufficient to cover not only the mortgage payments, but the property taxes, the homeowner’s insurance, and the ongoing repair and maintenance,” she says. “Unfortunately, people forget about that and focus only on the mortgage payments when deciding if they can afford the house they want to buy.”

(Editing by Lauren Young and Diane Craft; Follow us @ReutersMoney or at http://www.reuters.com/finance/personal-finance.)