Prices are high, but women fare well in Bay Area home-buying market

Suzanne Maineri owns her own home in the Marina Bay complex in Richmond. Photo: Marina Bay

Suzanne Maineri, a high-tech marketing and communications writer and a single woman, owns her Richmond home – an impressive feat given the skyrocketing prices in the East Bay and the salary differential between men and women locally and nationally.

And Maineri is not alone. The Oakland-San Francisco-San Jose metro area is one of the top 20 homebuying markets in the country for single women, according to a September analysis by the real estate brokerage site Owners.com.

In this metro area, 13.7% of homeowners are single women, with an average home value of $658,600, and a median female income of about $54,458, the study found. The area just squeaked into the top 20, at No. 20.

“It’s nice having your own home,” Maineri said. “There’s security in having a fixed mortgage because, unlike rents, monthly mortgage payments never go up,” she said. “It’s nice knowing I’ve got this place and I can stay here, and if I need to sell it, I’ve got a good nest egg.”


The Owners.com analysis ranked the country’s top 50 metros based on weighted factors. It might seem surprising that an area with such high home prices – Berkeley’s median price hovers around $1 million – made it into the top 20.

However, the study weighted data on where there were the most single women and where women have above-average incomes, along with home values. Women have an unusually high average income in this metro, and there is a higher than average number of single women homeowners here.

East Bay agents say more and more single women are buying homes, and the trend is evident nationally as well, according to the 2016 edition of the National Association of Realtors’ annual profile of home buyers and sellers.

As has long been the case, married couples made up the largest share of buyers at 66% nationally, according to the study. However, single women made up more of the buyer pool than in previous years. After falling to 15% a year ago, single females now represent 17% of total purchases nationally.

“Despite having a much lower income ($55,300) than single male buyers ($69,600), female buyers made up over double the amount of men (7%),” said Lawrence Yun, the association’s chief economist.

Yun’s comment touched on another factor that would seem to limit the number of women homebuyers: the so-called gender gap, meaning the pay differential between men and women.

Nationally, women make 79 cents for every dollar earned by men, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Women make slightly more in San Francisco, at 84 cents to every dollar. Owners.com weighted median female income, which in the surveyed metro area is about $54,458, at 15 percent in its survey.

While Maineri declined to share her income, marketing professionals are generally well-compensated.

Maineri bought her first house in 2000, in San Mateo. She was able to because she had family help, and also, the place was a fixer-upper.

“It had all kinds of problems,” she said. “Nobody was bidding on it because it wasn’t done to a T.”

Over the years, she worked with her then-partner to rehabilitate that house “until it was perfect,” she said. (The two are no longer together.) When she decided to leave San Mateo a few years ago, she used the money from that sale to buy her new home. “My maximum budget was $800,000, and I was able to buy this house with money left over,” she said.

One of the reasons Maineri likes her neighborhood in Richmond’s Marina Bay is that there is a police station nearby, she said.

“It does help as a single woman to know there’s a police station and a helpful police force,” she said. While Richmond was once known for a high crime rate, violent crimes have plummeted compared to years ago, and the city’s police force has become a national model in community policing.

Her real-estate agent, Catherine Stern, said, “I like working with single women because I am one. I’m constantly thinking, ‘Is this a safe place? Would I want to live here?'”

Melissa Westbrook, another single female homeowner, said she feels safe in her home in Oakland’s Rose Garden area near Piedmont Avenue. She described the area as “more neighborhood-y” than Oakland’s Uptown area, where she lived when she first came to the Bay Area three years ago.

Several factors combined to help her to buy her condo, she said.

“I’ve always been a saver. I had a nest egg to make a down payment, and had some money from the condo I bought in Chicago,” where she lived with her then-husband, Westbrook said. She moved to the Bay Area after her divorce.

“It took a lot of sacrifice to buy here because it’s so expensive,” Westbrook said. “I rented here the first two years. My rent started going up 20% a year, and it reached the point that it (equaled) a mortgage payment. I decided I’d rather be paying on a condo than flushing it down the toilet with a rental.

“You get sticker shock at the beginning and especially being on your own, but I had a good Realtor in Todd (Todd Andrew of Red Oak Realty) and I did a lot of research,” said Westbrook, who is a paralegal. She works in downtown Oakland, a short bus ride from her home.

She bought her home about a year ago. Like many homeowners locally and nationally, walkability is important to her. Her condo is a 10-15-minute walk from Piedmont, a half-mile from Grand Avenue with its shops and restaurants and a mile and a half from downtown Oakland.

Despite the horror stories of competing over properties against higher bids that are currently so widespread, both Westbrook and Maineri said they had a relatively easy time landing a place.

Though she was outbid a couple of times, “I found something in about a month,” Westbrook said.

Maineri did even better: “I got this house for under asking,” she said. “It was odd that no one was looking at this house. I happened to time it just right.”