Charlotte and her ex-husband owned a house together in Texas. After the divorce, she moved to her own apartment, where she has lived for the past few years.
Now, she wants to buy a home, but is worried that single or divorced women don’t have the same opportunities as men to be homeowners. She’s also concerned about how mortgage lenders and real estate brokers will view her homeowner ambitions.
Charlotte doesn’t realize it, but she’s got plenty of company when it comes to single women buying homes by themselves.
Where singles were once shunned from the home buying process, approximately a third of all home buyers last year were single, divorced, or widowed, according to a recently released Chicago Title & Trust survey. Experts say single women account for a larger and larger slice of the single home-buying pie each year.
Studies suggest that women are more likely than men to save for their down payment. Having that cash on hand is important. But you can’t buy a home entirely on your own. You may need credit counseling, a real estate agent, and a mortgage lender to help you achieve your dream of homeownership.
Let’s start with credit. Many women have been impoverished by divorce. They must either live off of their child or spousal support, or find a job to supplement it. But to add insult to injury, credit companies used to transfer all of the couple’s joint credit cards to the spouse that earned the cash — traditionally, the husband. Women were left without credit (or credit cards) and found it tough to establish credit in their own names.
Fortunately, credit card companies don’t do this any more. Women who held joint credit cards with their ex-spouses are entitled to have that credit transferred into their own names.
Women today commonly establish their own credit by having telephone numbers or credit cards in their own name, even when married. If you’re in the position of starting over alone and for some reason can’t get your old credit card company to give you credit, or if you’re single and just starting out, begin establishing your own credit. You can do this by renting an apartment, as Charlotte has, and making your rent payments on time each month, getting telephone and utilities in your own name, and signing up for a couple of department store credit cards. You’ll find the offers for other credit cards arriving in your mail soon after.
While real estate companies were formerly guilty of similar gender discrimination, they, too, have learned that it isn’t always the man who makes the decision. They understand that single women are buying condos, co-ops and even single family homes in droves and almost all have made accommodations to help whomever is doing the buying feel more comfortable.
If you’re buying a home by yourself, you should never be made to feel out-of-place for doing so. If the real estate agent you’ve chosen to help you doesn’t appear interested in helping you buy a home, fire that agent and find another. There are plenty of people who will welcome your business.
It wasn’t all that long ago that mortgage lenders used to discount the wife’s income simply because “she might have children.” Fortunately, lenders have come out of the dark ages to realize that nearly 80 percent of all loans are made to two-income families. That usually means both spouses must work to make ends meet. Since one-third of all loans are made to single individuals, lenders have become accustomed to seeing single women fill out their applications. That’s not to say you may not have problems. Getting a mortgage is tough, and there is a lot of paperwork required. And, there are a few bad apples who might substitute your best interests for their own.
But mortgage lending is a service business and if you don’t feel you’re getting the proper treatment, there are many thousands of mortgage companies who will gladly help you buy your home.