Not Going It Alone

Single clients often depend on practitioners for emotional support as well as transaction knowledge.

September 17, 2014

For Marianne Guenther Bornhoft, green, SRES, working with single women—40 percent of her clientele—was a natural fit. “I’ve learned that it’s easy to work with people you can identify with and who can identify with you,” says Bornhoft, a sales agent with Windermere Real Estate in Spokane, Wash. “I bought a house on my own when I was divorced, so I know that market intimately.”

Nationally, 25 percent of buyers are single, according to the latest Profile of Home Buyers and Sellers from the National Association of REALTORS®, with nearly twice as many single women as men (16 percent vs. 9 percent) purchasing homes. Though the share of homes bought by singles has been stifled in recent years, first by the recession and then by tight lending conditions, many practitioners are finding success serving single clients, regardless of their own marital status. The bond between those real estate pros and their single clients can be especially strong. “Buying and selling real estate and moving is already a highly emotional process. If you’re doing it alone, it can be scary and stressful,” says Tiffany Stevens, gri, sales agent with Phyllis Browning Co. in San Antonio. “I keep that in mind when working with my single clientele, so that they never feel like they are completely alone in the process,” she says.

Unmarried people may, in fact, have more frequent real estate needs than couples and families because they tend to be more mobile. Between 2012 and 2013, 12 million never-married and 3 million divorced people moved homes compared with 9.9 million marrieds, according to Census Bureau data. Christopher Mills, sales agent with Keller Williams Capital Properties in Washington, D.C., says many singles who buy homes in the District’s hot H Street Corridor change jobs or need to move within five years. For them, the issue is finding a home that can transition to a rental property easily.

Rising Purchasing Power

The rising purchasing power of single women suggests they’ll be an important demographic for decades to come. Currently, six out of 10 college graduates (whose incomes are typically far higher than those of high school grads) are female, according to the U.S. Department of Education. Income parity is also improving: Among workers ages 25 to 35, women’s hourly wages in 2012 were 93 percent those of men, compared to 84 percent for women of all ages, according to a Pew Research Center study.

To reach single women, community involvement is key, according to Bornhoft, who has worked with more than two dozen nonprofits in her area. She serves on the board of Visit Spokane, a local visitors’ bureau, and targets her advertising within the tourism industry, where a lot of women happen to work. “I’ve sold a lot of properties to single clients who are successful professional women,” Bornhoft says. Many of her clients end up being lifelong friends as well as repeat -customers—in fact, one client has purchased seven homes from her. “You have to be a confidant, a financial adviser, sometimes a parent, and a friend.”

Social media can play a powerful role in strengthening contacts. Stevens reaches singles on Fridays by posting local events on Facebook. “Someone who’s single is likely trying to get out there and meet friends,” she -says “[My posts] can make them feel I’m more connected and really know the community.” She has found single women to be a powerful referral sources. “If you’re really there for them, they rave about you to everyone they talk to. You didn’t just get their house sold; you took care of them,” Stevens says. “They won’t forget that.” Conversely, if the customer is unhappy, her friends will likely know that as well.

Lynn Olson is a Chicago-based writer and editor.