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Next home? Women are clearly decision-makers

3/27/2014 - West Side Leader
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By Tom Kelly

Gimme Shelter

In the past, images of retirement in the United States were focused on the father and his golf clubs or fishing gear. The question became, what was this man who had spent years in the working world going to do with all of his spare time?

But times, obviously, have changed. Builders, realtors and developers are finally starting to “get it.” They now are well aware that women make a majority of the decisions in the home-buying process. Since the 1960s, the percentage of men entering the work force has diminished while the percentage of working women has increased substantially. Today, women are independent, empowered, educated and employed — and often single.

A profile of homebuyers and sellers from the National Association of Realtors (NAR) showed nearly 30 percent of all U.S. homebuyers were single. Single women accounted for the second-largest segment of homebuyers, accounting for 21 percent of transactions, after married couples, who bought 59 percent of homes. NAR also estimates that 47 percent of condominium owners are single women.

According to a discussion featuring women in the housing industry, women 50-plus are choosing to live in communities that emphasize social interaction and convenience, enabling them to simultaneously nurture and multi-task. The experience of community is a key driver for women, as well as the proximity to jobs and public transportation.

As for home amenities, women are very focused on security. They are attracted to high-tech home security systems, as well as automated home lighting systems. Convenience, in terms of location and saving time and effort, are a big plus with female homebuyers. Women also are quicker to look to have amenities that play into the needs of children. Shared areas are critical to community life, as well as nearby stores, parks and recreational areas. Communities centered on a single amenity (i.e., golf clubhouse) are perceived as less welcoming for women and children.

According to Doris Perlman, founder and president of Possibilities for Design, women control 80 percent of consumer purchases, direct 91 percent of housing decisions and guide 94 percent of home furnishing choices. While Perlman’s research has delineated many of the specific home features that are likely to particularly attract older women, in their shopping habits she suggested that these customers are apt to be “circular, exploring and tactile” and “do not make linear decisions.”

“Her needs for personal connection and security are key,” Perlman added. “Women don’t just buy a product; they join it.”

Among Perlman’s observations on what will sway baby boomer women homebuyers:

  • Illumination — both task lighting and natural light — is of major importance to compensate for declining vision and to add drama.
  • Women buyers are looking for strong character in home design, such as cottages with a crisp and clean look, urban enclaves with rich colors and textures, and calming and contemporary Asian influences.
  • Women who are 55 or older are cyber savvy and use their computers for ordering and correspondence.
  • Women this age now have more time to relax, engage in social activities and explore hobbies, making “special interest” rooms an essential feature in new home marketing. Perlman also says that “women shop with peripheral vision: they notice everything,” and “harness the power of grandparenting.” It’s OK to include a grandchild’s room. They also want walking trails and a hotel/resort fitness feel.

Sara Lamia, founder and president of Homed Building Coach Inc., said builders who hope to succeed in selling to the older woman need to learn how to build their trust first. Lamia cautioned that women over 50 “are especially perceptive and will know if you appreciate them or not.”

“We need to be respected and heard and expect nothing but the best, including luxury and superb customer service,” Lamia said. “We want to be able to die in our new homes and don’t want to ever have to move to an institution.”

Builders and remodelers wanting to focus on the 50+, new-home category will be working with a woman who likes to have the rules set for her so it is important to set them at the start. It’s important to explain all responsibilities and what can, and cannot, reasonably be expected as the construction process moves forward.

Experts suggest staying away from statements like “Don’t worry about that, we’ll fix it.” Instead, tell her how it’s going to be fixed, who’s going to fix it and when it will be fixed.

That would be a terrific strategy, especially in our home.

 

Tom Kelly, former real estate editor for The Seattle Times, is a syndicated columnist and talk-show host.

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