For Single Women — Building Wealth With A House

By Carla Fried

WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) In 2019, single women took one in five of the mortgages Freddie Mac backed. That is up from 15% from 2010. Carla Fried shares some things to look out for if you're in the market for a home.

For households that choose to own a home, the equity that builds up over time ends up accounting for a big chunk of net worth, which is the value of all assets minus all debts. Data from the U.S. Census Bureau finds homeowner net worth is 80 times that of renters. The median value of equity among homeowners is more than the median value of household retirement accounts.

That's an opportunity single women are eager to take advantage of. Freddie Mac, which guarantees mortgages, reported that in 2019 single women took out one in five of the mortgages it backed, up from 15% in 2010. The National Association of Realtors reports single women are twice as likely as men to buy a home on their own (18% vs. 9%).

For the single ladies, be you not-yet married, never-married, divorced or widowed, a few tips:

-Focus on what you need, not the max you can borrow. One of the better investments you might consider ahead of getting serious about home buying is to sit down with a financial planner to think through your financial life and set a housing budget. This is important because once you start working with lenders, they will tell you the maximum you can borrow, not what you should borrow given your total financial picture.

Nothing against lenders. It's not their job to help you right-size a mortgage to your big picture. That's what a financial planner can do. And plenty of planners will work on an hourly or project basis. The Garrett Financial Network groups together certified financial planners who operate as fiduciaries, that's a must, and charge hourly fees. The XYPlanning Network is much the same, with a specialty in working with Gen X and Gen Y clients. No endorsement; we single them out because they will work by the hour and act as fiduciaries.

-Skip the four-bedroom. Even if it fits in your budget, a recent analysis found that in the 100 largest metro areas, a four-bedroom had a median cost $100,000 above a three-bedroom. A back of the envelope calculation suggests that opting for the smaller mortgage and investing the difference can grow to a $500,000 nest egg in 30 years (the standard mortgage choice). A $500,000 cushion can bankroll plenty of hotels and Airbnb's for visitors:

-Give your budget breathing room if you're buying near retirement. The Employee Benefits Research Institute recently asked retired women about expenses. Nearly 40% of women who had never been married reported their housing expenses were running higher than expected.

Among divorced retirees, more than one in three said the same.That's an argument for not stretching to buy a house that stretches your budget. Keep in mind that as DIY as you are today, as you age it's likely you're going to want (or need) to offload some of the upkeep to people you hire.

-Don't worry about coming up with a 20% down payment. One of the biggest misconceptions among homebuyers is that you need to have a huge wad of cash for a down payment. All about that here: Private mortgage insurance, required with less than 20% down, isn't something to see as a roadblock. With a solid FICO credit score, PMI is not going to be a big cost, and it can be added to your monthly mortgage payment. With PMI you may be able to make a down payment of as little as 3% or 3.5%. Manage to come to the table with a 5% or a 10% down payment and your PMI cost will be even lower.

-Consider a 15-year mortgage. Not only does it have a lower interest rate, but polishing off the payments in double time can open up all sorts of options. Maybe it's the ability to retire a bit earlier, or at least to not have to sweat staying at a high-powered job through your 60s. Details:

Set a low enough home-price target so you can handle the higher monthly payments compared to a 30-year loan. If a 15-year is too much of a stretch, you can take out a 30-year loan and send in extra money monthly (or once a year) to speed up repayment. Every lender allows this, and you should not be charged a penny.

-Negotiate: OK, ladies, when it comes to buying and selling homes, the single gents are about 2 percentage points better. That's the finding from a recent study of the deals single homebuyers and sellers agree to:

Using the median priced home, researchers estimate single women end up losing $1,600 a year compared to single men. That's money you likely could find plenty of uses for. In your home. ___ Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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