How women are re-shaping real estate

Single women are now estimated to account for more than a quarter (27%) of all home purchases nationally – and the real estate industry is increasingly taking note of their needs and preferences, different as these are from those of single men or  people buying more traditionally as a couple.

That’s the word from Jan Davel, MD of the RealNet estate agency group, who says that the increase in the number of single women buyers is in line with the progress SA is making in gender equality and the economic empowerment of women, as indicated in the Women Matter Africa report just released by McKinsey & Co ( and by other recent research.

“This shows that Africa – and SA in particular - is actually doing somewhat better than many other parts of the world when it comes to these issues, although equality is obviously still a very long way off. The McKinsey report shows, for example, that in Africa as a whole, an average 5% of private sector company CEO’s are women, which puts it on par with the US but ahead of the Asia (4%), the EU (3%) and Latin America (2%).

“It also shows that in SA, 20% of company board positions are held by women, compared to an average of 14% for the rest of Africa and an average of 13% for the rest of the world, while research conducted last year by the Businesswomen’s Association of SA shows that women now occupy 38% of top management positions in the country’s public sector and 41% of such positions in State-owned enterprises.”

When it comes to politics, he notes, the most recent International Parliamentary Union figures show that women occupy 42% of the seats in SA’s parliament and 35% of the permanent positions in cabinet, compared to the average quoted by McKinsey for the rest of Africa of 24% of parliamentary seats and 22% of cabinet positions. Globally, only the EU has more women in parliament (28%), while the US has 18% and Asia only 15%.

“And these figures do not even touch on the leadership roles that SA women are playing in non-government organisations (NGOs) or as amazing entrepreneurs in many thousands of small, medium and micro-enterprises that never make it into the statistics but are increasingly important means of economic empowerment.”

Clearly not all women in leadership roles are single, Davel says. “The point is that because there are more opportunities now for all women to earn more and be financially independent, it is also getting easier for single women to become homeowners – as they are clearly keen to do.         

“Of course the reasons they may have for wanting to buy a home can vary widely - from simply being ready for a home of their own, for example, to relocating for work, moving closer to family, or needing a larger or smaller living space – and in our experience, single women buying homes are from many different age groups, backgrounds and cultures.

Some may have just finished university and be setting out on their careers, he says, while others may be recently divorced or widowed, some have children and some not, and some may be moving from a family home to a smaller property in order to retire.

“However, there are definitely certain needs and preferences that they do have in common, and as they become an increasingly powerful real estate demographic, we expect to see these factors having more overall influence on the shape of the residential market.

“For example, while location and security are important to all buyers, single women will pay a premium to live in an area that is not only safe and convenient but also has a solid sense of community – where they feel welcome and believe they will be able to integrate and interact easily and quickly feel included in what is going on.

“Taking this trend even further, many single women will choose to live in security complexes and estates for the company of near neighbours and the communal facilities as much as the additional security – and may even compromise on the size or cost of their home to do so.”

However home design, layout and condition are also all important to single women, Davel says, with the most popular home choices currently being those with at least two bedrooms and two bathrooms, modern kitchens with a good flow and low-maintenance gardens and finishes. “In addition, single women generally like to see what they are buying, so are less likely to buy off-plan and more likely to buy a pre-owned home.

“What is more, single women tend to be financially astute and practical about what they can afford and/ or how much they want to pay, so they won’t waste time looking at unsuitable properties. However, sellers should know that they often do want to view those homes that they do like several times – at different times of the day or week and perhaps with different friends or relatives – before they commit to a purchase.”

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