Elli Davis was a woman well ahead of her time when she bought her first condo 26 years ago.
“It took me about an hour. There were just two buildings to choose from in the (central Toronto) area at the time,” says Davis, who wasn’t even 30.
But her agent was so awful at dealing with what was, admittedly, a bit of an anomaly at the time — a single woman buying a place on her own — that Davis would become a realtor herself two years later. Since then, she’s seen the real estate revolution firsthand.
Single women now account for about 20 per cent of all real estate purchases and well over 30 per cent of condo purchases, especially in Toronto’s booming downtown core, realtors and condo developers say.
Their significant buying power, and exacting standards, have helped drive the move to granite and stainless steel designer kitchens, better bathroom storage and even lighting — especially over the makeup mirror, says Jim Ritchie, president of Canada’s biggest condo builder, Tridel.
They are looking for locations within walking distance of transit and like the added security of condos, especially concierges who will keep an eye on underground security cameras as they head to their car.
Their style sense has even influenced unit layouts and the look of the lobbies, says Ritchie.
“The good news is, what appeals to female buyers benefits everybody,” he adds.
The average age of Tridel’s female buyers is about 33, says Ritchie, but they’re less likely to buy a unit before it’s built — partly because they want to be able to walk around the place and look out the windows first.
So they tend to buy from investors who are flipping their brand-new units and tend to require less of a down payment, which works well for women who tend to have a harder time coming up with the standard 20 to 25 per cent deposit.
Women see real estate as such an investment in their own future financial security that friends and co-workers are increasingly banding together to buy duplexes or single-family homes where they can share space and costs, says Laura Parsons, a mortgage specialist with BMO Bank of Montreal.
“We’re seeing a mix of all sorts of things on the mortgage front,” says Parsons, “some really different approaches” from women.
Three waitresses pooled their money, as did two nurses, in Calgary’s booming housing market, fearing that if they didn’t buy now they risked being priced out of a home forever, says Parsons.
Many buy with an eye to the future, close to schools for the children they hope to have someday.
And the trend shows no signs of letting up: Among Canadians who hope to buy in the next two years, some 49 per cent are women while just 35 per cent are men, according to the recently released RBC Homeownership poll.
“This is a universal phenomenon,” says Hamilton Re/Max realtor Conrad Zurini, who spoke about the female phenomenon during a BMO roundtable discussion on housing earlier this year.
While exact statistics are hard to find in Canada, the U.S. National Association of Realtors did a study in 2011 that found 54 per cent of all first-time buyers are married couples and 12 per cent are unmarried couples. Single females accounted for about 21 per cent of sales and single men just 12 per cent, says Zurini.
“Women have always made a lot of the house buying decisions, but now they have that mandate more than ever, and they can do it on their own, because they bring sizable incomes to the table,” says Zurini.
“We’ve had to rethink the way we market real estate because this group definitely communicates differently. They text a lot. They ask a lot of questions. They are fact finders. And they really look at where do I want to be in the next few years.”
Crime rates and “walk scores” are also critical: “A guy will just get in the car and not really think about that,” says Zurini. “A woman is thinking, ‘Is there a Starbucks on my way to work? They’re thinking lifestyle and they will sacrifice size to augment that.”
Given that women tend to outlive men, and the first wave of baby boomers are now in their late 60s, the trend of women buying on their own is not only likely to increase, but have a profound effect on housing of the future, says retired architect and urban planning expert Luis Rodriguez who has studied the issue of women’s impact on housing.
They’ll be looking beyond nice kitchens to flexible accommodation that perhaps allows them to share common spaces but also have personal space, much like student housing, says Rodriguez.
“This social trend (of more female buyers) is going to be very important to the housing market,” he adds.
Already they are looking for more durable finishes and turnkey homes that don’t require renovations or extensive maintenance, realtors say.
Even a plaster wall needing repair or missing baseboards in a room can be enough to turn a single woman off buying an otherwise great property, says realtor Sandra Rinomato of the west-end Toronto brokerage Sandra Rinomato Realty Inc. and host of the new HGTV show Buy Herself.
Rinomato spends each half-hour show helping women become homeowners — from the newly divorced to the veteran renter who has nothing to show for 20 years of handing over monthly cheques to a landlord.
Elli Davis was determined not to be there.
She was in her late 20s, had saved up a bit of money and wanted the financial security of owning her own home.
She also wanted a doorman and someplace close to downtown that was easy to maintain.
“Those are the same things that prevail for women today. Except they’ve got a lot more choice.”