If you’re a single woman looking to buy a home, you’re in good company: Single women make up the second largest group of homebuyers only after married couples, according to the National Association of Realtors. In fact, last year nearly one-fifth of homebuyers were single females.
But while you may have heard some of the more common homebuying advice already — compare prices with similar properties in the neighborhood, get a good real estate agent, prepare to negotiate — there may be factors you haven’t considered when it comes to choosing your new home. Here are seven questions to ask yourself before buying your first home.
DO YOU KNOW YOUR FULL FINANCIAL PICTURE?
The old notion that a single-income buyer needs better credit than a couple or must jump through hoops to purchase a home is simply not the case anymore, says Kseniya Komeva, a real estate specialist at Pineywoods Realty in Tampa, Florida. “Since it's in the best interest of the lender to approve a client, they usually don't try to make the process any harder than it has to be,” she says.
That said, lenders will only have one credit profile and income to look at when deciding which mortgage terms you qualify for, so it’s important to get a pulse on your financial health. That includes checking your credit report and knowing what your debt-to-income ratio is.
To get pre-approved for a mortgage, a lender or mortgage broker will also go through your financials to help you determine a realistic down payment and monthly mortgage amount. “There may be extra expenses like private mortgage insurance that factor into your monthly payment that aren't included when you're just using an online mortgage calculator,” says Lauren McKinney, a real-estate agent in Asheville, North Carolina.
And keep in mind that just because you’re pre-approved for a certain amount doesn’t mean you should borrow that much. Talk to a financial advisor to get a sense of how buying a home could impact your other financial goals.
HOW MUCH REMODELING OR MAINTENANCE WILL BE REQUIRED?
The idea of buying a fixer-upper and remodeling it to your liking sounds romantic, but unless you’re a super-experienced DIYer be prepared to include a contractor in your budget. “Large-scale remodels can take four to eight weeks or more, and you have to consider that people will be in and out of your home throughout the process,” McKinney says.
She also recommends considering the amount of yard maintenance you’re willing to do. If you don’t want the extra upkeep (or want to pay for it), consider choosing a house with less green space or one that’s conducive to pots rather than planted beds. Another option to consider? A condo where the maintenance is taken care of through homeowners association fees.
HOW SAFE IS THE NEIGHBORHOOD?
While security is a concern for most people, it may feel especially important to single female buyers. McKinney advises driving through the area at different times of the day and taking note of the traffic, number of streetlights and the general vibe. Neighbors can also be helpful sources of information. “Take a little stroll and ask neighbors about the area,” McKinney suggests. You can also check the prevalence of local crime on sites like SpotCrime and AreaVibes.
HOW SAFE IS THE PROPERTY ITSELF?
You should feel safe in your physical home as well. When house hunting, Melissa Okabe, a real estate agent with Alta Properties in Gardena, California, recommends noting the number and location of doors and windows in case you need to exit safely. You might also consider homes with an attached garage that offer direct access into the house.
For condo units, get a sense of how comfortable you feel when walking through hallways or corridors, how far away parking spaces are, and whether the complex is gated or has prominent building security. “My female clients who purchase condos tend to prefer non-ground level units for a feeling of extra safety,” Okabe says.
HOW ARE THE SCHOOLS?
Whether or not you see kids in your future, “good school districts are worth paying attention to, not only for your own family, but also because they contribute to a neighborhood's stable desirability and help properties keep their value,” Okabe says.
To learn about the schools in a particular area, sites like Niche and GreatSchools provide ratings and reviews of local districts. Also check out neighborhood schools’ parent organization pages on social media to get a sense for how active they are.
DOES THE HOME HAVE RENTAL POTENTIAL?
Okabe says many of her female clients consider a home’s rentability in order to help offset the mortgage or turn it into a future income property. (Note that if it’s a condo, you’ll need to check with the homeowners association’s rules for renting.) If you see yourself renting out in the future, look for flexibility in your floor plan, such as whether you’re able to install a kitchenette or create a second entrance.
HAVE YOU NEGOTIATED ENOUGH?
In Komeva’s experience, female clients tend to want to collaborate more quickly to make a deal work, but that’s not always the best thing when negotiating. “I've found that women tend to try to resolve things right away,” Komeva says, “but in real estate sometimes you just have to sit back and let things play out rather than react immediately.”