Who's the buyer now

Changing American demographics and social norms are changing the real estate landscape: the average home buyer is very different compared with buyers of generations past. The largest group of home buyers by far is still married couples, accounting for 61 percent of all homes bought, according to the National Association of Realtors. But single women now purchase 22 percent of all homes. Single men accounted for only 9 percent of purchases.

According to Pat Vredevoogd Combs, the president of the National Association of Realtors, that shows real change.

"Thirty-five years ago, when I started out as a realtor, a single woman couldn't even get a mortgage," she says. Part of the reason why women have become so big a buying bloc is that more women are single than ever before. The New York Times recently concluded, after an analysis of Census Bureau data, that 51 percent of all American adult women now live without a spouse. And women are more financially independent than ever before. They account for about 57 percent of all college graduates, almost the reverse of the ratio of 40 years ago. All this has changed not only circumstances for women but attitudes as well.

"Women are more confident and financially savvy than ever before," says Vredevoogd. "Plus, there are good mortgage products out there that work well for them. "She says that women benefit from many of the nontraditional mortgage choices they have today. These include small cash-down loans that enable recent graduates and divorcees, who may not have a big nest egg available, to achieve homeownership sooner. The generous assortment of mortgage loans has also helped another emerging demographic: minority homeowners, who now account for 30 percent of all homes bought.During the 10 years through 2005, homeownership among African Americans grew from 44 percent to 48 percent, according to Vredevoogd.

Among Hispanics it grew from 43 percent to 49 percent and among Asians, from 51 percent to 60 percent. All these groups made significant progress toward achieving the level of homeownership of 72 percent that the nation as a whole enjoys. One rising group of homeowners who require little, if any, assistance consists of buyers from abroad. Just as more Americans are buying vacation homes in foreign countries, so are deep-pocketed foreigners buying second homes here.According to Janet Branton, vice president of business specialties for NAR, overseas buyers made some $41 billion worth of residential real estate purchases in the United States during 2005. More foreign buyers hail from Germany than any other location. They account for 13 percent of the total purchases from overseas. Latin Americans are right on their heels, also at 13 percent.

Other countries at the top of the list include Australia (1 percent), Japan (10 percent) and the United Kingdom (10 percent).Many of these overseas buyers, says Vredevoogd, acquire vacation properties in resort areas, such as Miami and Ft. Lauderdale in South Florida, Palm Springs, California, and the ski resorts of the Rockies and the Sierras.


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