Kandace Mulvaney, a Sacramento-based real estate broker, has noticed an uptick in female homebuyers in the past year.

Home Makers

A woman’s place in the home is as the buyer, seller — and everything in between

Back Longreads May 23, 2017 By Laurie Lauletta-Boshart

Last year, Lisa Holm, a certified personal trainer, bought her first home. The 52-year-old divorced mother of two had purchased homes before as a married person, but this was different.

Tired eyes? You can listen to the audio version of this article here:

“I wanted a place that was mine and I wanted to be in control and in charge,” she says. With the help of an experienced real estate broker and a seasoned mortgage professional, Holm was able to fulfill her wish. “The financial part is what drove my decision because I’m a logical person, and the rental market is very expensive here. But emotionally, I’ve never had a house I could call my own, and this was my chance to do that,” she says.

With the help of Kandace Mulvaney, a real estate broker with boutique agency Miller Real Estate in Sacramento, and Sharon McKernan, a loan consultant with Kappel Mortgage Group in Fair Oaks, Holm was prequalified when her ideal house came on the market. Within 24 hours of seeing a three-bedroom bungalow in Fair Oaks, Holm had a personal letter and offer in hand, ready to give the seller, also a single woman. Holm moved into her new 1,200-square-foot home last May.

A 15-year veteran in the residential real estate business, Mulvaney is noticing a subtle shift in the market that reflects recent national trends: an increase in female homebuyers, many of them single. According to an October 2016 study from the National Association of Realtors, the number of single-women homebuyers has been on the rise, climbing from 11 percent in 1981 to 17 percent today, and is expected to continue to grow. Women also represent 62 percent of all certified realtors in residential real estate and are joining the professional ranks on the homebuilding side, founding companies and occupying seats in the executive suite and on industry boards.

Including Holm, Mulvaney has sold homes to five single women — a demographic outside her normal buyer profile — in the past year. “I typically work with couples, but I am starting to see a lot more single, female homebuyers,” she says. The women she’s worked with are educated, working full time and range in age between 35 and 55. All but one is divorced. “If women can, they do,” Mulvaney says of single women purchasing on their own.

With the increase in female representation across the homebuilding and homebuying spectrums, the building and real estate industries have an opportunity to target this growing market, which could shift the way homes are designed, built and sold.

The Homebuilder

In 2002, when Rachel Bardis launched Corinthian Homes, she was an oddity among her homebuilding peers. She was young, she was single and she was a woman.

At 26, she had been around the homebuilding industry her entire life — working for her uncle at Reynen & Bardis Development and learning under the tutelage of her cousins Tom, Mike and Pete Winn, founders of Wincrest Homes. While at Reynen & Bardis, she began to question why things were done the way they were. Rachel was particularly focused on improvements in systems, efficiencies in the way things were processed, what products were sold in a home and why. “I was constantly met with the response of, ‘Well, that’s how it’s always been done in our building world,’ or ‘That’s just what we do.’ But I wanted to know why,” she says.

“Our market hasn’t quite recovered yet, so we have an awesome opportunity of not only looking at how we do things, but asking those questions of why.”Rachel Bardis, cofounder, Bardis Homes

Under the Corinthian Homes label, Rachel built more than 600 homes in Sacramento and entitled 1,500 lots in Idaho. But with the collapse of the housing market, the company had to close its doors in 2006. The market was moving so fast, Rachel found it hard to apply her “why” principle while keeping up with market change and demand.

Now, the experienced homebuilder has co-launched a new company, Bardis Homes, with cousin Katherine Bardis. With similar homebuilding philosophies and a more conservative market, the pair have the chance to answer that question. “Our market hasn’t quite recovered yet, so we have an awesome opportunity of not only looking at how we do things, but asking those questions of why,” says Rachel, “and then taking the time to develop what makes sense going forward as a private builder and how we might approach things differently.”

One question the pair is tackling is the affordability issue, by finding ways to work with trade partners and product suppliers to build a unique, quality product that is cost-efficient. One of its home communities, the Mill at Broadway in Sacramento, features a 553-square-foot, one-bedroom, one-bath efficiency unit called the “Courts Residence,” and is priced from the low $200,000s. Most Mill at Broadway homes are priced 10 to 20 percent below market rates for similar Sacramento homes. They also strive to be transparent. “We want to be an authentic and transparent builder,” says Katherine. “Anytime we build a model, we show a number of standard features so when people walk through the home, they aren’t blindsided by the fact that the home has $100,000 worth of upgrades and that’s not what they are going to get with the purchase price.”

At the Mill at Broadway, two out of the 10 models on display are 100 percent standard. In addition, Bardis Homes typically include a host of standard technology features, like a wireless entry keypad, in-house cameras and a cell-phone operated security system.

The Bardis cousins have also noticed the trend of more female homebuyers in the market. “There’s no question that there is significantly more single, female people buying,” Rachel says. “But I think because we are female, we tend to take for granted how a house should work. It’s a natural reaction of how we would like to see a design layout. We approach it that way because we are women and we know what they are looking for.”

The thoughtful layout was one of the things that attracted single, first-time homebuyer Jennifer Rubin to the Mill at Broadway. “It’s a great use of space,” says Rubin of her two-bedroom, 2.5-bath home. The kitchen and living room are on the first floor and the bedrooms are on the second floor. The kitchen includes abundant storage and features a large, long island. “I love to cook, so those are really great features,” she says.

Born and raised in Sacramento, Rubin had been a longtime renter in Midtown before she made the decision to purchase last year. The 35-year-old injury prevention professional with Dignity Health was tired of absorbing yearly rent increases and so, decided to buy. “I was at that tipping point where it would be the same to pay a mortgage versus paying my rent,” she says.

Rubin looked at condo communities downtown and in Midtown, but they were out of her price range — plus the homeowner’s association fees were high. She looked at the Mill at Broadway and liked the idea of being downtown without paying downtown prices. She purchased a “Villas Residence,” which is a two-unit home with one shared wall. And the monthly HOA dues of $120 (which will go down once the community is built out) are a fraction of the $300-$400 she found other condo communities were charging. In November, Rubin moved into her 1,005-square-foot home. She liked the team she worked with for the purchase, including the builder’s preferred lender. “I also thought it was very cool working with a mostly female sales team and a female builder,” she says.

Joan Marcus-Colvin, chief marketing office for The New Home Company, a homebuilder with offices in Roseville, believes small touches can make a big difference in winning over buyers. In one home community, the builder placed an electrical outlet in the back of a master bathroom drawer, so women would never have to unplug their hair dryer. “This may not be life changing, but it makes a great impression for our buyers to see that we are thinking about how they live day-to-day,” she says.

The New Home Company uses targeted market research derived from focus groups to determine many of its decisions. “We are committed to going out and researching and holding focus groups at every single new home community that we build,” Marcus-Colvin says. What she has consistently found is that women are the drivers in the majority of home sales. “Women are definitely the more persuasive and the more passionate about their wants and desires,” she says. “They are really driving the lifestyle and location.”

Expanding Their Reach

In addition to greater representation in homebuying and selling, women are gaining ground in the building industry. Outside of her corporate role, Marcus-Colvin is passionate about advancing the future of women in the homebuilding industry. While serving as chair of the Building Industry Association of Orange County in 2015, one of her initiatives included chairing the inaugural Women’s Leadership Conference, which is now an annual event. The inaugural event, featuring Carey Lohrenz, the first U.S. female naval fighter pilot and author of Fearless Leadership, sold out with 350 attendees. Last year the event grew to 500 participants and this year the organizers hope to top that number. Marcus-Colvin also co-chairs the Women’s Initiative for the Urban Land Institute in Orange County. Her Roseville colleague, Bonnie Chiu, serves as co-chair of the Women’s Leadership Initiative for the Sacramento Chapter of the Urban Land Institute, and is director of forward planning for The New Home Company. She also is a board member of the North State Building Industry Association.

“The Women’s Leadership Initiative is really about advancing women in the real estate development field, increasing the number of female members and providing visibility and networking opportunities,” Chiu says. Currently, 104 of the 380 ULI members are female, an increase of 6 percent since the Sacramento Women’s Leadership Initiative was launched in 2014. Chiu’s role with The New Home Company is on the entitlements side, where she is focused on the front end, purchasing raw land for development and entitlement approvals. She led the site planning and entitlements for The Cannery in Davis, the first farm-to-fork new home community in California that includes an urban working farm.

With more female decision makers populating the homebuilding and real estate industries, women have a unique opportunity to impact the product and the messaging, and set a new standard. “We decided if we were going to do this, we were going to do it with the mindset that we wanted to be different than everyone else,” Katherine Bardis says. “We like to challenge everything from a policy standpoint, to the way things are applied, to what building products are used. And that’s how we approach our job every day.”