By Penn Javdan
In our complex, modern world, women may be delaying marriage, but they are no longer waiting to find a significant other before purchasing real estate. In particular, they are zoning in on condos.
How do female buyers influence design and, more importantly, demand?
To get a handle on this question we should understand some useful data. The range for the single female buyer is broader than one might expect. It starts at 20 and reaches to 55 and often older. According to a recent study, women in their 20s represent one-third of condo sales in several major Canadian cities, including Toronto. Eighty-four per cent of single parents who own condos are women. A rising divorce rate among those 55 and older has meant an increasing number of older single female households, who have the knowledge and financing to plan their next real estate purchase.
Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp. data indicates that in 2011 women represented 65 per cent of condo owner occupants living alone. For those 55 and older, the number rose to 76 per cent.
Rising home prices and a limited supply in many urban markets make condo ownership a first step to long-term home ownership and, it is hoped, the creation of wealth. These insights are enough to confirm a real demand from the perspective of the single female buyer. But what is it that they want?
The most recent data available suggests 10 priorities for the single female condo buyer:
- Security: Bright, well-lit underground parking garages with panic buttons, 24 hour concierge and security staff.
- Storage: Kitchens with pullouts, closets with built-in organizers and ample storage space.
- Layouts: Older single women want space to be able to bring favourite pieces from their previous homes and also want to accommodate grandchildren for overnight visits. In an era with multigenerational living, this is a smart bet.
- Social areas: Rooftops, terraces, barbecue areas and lounges where they can relax and chat with neighbours, as well as dining and party rooms where they can host family gatherings, are must-haves.
- Gyms: Not the cramped and limited gyms of the previous generation, but well-equipped facilities. Women appreciate well-designed gyms with up-to-date equipment, swimming pools and yoga studios. If they can bring in personal trainers or yoga instructors, even better.
- Pet friendly: Many women who live alone in condos have dogs and cats as companions and want buildings that accommodate their furry pals. On-site pet washing stations are a bonus.
- Details and luxury finishes: Studies suggest that women are more detail-oriented, so they would want move-in ready places that have finishes that last and stand out. While older homes and rentals in the city can be done up to look like new, the finishes in condos are generally newer and provide the luxury feel that appeals to many women. Granite countertops, laminate or hardwood flooring, high ceilings, stainless steel appliances and brand new fixtures are all features that are highly desired.
- Natural lighting: Many women prefer corner suites to maximize window space.
- Outdoor space: Balancing the daily grind of work and social life can be confining enough on its own. Missing a personal outdoor space such as a balcony is a turn off for many.
- Lifestyle: Aside from affordability, the convenience and flexibility of condo living is for many impossible to beat. Specifically, they want safe neighbourhoods that are close to transportation, night-life and, if possible, work. This trifecta is for many too important to ignore.
These priorities are further reflected in the upward mobility of the single female buyer as well. An increasing number of single women are growing their businesses and purchasing power. The average annual income earned by full-time women entrepreneurs is $60,000, while the number of women who were self employed in 2011 was 950,000. Almost half of Canadian small and medium-sized businesses are partially or majority owned by women.
Women entrepreneurs contributed $148 billion to Canada’s economy in 2011, the latest year for which data is available.
“We know women are starting more businesses than men,” says Susan Brown, BMO senior vice president and head of women’s strategy. It therefore comes as no surprise that the single-person household is now among the fastest-growing category in Canada’s real estate market.
The conventional family unit is in decline. According to 2011 census data, there are more Canadians living by themselves than there are couples with children.
Wherever they place on the spectrum – business owners, seniors, single, divorced or some combination of these – women buyers are commanding a greater share of purchasing power. Women live by themselves for a variety of reasons. The point is to offer them just what they want.