Bonita Kolb remembers being a young, single mother in 1979 trying to buy her first house and how difficult it was to qualify for a mortgage.
“It was unheard of for a single woman to buy. It just wasn’t done. It was the man who made the money,” said Kolb.
Times have changed in the past 37 years. Kolb, a retired university professor who recently moved to Nashville to work on her next book, closed earlier this month on a townhome on the city’s south side. She had no problem getting a mortgage.
She is not alone. Single women are the second-largest group of homebuyers in the country, according to the National Association of Realtors (NAR).
Single women accounted for 15 percent of home sales in 2015. Only married couples were a bigger force in the market. They made 67 percent of all purchases. Single men accounted for nine percent of home purchases nationally, the NAR reported.
The number of single women buying homes reached a peak in 2006, when they accounted for 22 percent of home sales nationally. That number declined as a result of the downturn in the real estate market.
“There hasn’t been much entry-level home construction. It’s a little less affordable for single men and women to buy,” said NAR spokesman Adam DeSanctis.
Single women have consistently purchased more homes than single men. The number of single male homebuyers peaked in 2010, when they made 12 percent of all purchases, according to the NAR.
Kolb purchased a previously owned townhome in Lenox Village, where it’s possible to purchase a residence in the $200,000 range, said Angela Durr, her Realtor.
“Affordability and walkability” attracted Kolb to Lenox Village, a mixed-use community that features restaurants and shops, Durr said.
“I encourage young women to buy. You’re building equity,” said Kolb, who has bought several fixer-uppers over the years and sold them for a profit.
She isn’t surprised that single women are having an influence on the real estate market. More women than men are earning bachelor’s degrees and women have greater career options than they did in 1979, so it makes sense they would want the benefits of home ownership.
“Women have good jobs and they have the income. They are just as likely to be a doctor as a receptionist,” Kolb said.
Men and women are waiting longer to get married — the average age is 29.5 for men and 27.6 for women, according to the U.S, Census Bureau — but women aren’t waiting to buy a home, said Realtor Bridget Ottoh.
“Women are sensing they can do it on their own without waiting to be married,” she said.
Her client Ashley Bohacz decided to invest in a new townhome in the Percy Priest Lake area. She closed on her home in February.
“I’d rather have it in my name than throw money away renting,” said Bohacz, who had rented since moving to Nashville in 2013 for her career.
Buying a home can be more difficult when there is only one income in a household, Bohacz said. She participated in the Tennessee Housing Development Agency’s Great Choice down payment assistance program for first-time home buyers. The agency provides down payments for up to 4 percent of the mortgage.
“I’m a single woman, single income. I’m still working on building my credit. I didn’t have a nest egg for a down payment,” she said.
The NAR’s research shows that rising prices nationally have discouraged some single women from buying a home, but rising prices in Nashville had the opposite effect on Bohacz. The median price of a single-family home was $245,000 in March, 10 percent higher than a year earlier. The median price of a condominium was up 18 percent to $181,894, according to the Greater Nashville Association of Realtors.
Bohacz decided to buy before prices went higher.
“That’s one reason I wanted to get in now,” she said.
Debra Beagle, managing broker for Re/Max Advantage the Ashton Real Estate Group, said she began seeing more single women buying houses beginning in 2009, when federal incentives were available.
“I saw more women step into the market at that time, and they just remained,” said Beagle. “The catalyst was that women decided they could go out and buy.”