Gayane Meschyan is taking her time shopping — she expects to own this next purchase for at least 10 years.
At age 43, with no spouse or children, she wants to feel sure she's making the right choice.
"I see it as security. It's an investment, and I want to build wealth," said Meschyan. "You think you know the future, but you don't. You can't fully predict the future, so the best you can do is plan for it."
Meschyan, who has a Ph.D. in psychology and works as a research analyst for Los Angeles County, is shopping for a single-family home. She already owns a condominium in Burbank, but said she feels like she's outgrown it. She plans to keep the condo, which is in a building, for rental income, and buy the single-family home to live in.
"My main motivation is because you don't have anyone above you, you have more of a sense of peace," she added.
Meschyan is one of a growing number of single women buying homes. In the past year, single women made up 17 percent of all homebuyers, purchasing at twice the rate of single men, according to a new annual report from the National Association of Realtors. This, despite the fact that women have much lower average incomes than men. Like men, three-quarters of the properties the women buy are single-family, detached homes.
"Single women for years have indicated a strong desire to own a home of their own, as well as an inclination to live closer to friends and family," said Lawrence Yun, chief economist for the NAR. "With job growth holding steady and credit conditions becoming somewhat less stringent than in past years, the willingness and opportunity to buy is becoming more feasible for many single women."
Barbara Jennai, 68, already lived close to her daughters — a little too close after a while. She was living with them, helping to raise her grandchildren. With the kids older now, Jennai felt it was time for her to move out on her own. She rented for a while at Leisure World of Maryland, an active adult community, but a few months ago she decided to buy.
"When I rented I wasn't really putting away any money. A lady in my building said there is such a thing as a reverse mortgage. She connected me with a lender and it turned out that I was a perfect candidate," said Jennai.
Jennai still works full time as a special education teacher, but she was putting far too much of her salary into rent. She had enough savings to make the down payment on the mortgage, and now her monthly payments are less than one-third of her former rent. She also likes the idea of being an owner.
"It's the first time in my life I've ever owned. I walk in every day and say, 'Hello beautiful home,' because it's mine. It's really a wonderful feeling and a feeling I've never had before," said Jennai.
As women move ahead in the workplace, commanding larger salaries, it just makes sense they would start buying more homes. Much of the buying, however, is by older women. That could just be part of the trend of downsizing baby boomers.
"They're either divorced or their husbands have died, and they have the money and they're buying," said Jane Fairweather, a real estate agent in Bethesda, Maryland. "They want stability. They want to have control over their monthly expenses. They're going to be where their children or friends are. They're not whimsical at that age."
Fairweather said she does not see a lot of young women, millennials, rushing in to buy homes, but that may be a factor of the high-priced neighborhood in which she works. Other agents say they are seeing more young women buy, although they usually start with condominiums in full-service buildings for a higher sense of safety.
In the past, single women often had harder times qualifying for mortgages than men. They might have to have a parent co-sign the loan. Those days appear to be over. Said she had no trouble at all getting her home loan.
"My Fico score is over 800. My adult report card is really high," joked Meschyan. "I invested in mutual funds, and the money grew. I've saved regularly. That's what's helped me."