Buying a Home as a Single Woman: Safety, Lifestyle, Other Considerations

Self-education is the key to feeling comfortable undertaking the home-buying process on your own.

For some years now, statistics have shown that single women buy houses at double the rate of single men. Young women find that buying is, in some areas, as affordable as renting if not more so; while older women may seek a home after divorce or widowhood.

If you're a woman considering buying a home on your own, you may be asking questions like:

  • Will I be able to afford the mortgage and other costs on my own?
  • Will I feel safe there?
  • What kind of space will match my present lifestyle?
  • What if my life changes and I have to move?

We'll cover all of these here, and suggest some resources for more information.

Figuring Out How Much House You Can Afford

Start by reviewing both your current or expected income and your budget, as well as the various housing options (for example, condo versus single-family home).

Pay special attention to hidden costs of home ownership, such as insurance, property taxes, utilities, and maintenance. (See How Much Does Owning a Home Really Cost?.)

Also carefully examine any home you might consider buying for possible upcoming major repairs (such as a cracked foundation) or increases in community association dues (in a condo complex or other planned community). Don't rely only on the seller's disclosures about the condition of the property; get a home inspection.

Consider getting a mortgage broker to help you make the most of your one-person income and deal with any blights on your credit score. Loans from friends and family might help make up any shortfalls.

If this is your first real estate purchase, also see Am I Ready to Buy My First Home?.

Dealing With Safety Concerns

Even the most empowered of women might feel her heart race as she gets out of the car at 11 p.m. and walks up a dark staircase to an empty house. That's why it's helpful to do the following before you buy.

Investigate neighborhoods. Visit during various hours of the day and night, and ask the neighbors (such as people gardening or out walking their dogs) how safe they feel living there.

Get crime stats from the police. Don't judge neighborhood safety on appearances, or even on regional statistics found online (they tend to cover a broad area). Get neighborhood crime statistics from the local police precinct.

Examine safety features of any house you're considering. Many single woman gravitate towards condo or townhouse communities for safety reasons, and even prefer units on the second floor or above. But freestanding houses aren't off limits, especially if you look for:

  • drive-in garages with interior access to the house or unit
  • windows high off the ground
  • solid doors with sturdy locks
  • entrance paths that are well-lit and not hidden by shrubbery or rocks, and
  • an alarm system.

Some of these you can add yourself, but avoid any house with unchangeable features like a front door that can't be seen from the street. Oh, and to avoid hearing bumps in the night, here's how to make sure the house isn't haunted.

Looking for a House to Match Your Lifestyle

Think about what you like to do and what things are important in your life. For example, many single women reportedly choose houses with large kitchens, because entertaining is high on their list. Or they look for a house that's within walking distance of their favorite restaurants or other meeting places.

Others, particularly older buyers, just want a place that contains no bad memories.

Creating an Exit Strategy

What if you buy a house and then find a new job in another city or fall in love and your house isn't big enough for two? If you're open to the fact that your living situation may change, you can put yourself in a good position to adjust, by buying a house with a probability of high resale value.

The easiest house to resell will be one that's well-constructed and maintained, aesthetically appealing, and in a good neighborhood with high-quality schools.

Don't buy the biggest, fanciest house on the block. (They're harder to resell, because people who can afford them often prefer to buy in a more upscale neighborhood.) And read the local news to learn of any neighborhood changes, like a coming development.

Arming Yourself With Information

Self-education is the key to comfortably undertaking this process on your own, so:

  • Talk to other single-women homebuyers about their experiences.
  • Attend a first-time homebuying course.
  • Check out websites such as such as www.realtor.com, by the National Association of Realtors (NAR), and www.hud.gov, by the Department of Housing and Urban Development.
  • Visit Sunday open houses in the area where you're interested, to get a sense of prices and availability. Ask the agent how much the house might really sell for, since list prices don't always match sales prices.
  • Assemble a crack team of professionals, including an experienced real estate agent, mortgage broker, and home inspector, who will listen and respond to your needs. Ask friends for recommendations, and interview two or three pros in each field before making a choice.

For More Information

For a comprehensive guide that provides everything you need to help you select the right house, the right mortgage, the right agent and the right inspections, get Nolo's Essential Guide to Buying Your First Home, by Ilona Bray, Alayna Schroeder and Marcia Stewart (Nolo).

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