When I moved to California in 2000, thinking I would be here for just a one-year sabbatical, I rented a beautiful home. When I loved my whole Southern California experience so much that I decided never to return to Virginia, I sold the home I owned in Virginia and stayed in the rental place in California. One thing I don’t like out here is the real estate market – buying is beyond my means.
After nearly 14 years, my rent has gone up but my income has not, so I have been looking for a new place. One of the homes I inquired about had three bedrooms. I asked if I could make an appointment to see it. The owner wanted me to answer a question before she would show me the place: Why, as a single person, did I need three bedrooms?
I was so taken aback. Can you imagine an owner or real estate agent ever asking a couple why they need three bedrooms or any other amount of space?
Of course, I am the last person who should have been surprised by this example of singlism. My colleagues Wendy Morris and Stacy Sinclair did a series of studies of housing practices, and we found consistent discrimination against single people by realtors and everyone else we studied. (A blog post about it is here and the Singlism book is here.)
Lots of people like to live simply, in as little space as possible. I think that is admirable. But it is not a decision that should be imposed on you, and only if you are single.
When I wrote Singled Out, I included a long section on how singles are portrayed in discussions of housing, and I also wrote about some of my experiences, and other people’s. Below is a brief excerpt from that section.
From pp. 77-78 of Singled Out:
When I was in Virginia and looking for a home, I only went to the open houses in my price range. I had been living in a townhouse flooded with sunlight that warmed my heart. But I was renting when I wanted to own, my place was too small, and I didn’t want to live in a townhouse anymore. When the realtors discovered that I was buying “just” for myself, they sometimes tried to steer me to a lesser housing solution. One, for example, urged me to take a look at a townhouse down the road.
A newly hired single woman in her 30s arrived in town ready to buy a modest two-bedroom home she liked. When she described it to her colleagues, they demurred. Wouldn’t it be “too much house” for her, they asked?
Another single friend wanted to buy a roomy home that she and her daughter could enjoy. Her realtor showed her one tiny home after another. Finally, she insisted that he show her the priciest home available. Only then was she shown the kinds of homes she originally asked to see.
I am not just describing idiosyncratic experiences of me and my quirky friends. These sorts of instructions are in the books. Take, for example, the book Buying a Home When You’re Single. The section entitled “Location, Location, Location” asks whether you want to live near other single adults. If so, the author advises, one of the “obvious” choices would be “developments that specialize in studio or one-bedroom units.”At the time the book went to press, nearly 60% of single women owned their own homes.
I can’t say I was surprised to find that the author of Buying a Home When You’re Single dedicated the book to her husband and daughter. Not that I think you have to be single to write about singles. I just thought that a single person – especially a successful one – might be more likely to suggest that singles need not congregate into one-bedroom enclaves.
So I went to The Road to Wealth, written by the singleton and fabulously successful financial guru, Suze Orman. I skipped to the section on home ownership and started to smile. “If you are a single person, a one-bedroom condo may seem ideal now,” she began. Yes! I could finish the sentence for her: “but you will soon discover how much you will enjoy and value more space; if you can afford it, go for it!” Only that wasn’t how Suze completed her sentence. She said, “but if you hope to get married and start a family in the next few years, you’ll need more space pretty quickly.”
[End of Singled Out excerpt]