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Single men a reluctant factor in the market
When Jason Baker sized up his housing options, he found himself wincing at the thought of tossing rent money down the drain.
That was all the motivation the 29-year-old single needed to purchase a one-bedroom, one-bath condo at Grand Bend at Greenbay, a new 49-unit condominium building west of downtown Evanston.
"Honestly, I was tired of writing a rent check every month that got me nowhere," he recalls of his decision to buy. "I've been renting in Evanston for about three years. It looks like I'm going to be here for a while, and I like Evanston. It's got the 20-something demographic, lots of entertainment and restaurants. I do see it as a good investment."
Reflecting on the housing status of his peers, Baker says he may be something of a minority as a single male home buyer.
"My contemporaries back East from college haven't gotten to the point where they can make a purchase," he says.
If men are from Mars and women from Venus, it also appears they're light years away from one another in their willingness to become homeowners while single.
Anecdotal evidence that single men trail single females in home buying is backed by solid quantitative proof.
The National Association of Realtors reports single women currently make up better than one in five home buyers. The association's 2005 survey of 7,800 home buyers and sellers found single women comprised 21 percent of all home buyer households, far outstripping the 9 percent registered by single men. Both trailed married couples, which made up 61 percent of the market.
A recent study by Harvard University's Joint Center for Housing Studies noted that there are more unmarried women in the population, more women are delaying marriage and more women are forming their own households. Those factors help account for the $550 billion of real estate purchased by unmarried females between 2000 and 2003, the Harvard study concluded.
Talk to home builders, and many will tell you they just don't see as many single men as they do single women buyers.
"We have found that to be the case," said Janey Amidei, vice-president of sales and marketing with Streamwood-based Kirk Homes.
"I think single men might be more interested in gadgets, big-screen TVs, golfing and boating," she said. "I don't think they're looking to set up a cozy home the way a married or single woman is.
"Women have nesting instincts from day one, to play with dolls, take care of younger brothers and sisters, and have pride in putting together their first home. They're interested in curtains, bedding, linens, valances, draperies and wall coverings."
Alternative theories about the comparative paucity of male buyers are advanced by Andrius Augunas, founder and principal of Rokas International, the developer of 2100, a 163-unit development at 2100 South Indiana Ave. in Chicago's South Loop.
Many single men, he said, believe buying a home is tantamount to settling down, and don't see themselves taking that step anytime soon. In addition, he believes men are less likely to feel the need to display independence. And Augunas believes men don't possess the same ability as women to envision their anticipated needs down the road.
"They aren't the planners that women are," he commented.
Other observers believe it's not that there are so few single male buyers, but that it simply appears that way in a world where more and more home buyers are female.
"Because they're more college educated, there are more women in the workforce, and their earning power is at an all-time high," said Juli Jacobs, director of marketing with Deerfield's Jacobs Homes. "They're educated, they have jobs, they have money, and they also have the ability to trade up in terms of their residences."
In addition, Jacobs believes men don't get serious about real estate until they meet the right woman. Women, on the other hand, are looking to build their credit and their financial power, and recognize the best investment is real estate, she feels.
But perhaps the ultimate motivator for women and not men is the nesting instinct, she added:
"And don't forget, women like things they can call their own. They want to know the dishes in the sink are theirs, and they can pick the color on that wall."
Agreeing that single men finish a poor second to single women in home buying is Pam Albrecht, vice-president of sales and marketing for Northbrook-based Ferris Homes, developer of Baker's new home, Evanston's Grand Bend at Greenbay.
"We find a lot more single women buying, as opposed to single men," she said. "And in our Evanston community, that seems to be holding true . . . It is about 8 percent that single males comprise of the total numbers."
Albrecht considers it surprising that more single men aren't buying homes, given the financial logic of doing so.
"It's just odd that it's a low number, to be honest, because many males are good with math skills," she said.
Kirk Homes' Amidei reported a few single men have checked out her company's Apple Creek Estates development in Woodstock.
"We had one man come in earlier this year," she recalled. "He works at a major big box retailer nearby, and he started a trend. He bought, then referred twin brothers, and they bought together. Then they in turn referred a friend, who in turn referred another friend. They are all single men."
At Chicago's 2100, a number of single men have been attracted by technology features, Augunas said. He ensured the South Loop development, featuring a 163-unit high-rise tower adjoining a 42-unit mid-rise timber loft conversion, included the Smart Home system, which allows homeowners to control heating, lighting and audio systems remotely through the Internet from anywhere in the world.
"The Smart Home is standard, and men are more interested than women in that technology," Augunas said, adding he believes "guys love gadgets."
In addition, Augunas is convinced male buyers are lured to the property by time-saving and aesthetic amenities. These include on-site dry cleaners and an elevated dog walk, as well as stainless steel appliances in kitchens and marble tile in bathrooms.
Finally, he believes single male buyers are particularly attracted to an up-and-coming neighborhood like the one in which 2100 is situated.
"Many young men like to buy as an investment," he said. "And this neighborhood is a good place for an investment, with McCormick Place nearby, and a lot of new restaurants in the area."
For Shijo Mullappallil, a 27-year-old single male studying for the bar exam, the lure of a home at Library Tower at State Street and Congress Parkway was all about smart money management.
Prior to graduating from law school at Valparaiso University in June, he decided to purchase a one-bedroom, one-bath condominium at the new 184-unit condominium building across from Harold Washington Library.
"I thought it would be a better investment than renting," said Mullappallil, who expects to move into Library Tower upon its completion in October 2008. "I thought investing in something would be better than just giving money away in rent."
Some male buyers dread the perceived permanence linked to home buying, but not Baker. He doesn't see his new condo being a barrier to mobility in the years ahead.
"One of the important aspects of choosing new construction was that I could turn around and sell it in a couple of years, which I anticipate doing," he said. "When the time comes to move up and out, I was looking for a place that wouldn't be difficult to sell."