Buying a home has always been one of Christine Hill’s dreams. Coming from a middle class family, she knew that homeownership would give her financial stability and the potential to build wealth. She’s also naturally a nester, and long wanted a place to remake in her own image, she says.
Hill, 33, decided to get serious about the process in 2021. Despite the crazy market, she knew it was now or never: She was making the most money she ever had, she was financially comfortable, and she was done paying rent. When she and her partner of four years split, she also decided not to wait until she was in a relationship again to make it happen—she could do it on her own.
It wasn’t an easy process. Inventory, particularly for a first-time buyer without a ton of capital looking for a house in Burlington, Vt., was limited. She put in offers, got rejected. Finally, a less-than-ideal house came on the market: It was small, according to Hill, and it needed a lot of work. It was also packed full of the previous owner’s belongings, making it hard for other interested buyers to envision their own futures there. But it had a detached garage, which Hill, an artist, pictured as her at-home studio. She was sold.
“I was not a competitive buyer,” says Hill. “And honestly the house I ended up with, I got so lucky and threaded a needle. So many people told me to wait for the market to cool off. But I was never going to be able to buy a house if I wasn’t trying.”
Courtesy of Christine Hill
Hill bought the house for $374,000 in early 2022. The seller took around $5,000 off asking for issues that arose during the inspection. Hill put down around $22,000, most of her life savings.
Despite the stressful search process, Hill is one of the lucky ones. In any given year, single women are usually the second largest group of homebuyers after married couples. But 2022 was the culmination of a few especially hard years for women. For the first time in six years, the homeownership rate for single women under 35 declined, according to a new report from Zillow.
It’s long been harder for single women to buy a home than single men. They earn less, on average, making it harder for them to save for a down payment. And homes prices have sky-rocketed over the past two years. That’s hurt young single women, according to Zillow’s report. And it didn’t help that at the beginning of the pandemic, many women stepped back from their jobs to take care of children and other family members.
Put all of that together, and the homeownership rate for single women fell to 24.5% in 2022, down from 28.6% by 2021. Meanwhile, the homeownership rate for single men increased 2.7 percentage points in 2022 to 33.1%.
Challenges facing single women homebuyers
Society isn’t exactly kind to single women of a certain age. Hill initially began her home buying process with a partner; when they broke up, she decided to keep her dream alive. But it hasn’t been easy.
The home she bought needed a lot of work—to date, she’s put another $30,000 into remodeling it over the past year. More immediately, when she and her former partner split, he kept much of their kitchen goods and furniture; she didn’t even have plates when she moved in.
“Managing decisions and finances alone has completely exhausted me,” says Hill. “I’ve struggled a lot this past year with feeling comfortable admitting that I’m burnt out from a building, from managing my life, and what it looks like as a homeowner alone.”
Though Hill doesn’t feel like she faced discrimination during the home-buying process, it’s not unheard of: Lenders are less likely to approve loans for single women and, of course, they earn less money than men and couples. Women hold more student loan debt than men on average.
And then there’s the matter of confidence. Buying a home often means advocating for yourself—in the loan underwriting process, with realtors, and with sellers.
“Women of all colors, particularly those in oft-overlooked minority groups, have to work harder to get across the homeownership finish line,” says Wendy Ross, broker and owner of Veracity Real Estate Co. “We’ve needed to give our clients the courage to demand their HR departments write letters to the lender assuring that their employment is both expected to continue and is highly valued.”
Still, single women have long favored buying homes because of the stability they provide, says Dr. Jessica Lautz, deputy chief economist at the National Association of Realtors (NAR). And they’re willing to make sacrifices: NAR research has found that women are more likely to cut spending in almost every category compared to men, as well as take on second jobs or move in with family to save up money until they can afford their own place.
“I think women will continue to be this powerhouse in the market,” says Lautz. “It allows them financial freedom.”
Though COVID-19 made it harder for single women to buy homes, it also magnified how important that stability can be, says Skylar Olsen, chief economist at Zillow.
“It provides access to wealth building and financial stability during a crisis, and then personally, I’m looking out over my house and my yard, and it’s control,” says Olsen. “It’s my space, I get to say what happens here, and I think for a lot of women that’s not always true.”
Making it work
Hill’s grit is representative of how many single women homebuyers make it work. She’s also had some help from a community she’s formed on TikTok. When she moved in, she posted a video expressing some of her frustration at what she views as double standards in society.
If she was getting married, she’d be able to create a registry and benefit from the generosity of family and friends. But, she argues, she wouldn’t need the financial help if she had a partner. She needs it now.
“I’m about to go from $800 to $2,350 for my mortgage, and there’s zero social justification for me to ask for anyone to help,” she says. After the she posted the video, some commenters encouraged her to create a registry; she did it and received two packages. She initially saved them for a rainy day when she’s need a pick-me-up.
That day came quicker than she could have imagined. In the first week in her new home, she learned she needed to spend $4,000 on electrical work. She posted a video of her opening the gifts; it took off, and soon strangers from all over the country sent her things to help her furnish her new home.
“I ended up getting around $4,000 worth of things sent to me by strangers on TikTok,” she says. “The main demographic was women in their 40s to 60s who had done hard things and wished that they had had the ability to call on people for help. It really came from a place of, we have to support one another.”
Tapping into community is one of the reasons single women buy homes, Lautz says. They value the connections and support that community can bring.
“It continues to blow my mind,” says Hill. “It made a huge difference.”