All posts by Megan Dawson

Single female seeking … real estate

Despite tightened lending conditions, single women are still outpacing their single male counterparts in buying homes.

In 2009, single females made up more than one-fifth of the marketplace and single males made up about one-tenth, according to the National Association of Realtors. In 2010, single women jumped to 26 percent of all home purchases in the Chicago area.

“In recent years, that has declined,” said Jessica Lautz, manager of member and consumer survey research at the National Association of Realtors. “I believe part of that is because of credit conditions in the country that we’ve seen in recent years.”

In 2013, single females made up 16 percent of home buyers, while the share of single male buyers fell to nine percent, according to the NAR Profile of Home Buyers and Sellers.

Still, single women are only second to married couples in terms of buying power, according to Lautz. “We’ve seen that they do have a very strong desire to own,” Lautz said.

Single women out buying single men in the home buyer’s market indicates a societal shift, according to psychotherapist Dickelle Fonda.

“Women have the resources now to do it and the banks don’t bat an eye at it,” said Fonda, who works largely with women and couples at her Evanston practice. “But I can tell you that in my mother’s generation, in my day, we would have never been able to sit down with a banker and have a serious conversation about buying a house. It was unheard of.”

Fonda said she works with many single women in their 20s who are buying homes.

“It’s so second nature for them to just think about not waiting until they have a partner, just how women aren’t necessarily waiting for a partner to have kids,” Fonda said. “I’ve seen many of them who are not yet married and didn’t have to give a whole lot of thought to the fact that, practically speaking, they just wanted to buy a property, they wanted a condo, or they wanted a house. They weren’t married, they weren’t attached to anybody yet. It was just, ‘I have the money and I’m going to do it. If I end up getting married to someone who also has property, we’ll just rent one of them.’”

Karl Vogel, a Chicago real estate agent for @properties, said many of his single female clients are looking to invest. Seventy-seven percent of single female buyers view their home as a good financial investment, according to the NAR profile.

“I think a lot of women are working now and making good money,” Vogel said. “They’re not get married when they’re 20 years old. They have professional careers and assets, and part of that is investing in real estate. They’re basically buying houses before they’re getting married.”

Vogel’s two most recent single female buyers were a pilot and a lawyer.

The first, a 43-year-old French citizen, “wanted to buy a place here because it would be a good investment and she didn’t have any other real estate,” Vogel said. “My other single female client was an attorney in Northlake, and she bought a house in Winnetka. She’s a lawyer and makes a ton of money. She just had to be closer to work because her commute was too far.”

Security is a concern that sets single female buyers apart from other buyers, Vogel said.

“Single women, I think, as a whole are more safety conscious than let’s say, single men or couples,” Vogel said. “If you know your boyfriend’s there, you don’t have to worry about people mugging you or breaking into your house. But if you’re a single woman, they usually want to be on a top floor if it’s a small building, or they want a building with a doorman or security.”

Single women are more willing to make sacrifices to buy a home. More females than males cut spending on luxury items, non-essential items, entertainment and clothes in order to purchase a home in 2013.

“We grow up making sacrifices that men don’t have to make,” Fonda said. “I think we’re used to it, so if it means we have to make sacrifices in order to have the money for a down payment on a house, then we know how to do that.”

The income disparity between single female and single male home buyers may also indicate something about their spending habits. The average income of a single female home buyer is $52,000, while the average single male’s is just over $66,000.

“Women are still making considerably less than men, and yet more women are able to buy property,” Fonda said. “That speaks to the fact that either they’re better managers of their money, or they’re willing to make sacrifices that men aren’t yet willing to make.”

“Women can now be this demographic that’s able to buy property by themselves, and have the mindset that you don’t need to be attached to a man to do that.”

Chicagoans cutting the cable cord

Photo credit: Megan Dawson

The wait is over.

This fall, you can share your living room with Homer, Marge, Bart and Lisa when all 522 episodes of The Simpsons are released online for your endless viewing pleasures. D’oh!

Subscribers will be able to watch all 207 hours of the uproarious cartoon family on a streamable new website called Simpsons World, set to launch in October.

That’s one more show to add to the growing list of reasons Chicago residents are “cutting the cord,” or discontinuing their traditional cable service to rely on Internet TV. Simpsons network FXX will join HBO, Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Instant and Apple TV in offering traditional cable programs to consumers on-demand online, allowing them to move outside the confines of appointment-based TV and start watching shows where they want, when they want.

“People don’t necessarily build their schedule — their busy lives with lots of moving pieces of friends, family and work — around being home at 8 o’clock in the evening like they used to,” said Stephanie Edgerly, an assistant professor in the Medill School of Journalism, Media, Integrated Marketing Communications at Northwestern University.

“Internet TV is far more flexible,” said Steph Charaska, a 27-year-old freelance artist and Arbonne consultant from Chicago. “My schedule puts me out of the house more often than not and I am able to catch up on my shows on my own time versus the cable company’s schedule.”

Nearly a third of Chicago residents surveyed have switched from traditional cable service to Internet TV since 2007. Among residents who have not made the switch, a whopping 80 percent use an Internet TV service in addition to their traditional cable service.

Charaska uses Netflix, Hulu, YouTube and Amazon Instant instead of traditional cable TV. In fact, she never had traditional cable to begin with because of the schedule of programming and the price. “I don’t want to pay for a service that I don’t regularly use,” Charaska said. “The prices are far too high for the amount I would use it.”

In addition to flexible viewing, the switch from traditional cable to Internet TV offers consumers a cost incentive. Survey respondents who swapped said they saved $20 to $100 per month by switching to Internet TV. Popular Internet TV providers Netflix and Hulu Plus offer service for $10 and under per month, while Comcast offers basic cable service (without the addition of premium channels) for about $45 per month.

“The extra cash goes toward living expenses like rent, bills, insurance and perhaps to occasionally fund a night out,” said Charaska, who estimates she saves about $100 per month.

Cable packages are becoming more expensive because the average number of channels has increased, Edgerly said. “You’re paying more because you’re getting more channels, but the kicker is that we know that people haven’t increased the amount of channels they use.”

With Internet TV, viewers get to choose what to consume, how much to consume and at what price, Edgerly said. “I think that makes people feel like they’re spending their money more wisely because they have more choice,” she said.

The high availability of programs offered by Internet TV services allows people to watch TV liberally. Unlike traditional cable service, which airs episodes daily or weekly, Internet TV allows viewers to watch entire series at once. Binge-watching — watching two to six episodes of one show in a single sitting — has become a popular practice. One hundred percent of survey respondents said they have binge-watched Internet TV.

“This past winter, being as awful as it was, I had many binge sessions,” Charaska said. “The longest probably about 10 to 12 episodes long. House of Cards, West Wing, Charmed, and Avatar the Last Airbender are some [shows] of note.”

According to Edgerly, people like to immerse themselves deeply by binge-watching. “DVDs started to let people do that, but now you’re just seeing it on steroids with these online content producers that can say, ‘Here’s the latest thing. Here’s twelve episodes. Go,’” she said. “You just don’t see that business model in cable.”

While the low price and convenience of Internet TV has proven attractive to Chicago consumers, there are some drawbacks. For Charaska, not having the latest episodes of her favorite shows is one.

“My dissatisfaction would be the lag time between when a season is over and when it shows up on Netflix, or when the licensing runs out and one of my favorite shows gets pulled from Netflix,” Charaska said.

Like traditional cable service, sometimes you have to pay more to get more.

“When watching network TV online, there are some episodes that you have to pay extra for,” Charaska said. “I understand why, but if I had my druthers, I would love full access to all episodes from the current season.”

If traditional cable service is to survive the onslaught of competition from Internet TV providers in the future, it needs to change its approach, according to Edgerly.

“I think the way the cable industry has reacted has not necessarily been ‘let’s rethink these packages, let’s rethink how we license.’ Instead the movement has been to consolidate – to merge with other cable providers. I think financially that is making cable companies a little more stable, but I don’t think that it addresses the fundamental issue about the problem cable is facing,” Edgerly said.

“They need to be planning a different model of different packages that can speak to people who want to watch TV right away and don’t want to feel like they’re paying $100 a month for stuff they don’t watch.”

“Cable just isn’t the only game in town anymore, and they need to know that.”