The Definitive Guide to Buying Your First Home

Single women are losing out in the housing market. Here's what they can do about it


Single women are losing out in the housing market whether they are buying or selling, according to a recent study from Kelly Shue and Paul Goldsmith-Pinkham of the Yale School of Management.

Analyzing data from over 50 million home sales between 1991 and 2017, the researchers found that single women, on average, pay 2% more for the same house as a single men and sell for 2% less.

"We find that women purchase properties when they are listed at higher relative prices, and also choose to list for lower relative prices," write the researchers. "In addition, women negotiate worse discounts relative to the listing price."

The study controlled for age, listing agent, income, type of home, ethnicity, education and many other factors, and still found that overall, women are losing $1,370 per year on their homes, compared to men, Shue told NPR.

Compounded over time, women are losing potentially tens of thousands of dollars in their lifetime — not counting whatever they'd gain if they invested that money in the stock market.

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That has serious implications for a woman's finances overall: Housing wealth accounts for the majority of most households' wealth in the U.S., per Shue and Goldsmith-Pinkham, with Americans investing more in the housing market than in stocks.

When women lose in the housing market, it impacts their ability to save for retirement and reach other financial goals, too.

The gender gap in negotiation

The researchers note there is plenty of evidence to suggest that women underperform overall in negotiations, compared to men. And that applies to negotiating the list price of their homes, according to the study.

"Women negotiate smaller discounts relative to the listing price when buying and offer larger discounts when selling," the researchers write. In fact, home prices are highest when the seller is male and the buyer is female, and lowest when the buyer is male and the seller is female.

The researchers say this isn't necessarily because women are less sophisticated negotiators, but rather because they are penalized for "leaning in" and negotiating at all.

"People are more offended by low-ball offers from female buyers," Shue told NPR. Our culture "may expect that women are more willing to share the pie and share the surplus from negotiation."

In fact, just knowing the gender of the other party in the negotiation can affect the sale price, per the report.

How to close the gap

To close the gap, the study's authors suggested on NPR that women think of home as a long term investment. The longer that the home is owned, the smaller the difference in annual returns between men and women. In other words, women start to make up some of the money they "lost" in the home transaction.

"The gender gap in housing returns is greater for homeowners with shorter tenure in their properties, because they 'trade' assets more often," the researchers explain, so the price they buy or sell for has a much greater effect on their long-term returns.

Another important strategy is to research comparable listing prices and match them, as women tend to list their houses for less than men do, on average.

Overall, though, the researchers note that a large part of the discrepancy is related to market timing, or when and where women and men choose to buy and sell.

"Women earn lower returns on housing partly because they tend to buy when aggregate house prices are high and sell when they are low," they write.

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The gap almost entirely disappears when the housing market is tight, according to the study. Obviously, timing any market is near impossible, but the researchers suggest it's a good time for women to buy or sell when the economy is doing well, if they can wait it out until then.

Of course, that's easier said than done. Simply waiting for better market conditions isn't something many single women can or will do, Skylar Olsen, director of economic research at Zillow, tells CNBC Make It.

Single women are more likely to be parents than single men, and in general women are more likely to take other non-economic factors into consideration when buying or selling, like the type of house, how many bedrooms, proximity to good schools and so on, she says.

"Women may be more likely to be making household decisions that are not about a financial decision, but about a life decision," says Olsen.

Don't miss: How a 25-year-old used $40,000 in down-payment assistance to buy her first house in Atlanta

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