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Single Women are Big Homebuyers in Chicago

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Single Women are Big Homebuyers in Chicago

By Alison Bowen, Chicago Tribune

Shopping for a Chicago condominium, Jennifer Jones realized her money could last a lot longer by buying, versus renting. Plus, she could renovate it to exactly her tastes, cobbling together her personal dream condo.

After first buying a place in her 20s, Jones is now selling that condo and buying a new, bigger one. She’s one of many different generations of women buying on their own in the city.

Nationally, single women make up 15 percent of all buyers — the second largest group behind married couples — according to 2015 data from the National Association of Realtors. That number has declined a bit since 2010, when the number was 20 percent.

But in Chicago, brokers say single women are a force in the market, and some are snapping up homes at a rate higher than national trends.

Data provided by Zillow show a higher proportion of single, never-been-married women buying homes in Chicago — 12 percent, topping the national average of 9 percent, according to the real estate marketplace.

The median age of single female homebuyers is 50, reports the National Association of Realtors, and 72 percent buy a single-family home. But among first-time homebuyers, the typical age is 32, noted Jessica Lautz, the group’s managing director of survey research and communications. Lautz herself bought her first home when she was single and in her late 20s.

Chicago brokers say clients range from divorced women buying their own place for the first time, to moms hoping for more room or young singles ready to make a big purchase.

Mary MacDiarmid, a broker with @properties, has helped multiple young women buy condos.

Chicago’s rents are more reasonable than in other big cities like San Francisco or New York, she pointed out, which might more easily allow a real-estate move when ready.

MacDiarmid remembers when purchase paperwork included the word “spinster,” for women to check if unmarried. Now, she said, many clients buy their own place, to fit their own life, marriage on the mind or not.

For Jones, moving back to Chicago from New York meant making a decision to plant roots. Plus, after paying Manhattan rents, she realized Chicago cash could go much further — and for a longer commitment.

“I said, ‘Oh my gosh, I could actually make this work and purchase a place,'” she said.

She looked at seven different places, from Gold Coast to River North, her first day shopping.

“I ended up buying the first place I saw,” the 34-year-old private banker said.

A decade later, she has just listed that condo, hoping to buy again. This time, she eyed more space, hoping to trade her one-bedroom for a two-bedroom with a den, while staying in Gold Coast.

“I’ve narrowed it down to which street I want to live on,” she said. After looking at three places, she put an offer in this month.

The sales of both her current condo and her new future home close in April. She counsels friends to buy instead of rent.

“It’s a big decision, but it shouldn’t be scary,” she said. “You kind of need to demystify the whole process.”

Wanting more space in the same neighborhood rings familiar to Abbey Helmetag, 44, a mom of three in La Grange. After living in a home for 11 years that she bought with her then-husband, she loved the area but felt she and her three kids, ages 8, 10 and 13, were outgrowing the home.

“As they were getting older, we needed more space,” she said.

So she targeted a small radius within their school district, buying a four-bedroom in July with more livable space, including a finished basement.

Women often prioritize a certain community, Lautz said, especially if they live alone or need help with children.

“They often want to buy to be close to friends or family,” she said.

For singles, buying one’s own place has obvious benefits — targeting a favorite neighborhood, decorating or making renovations that follow only your individual preferences.

Cons for singles, the same as anyone embarking on home ownership, include being in charge of the property, whether that’s mowing the lawn or choosing cabinets. Or the time Jones came home from work to find water dripping from her bathroom ceiling after a toilet overflowed upstairs.

“It all falls to you at the end,” Jones said. “Something happens in my place, it’s up to me to fix it.”

For many friends, she added, that’s where renting maintains an allure. “They just don’t want the burden. If something goes wrong, they like to be able to call the landlord.”

She added, “I think that they’d feel more confident if there was a partner involved.”

During the purchase process, being one instead of a couple can bring obstacles.

“Some lenders could look at an unmarried couple or a married couple favorably because they do have dual buying power,” Lautz said.

Alicia Hutchinson, 60, grew up with generations of women who had bought their own property. An aunt owned her home; after Hutchinson’s grandfather died, her grandmother bought a duplex she and cousins grew up in.

After years of renting a converted West Loop studio, Hutchinson decided to buy, echoing many friends who owned condos and town homes.

“I’m kind of like the last one to do this,” she said. “We’re all single.” [Read More at Chicago Tribune…]

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