A lot of people put off buying a home until marriage not just out of financial necessity, but social expectations. Should being single stop you?
If you want the TL;DR version: No.
No, no, a million times no, buuuuuut with some caveats.
I’ll be blunt with you: I’m a single homeowner so I’m a bit biased in this statement. I’ve basically done all the things that historically, women have waited til marriage to do. If not out of desire to wait or social pressure, out of financial necessity like starting a business and traveling. Homeownership is high on that list as saving for a down payment or having enough cash to skip out on a mortgage is cost-prohibitive for most younger people these days regardless of gender, but it was a no-go for most women in the past when you couldn’t even sign your own lease not that long ago.
But I can’t begin to tell you how many people assume that women only own their homes if they’re married or got a wedding in the near future. I get asked if I got the condo in a divorce settlement. When if anything, I’ve met a stunning number of men in all income brackets who wouldn’t consider leaving their rentals unless they tied the knot first. Is it money alone that motivates this mindset? Let’s dig deeper.
Are Single Homeowners On the Rise?
Oh yes we are, especially single women.
Per the National Association of Realtors, single women are buying homes at rates far exceeding that of single men despite collectively having diminished buying power in comparison. Only 7% of single men purchased a home in 2018 compared to 18% of single women in 2017, a rate that has consistently been rising for the past three years.
Of course, these stats aren’t further extrapolated by things like income, age, family size, and other attributes that would factor into this rate. That US News piece I linked mentioned those godawful co-op boards who I’m willing to bet denied me entry because they assume single women are more likely to have trouble making payments. Even though most women are self-sufficient these days, with a growing amount earning well into six figures on their own? Sometimes that deeply-entrenched marginalization and/or financial realities of things like single parenthood and often being relegated to caregiving responsibilities for parents will get in the way of co-op boards’ and banks’ judgment.
But as I keep saying, there’s also always stories behind the numbers. You may have only your name on the deed or mortgage documents, but could be single for tax purposes given the large swath of Millennials who are cohabiting but deciding not to marry. Meantime, retirees are making up a larger portion of single homeowners these days due to downsizing. Retirees have incredibly different concerns from younger home buyers who might feel more inclined to let current or long-term singlehood stop them from making this decision. After all, going about the process by yourself is a whole other experience compared to when you’re deciding with a spouse where to live. How many of these statistics actually encompass one-person households, another aberration for people under 40 in most urban areas? Look no further than San Francisco where you can totally find at least 4-6 software engineers each making a small fortune annually, who have to share the same squalid 2-bedroom apartment in Dogpatch just to get by. Ditto for New York, where apartments in the outer boroughs have become out of reach for an increasing number of buyers and renters alike. Builders designed developments in Brooklyn, Queens, and The Bronx to house young families seeking affordable rental communities not too far from the subway and major job centers, without considering that a few decades in the future they’d mostly be occupied by several 30-somethings. Roughly half of which have embraced the itinerant nature of what we’ve been given, half of which are dying for more stability.
Chesapeake, Virginia holds the distinction for the most single-person households that are owner-occupied in all of America, over 11,000 of these households and a single ownership rate tabulated at 66%. Unsurprisingly, New York is nowhere on that list–not even small cities and towns farther upstate where it’s far more affordable than anything south of the Hudson Valley–but San Jose has almost 61,000 single owner-occupied households where 45.9% of the city’s homeowners are single. Communities with large retiree populations like Scottsdale, Arizona are high on the list as far as that single homeownership percentage goes, but major job centers farther inland from the coasts like Aurora, Colorado and North Las Vegas also have high numbers of single owner-occupied homes. After all, these areas are hot with economic activity and more affordable housing prices with attractive options for single home buyers than the major bastions like New York, LA, and San Francisco.
Is There Anything Stopping You?
Well, there’s the obvious impediment to virtually anything we want or need in this life.
It always comes down to money. After all, we haven’t achieved luxury space communism or anything where you can just waltz right into a classic six on the Upper East Side or a San Francisco “painted lady”. There’s a lot of money involved and a long, drawn-out process that has more commitment involved than a lease.
If you just don’t have the funds on your own and/or family who can help you out with a down payment, funds for closing costs, and the numerous other expenses associated with what’s likely to be one of the largest financial transactions in your entire life, it can make you want to hold out until you have someone to pool funds with. Your spouse might have a higher income or have more relatives who willed them assets that will make your dream of owning a home more likely to come true.
It’s also a question of home maintenance. Are you buying a property that you will physically, mentally, and financially be able to shoulder on one income?
This is the area that likely stops people from wanting to buy while single even more than not having sufficient funds or income. Buying a lot of house can be an overwhelming prospect! If you work a typical job and don’t have the time or energy to maintain a house yourself, or the money to pay people like landscapers, handymen, housekeepers, and the like, it can definitely be a terrible decision. While small and affordable starter homes have been zoned out of so many areas in favor of the human centipedes known as McMansions, small freestanding condos and apartments can be an excellent option depending on your budget, lifestyle, and priorities.
The real question becomes: “If I had enough money, would I still buy this place? Do I reasonably expect this home to fulfill my needs for the next few years at minimum?”
Many people just don’t want to make that commitment to buying a home without having a secure relationship. It’s completely valid to feel that way. But if owning a home in the area you love or that’s convenient for your need works out to be less than paying rent every month and you’re not facing significant financial barriers, then owning that place is definitely worth looking into.
You don’t have to think in terms of forever. You might not be able to afford that three-bedroom house in that leafy Philadelphia suburb or that glittering two-bedroom condo in Hollywood that you’re dreaming of right now. But if you’ve got a stable income now and want to be free from the tyranny of landlords? Why NOT take a look at that affordable condo or townhouse on the less-sexy side of town? It could be a step up from where you currently reside or even the opposite, but at least you’ll own something.
No matter what your life goals are with respect to spouses, children, or expanding your household size in other ways, you can always decide down the line if you want to sell or rent out your home if your circumstances change. And unless you bought a gaudy McMansion that you can’t get rid of, chances are that home will have increased in value when you go to sell so you’ll come out ahead whether you have to pay off a mortgage balance or not. Jeez, what a TERRIBLE first-world problem to have!
Buying While Single Doesn’t Necessarily Mean Setting Up For a Future Alone
Well, it can be if that’s what you’d prefer. Not everyone wants to have a relationship, and that’s okay! But if you do, let’s get down to brass tacks here: how much of your financial future are you willing to predicate on a theoretical partner you haven’t met yet?
What about your life *right now*?
You don’t know if the love of your life even exists, let alone has been working a few doors down from you all along. Or you find them halfway across the country after a Twitter thread that went on all night soon turned to something deeper. You take things one day at a time. So you might buy a slightly larger home than you’d initially like to in order to potentially accommodate a spouse, or even kids to boot. But are you buying for “right this second”, “now with wiggle room for a few years”, or “forever home”? You don’t know when that latter one could change as it’s impossible to quantify what you don’t know. But that middle one is a good indicator to go for.
I bought my condo in late 2015 after a long uphill battle with those horrendous co-ops. I’ll spare you the gory but boring details but I had a “zombie” relationship that wouldn’t die despite both of us knowing for a while we pretty much had no future together yet couldn’t part ways. The day I signed my deed and got the keys was like putting out the fire with gasoline, just like the old David Bowie song. But since I started that relationship when I was still applying to co-ops, my attitude always was “I’ll cross that bridge when I get there.” That still is my attitude. I don’t know what the future holds in this department. But whether I stay in The Bronx or get my dream condo in Los Angeles, perhaps stray from either plan as you never know when life will throw you a curveball? Buying this condo was hands-down the best financial decision I ever made second to starting my amalgamated games and digital media career.
If I waited for the right partner to come along first? I’d still be renting that same roach-infested dump I had for 10 years, unable to have the lifestyle I’ve had since as condo maintenance is far less than my old rent, and would’ve been unable to afford this place as prices shot up since.
The Perks of Buying While Single
No matter your budget range, if you’re in the position to buy and decide you won’t let it stop you? There’s a lot of perks to buying while single that can outweigh some of the less convenient aspects.
A lot of the same perks of renting your own place carry over to owning your place, like no one telling you that you’ve got too much stuff in this room or whatever. You can decorate however you want! Plan your furnishings, renovations, and other major structural decisions around your needs and hobbies. When factoring in location and amenities, you also only have to think about one workplace and/or common destination. You can’t quantify what you don’t know, so might as well make the best choice for yourself right now with this purchase.
Then for the more abstract parts of owning your home, I felt more confident dating and getting out in the world knowing I own my place. That I call the shots on where to go and could take the risk on a relationship since I’d have housing squared away no matter what went down.
And apparently, financial stability is sexy these days. Don’t let social stigma stop you!
Rachel Presser is a crazy toad lady from the Bronx who was exiled to New Jersey, spending a significant chunk of her youth where all the hideous 1970s couch covers and avocado shag carpeting went to die. Upon escaping the sea of brown, she decided to devote her time to writing from the fantastically-preserved Googie artifacts in LA and former speakeasies in Chicago, to forging new game worlds in the tea lounges of Taipei and Tokyo. She can be found at game jams, hardcore shows, vaporwave dance parties, and petting amphibians on a sensible corner loveseat.