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Tips for Single, First-time Homebuyers

The image of homebuyers we see most often is of a young couple, maybe expectant, maybe with toddlers in tow, showing off their new bungalow adorned with a white picket fence.

The true picture is slightly different. The latest statistics show that more singles are buying houses or condos than ever before, particularly women. The most recent census shows that 27.6% of homes in Canada have only one person living in them. The latest data from the U.S., compiled by the U.S. National Association of Realtors, shows that 16% of homebuyers are single women while 9% are single men. Similarly, in Canada women outnumber men when it comes to settling into their own digs.

While the principles for how to buy a house are basically the same across the board, there are special nuances for singles. Here are some tips:

Consider your finances. Buying a house is one of the biggest financial decisions people make. For a single person, the decision is even more momentous. Many single people are first-time buyers and this is also their first major investment. Without experience, the universal rule of doing your research and consulting with professionals before you sign the offer becomes even more vital.

When you’re choosing a realtor, find somebody who has worked with single people. There are fewer homes scaled for single people and priced for a single income than there are family homes, so you’ll need more time to shop and to negotiate. It’s hard to find the time to shop around. But take that time and find a realtor who has the patience to take the time with you.

If you’re single, it may be harder to qualify for a large mortgage because there’s no second income to reassure the lender. And women are often paying more for mortgages than men. A 2011 study found that, on average, women pay 40 basis points – that’s nearly 0.5% – more on home mortgages than their male counterparts. The reason? Women are more likely to choose a lender based on someone’s recommendation while men tend to try and find the lowest rate. So shop around for the best mortgage rate using the tools on, and don’t be embarrassed to negotiate.

Because you’re alone, also getting the opinion of trusted friends and family is essential. They’re the ones who really know what your needs are, sometimes even when you don’t.

Make sure you can afford it. How much to pay for your house is an important consideration. But being able to afford one also entails taxes, maintenance and insurance. Have an emergency fund for at least six months of expenses. If you buy a house as a couple or a family, there’s generally another family member who can step in if there’s an emergency. If you’re single and lose your job, get sick, or a tree branch hits your roof in a storm, you don’t have a spouse or significant other to fall back on for the monthly nut.

Even more, make sure you have adequate insurance coverage in case anything happens. You never know. It’s important to protect your income because the responsibility for meeting your mortgage payments and covering expenses lies solely with you. That means not only buying home insurance to protect against fire, floods, earthquakes and theft, but also protecting your salary with disability and medical insurance that pays your mortgage if you’re laid up or laid off.

Think about your lifestyle. The sense of independence that come with owning your own home, and where you can be comfortable creating your own living environment, can be euphoric. Taking control of how you use the space you own to do what you want, when you want to do it is liberating. If you like yoga or painting or even reading, you don’t have to ask for permission.

Living with a roommate might not feel ideal for somebody who’s asserting his or her independence, but a second bedroom helps pay the mortgage and gives you somebody to talk to. Once you can afford it, that room can become a home office and a place for your friends to crash. Also, when you choose to sell, a house or condo with two or three bedrooms is more marketable.

Don’t spend so much on your house that you can’t enjoy the perks of living the single lifestyle. As a single person, you probably want to be close to bistros, great restaurants, nightlife, theatres, shopping, and sports facilities rather to nearby schools. Most real estate listings extol the neighbourhood schools and not the pasta bar or sports pub around the corner.

Developers are aware that single women, especially those in their 20s, have become an increasing presence in the housing market, particularly for condos, and they’re responding by designing buildings with improved lighting, security cameras in parking garages, and maximized storage space.

Closet space is a priority for singles, but not storage in the basement. As one homeowner puts it, “You don’t want to put your shoes in the basement.” Check out the floor plan to make sure there is room, not only for you, but for your possessions.

Gyms are also a priority for singles. New condos have well-equipped gyms with workout spaces on upper floors with windows overlooking the city.

You’re less likely to own a car. So finding a neighbourhood that’s walkable, and well-serviced by public transit with easily accessible amenities like shops, creates a community for singles. There are now more dogs than children in North America. It’s assumed that many of these pooches are owned by people who live alone. So consider if the park around the corner has an off-leash dog park where Fido can cavort with Rover while their single owners mingle.

Make sure you can handle the upkeep. Think of who’s going to mow the grass. If you’re the only one with the house keys, think about who has to wield the toilet plunger or climb the ladders to clean out the eavestrough, even if you’re afraid of heights. If you aren’t handy, arm yourself with a set of phone numbers for tradespeople.

Look out for your safety and security. If you’re a single homeowner, it’s likely that nobody is going to be home for the majority of the time. Neighbourhoods matter, as do concierges, having a dog, street lighting, and security systems. Walk around the neighbourhood you’re considering buying in both during the day and at night to gauge the street traffic and the lighting. If you’re warily looking over your shoulder, maybe you should move on.

Think about the future. While you’re single now, someday you might find that special somebody to share your house with. But what if it doesn’t work out? When you are buying your house, even if you’re not in a relationship, you can shield your home with a pre-nuptial agreement in the event that you do get married or move in with a romantic partner.  In fact, fashioning that agreement while you’re still unattached means that you can do it dispassionately with no hard feelings or guilt.

Consider the resale value of your property. If you’re single and you get a good job offer in a new city, chances are that since you have no family encumbrances you’re more likely to jump at it. Make sure you can sell your house quickly enough so that it isn’t holding you back from a good opportunity.