Photo: Flickr / kcolwell
When Jeannie Douthitt quit her tech job at IBM, she had no clue what she was doing.All she knew was she needed a change, and after divorcing her husband and sending her son off to college, she saw no reason to stay in Chicago.
Dallas seemed like as good a place as any to make a new start, so she decided to purchase a home there. But Douthitt found the homebuying process was anything but simple—especially for a woman on her own.
“I went from place to place, and the owners would bluntly ask if I could afford it,” Douthitt said. “I didn’t know where to start with the process, and wasn’t sure if I could. But I felt like I was being treated unfairly.”
After talking with friends who shared similar experiences, Douthitt realised she’d struck a nerve.
Though today’s single women represent a whopping 20 per cent of home buyers—out-purchasing single white men who account for only 12 per cent—many remain in the dark about the nuts and bolts of the homebuying process. They’re unsure of their credit standing, baffled by mortgages and have a hard time finding a realtor they trust.
realising many single women felt entitled to the American Dream but didn’t know how to pursue it, Douthitt decided to launch her own business. Enlisting the help of two other single women—a mortgage broker and title expert—together they called themselves the Swap Team and opened up shop in Dallas. They later changed the name to Smart Women Buy Homes to make web searching easier, and began hosting webinars and seminars around town to educate women on the homebuying process.
“Women like information and don’t want to feel out of control,” said Douthitt, whose business is booming now that the market has opened up. “They want to feel like they’re being helped.”
We asked Douthitt to share her top tips for single women buying homes today:
Talk to family and friends. If you’re unsure about buying a home, vent your concerns to a supportive group of family and friends, said Douthitt. Since these are the people who know you best, they can help you decide the best course of action. “A couple has each other to talk to, but often single women have no one.”
Avoid debt at all costs. Don’t bite off more mortgage than you can chew, warned Douthitt, who’s seen too many women fall into the trap of hitting their pre-approval limit. “You don’t want to be house poor. You want to own this home and be able to do what you want. With interest rates as low as they are, women can buy what they want—and pay less.”
Know your credit rating. Mortgage lenders have become stricter than ever post-recession, said Douthitt, so you’ll need your credit to be in tip-top shape if you’re hoping to get approved. Check out these tips to get your credit on track.
Ask lots of questions. “Never be afraid to ask questions,” said Douthitt, who says women’s fear of looking dumb can impact their finances if they aren’t armed with the right information. “You should ask questions until you understand the concept. Forget about feeling intimidated.”
Make a wish list. “You’ve got to be realistic about what you can and can’t afford in a home,” Douthitt said, before adding that women should be willing to compromise to stick to their budget.
Know your broker and agent. Women want to have a relationship with their real estate agent and mortgage broker, not a transaction, Douthitt explained. “Often, buying a home is all about the transaction, but this is a major purchase that you need to reflect on,” she says. For most women, this is intuitive, but it’s important to get a sense of who you’re working with, from their experience to how they make you feel before taking the plunge.
Get pre-approved. First-time homebuyers are notorious for overlooking this all-important step, which determines how much mortgage you can afford, said Douthitt. There’s no point in setting your sights on a McMansion if you can’t even lock in the mortgage. And don’t worry about it affecting your credit score. “If it’s all done within the same time, it’ll be fine,” Douthitt said.