Houses before spouses: women delay marriage to buy property

Single women are making power moves in the property market.

Women are establishing their financial independence by investing in property before they get married.

Increasingly, they are also making these purchases on their own.

At least 60% of South Africa’s residential housing stock is owned by women, and more women bought property on their own between 2015 and 2020 than men or married couples, says Carl Coetzee, chief executive of BetterBond.

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“This percentage of single women entering the real estate market is likely to have increased in the past two years, as women are waiting longer to get married.”

Stats SA’s most recent marriage and divorces data published this year states that the median age of brides was 33 in 2021, up 1% from 2017.

Although the World Economic Forum’s (WEF) Global Gender Gap Report notes that women earn between 23% and 35% less than men for doing the same work, the gender wage gap is slowly narrowing, allowing women with the financial means to invest in property either as a primary residence or as a buy-to-let investment opportunity.

A Bank of America study found that 87% of women believe they don’t need to be married to own their own home, and 65% of single women would rather invest in property while they are single, than wait for the right partner and the picket fence.

“We expect similar patterns in South Africa where women are also challenging traditional notions that marriage should come with home ownership,” Coetzee says.

Another US study, this time by Morgan Stanley, estimates that 45% of women aged 25 to 44 will be single by 2030 as many are opting to delay marriage, stay single, or divorce in their 50s and 60s. Women are also delaying childbirth or having fewer children.

Echoing this, Andrea Tucker, director of MortgageMe, says data shows that single women aged 31 to 35 represent a large percentage of homebuyers in the South African market, and so it is believed that women are possibly delaying having children in favour of building their careers and investing extra cash through less risky saving mechanisms.

“Buying property is seen as a safe and secure investment and is more tangible and easily accessible than complex money markets, stocks, and shares,” she adds.

Still, women are showing caution when it comes to spending money and creating wealth, taking a longer-term approach to their house purchases.

“This is further evidence that women are increasingly aware of their limited earning capacity. With higher salaries, men have more disposable income after the initial outlay of buying a property. They can afford to fix it up and renovate with a view to ‘flipping’ the purchase for a quick sale with a good profit. Women don’t always have that ability and so need to learn to play to their strengths.”
Property investment options for women

Even though some women may not have DIY skills, or lack the confidence to deal with male builders and contractors, they make “excellent” landlords due to their administrative, communication, and negotiation skills, Tucker says.

“If you can navigate the rental/tenant market with confidence, buying to rent is definitely an option worth looking at for women, and can create a solid income stream to supplement a salary.”

Once a woman has made her first house purchase, she can use this to leverage further acquisitions and slowly build a property portfolio.

“In so doing, she is securing her future and building wealth for herself and future generations. Financial independence in a historically patriarchal society is a critical factor for women’s success in life.”

For women who are buying their own homes to live in, Coetzee says security and location are key considerations. Stats SA’s General Household report (2022) states that women head 42,1% of South African households, and that around 7.5 million women are the main income earners in their families.

“It makes sense, therefore, that financial security and long-term investments have become priorities for many women who are the primary breadwinners. Property is not only a means to financial sustainability, but also a means for women to provide for their children or parents.”

These needs play a significant role in the types of properties favoured by women buyers.

“Single women often favour sectional title properties that offer lock-up-and-go convenience, minimal maintenance, and peace of mind with communal security.”

Many of these homes, Coetzee adds, offer a sense of community, and access to amenities such as a swimming pool or gym. Women with younger children will opt for homes with a garden, or close to schools.

“With the shift towards multi-generational living, we are also seeing more women consider the likelihood that they will have to accommodate at least one parent or relative in their home. This may see a buyer opt for a larger property with a garden cottage, or a single-level home without stairs that would be inconvenient for an older person.”

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