Bella DePaulo: Singles Really Want...

Social psychologist Bella DePaulo, author of Singlism, offers tips on avoiding the cultural bias that sometimes works against unmarried home buyers.

January 10, 2013

U.S. Census data show that since 2000 there have been more single-adult households than those consisting of a married couple with children. Does this mean the social stigma of being single has evaporated?

Not yet. We are still a society obsessed with coupling. It's what drives popular culture. Look at the popularity of TV shows like "The Bachelor" and "The Bachelorette" that exist to exalt the importance of finding the perfect mate. We live in a time of what I call “matrimania.” It seems even more pronounced than in the past. Back in the 1970s, Mary Tyler Moore was a symbol of the independent single woman who showed no particular interest in being married.

Does your research on discrimination suggest any misconceptions about singles?

The assumption persists that what people want more than anything else is a soul mate. A major real estate company a few years back suggested in its advertising that a single woman buyer might be more interested in a particular house because of the single man living next door than because of the features of the home. It’s a mistake to assume that single ­people are more concerned about getting married or remarried than anything else. My latest book, Singlism (Double Door Books, 2011), points out how stereotypes about what it means to be single have gone unrecognized and unnamed. These beliefs encompass the idea that people couldn’t possibly live joyful lives if they aren't part of a couple. 

One of the largest segments of home buyers is single women, accounting for 16 percent of sales in 2012. What should real estate practitioners keep in mind when working with unmarried clients?

If unmarried clients, men or women, say they want a house, show them a house and don't try to talk them into a townhome or condo. The statistics are a wonderful indicator of how single women see themselves. They’'e not just marking time until a man comes along, storing their belongings in orange crates, and making do with hand-me-down kitchenware.

As a single woman, have you had any notable experiences working with a real estate agent?

When I was buying a home in the early 1990s in Charlottesville, Va., I was a tenured professor, but I found that agents wouldn’t take me seriously. I'd ask agents to show me the most expensive properties that fit my criteria, and they'd show me the least expensive. They were acting against their own interest. The underlying assumption is that if you’re single, you don't need all that space.

What other housing trends reflect the new ways that people want to live?

More men and women are sharing homes with friends. These are not roommate situations or ­people just trying to save money. In these situations, they want to live with others they have a real connection with. These do make for more complex real estate transactions legally, so it’s especially important for these clients to consult a real estate attorney for advice on their particular situation. But fundamentally, agents should hear what these clients need and want in a home. The right mix is different for different people.

Wendy Cole

Wendy Cole is the former managing editor of REALTOR® Magazine.