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Women holding keys to the housing market

06:00am February 05 2018

Like a growing number of women, Kathleen Tan was attracted by the future wealth pathway offered by property investments. (Emma Foster)

It’s just 30 years or so since women in Australia have been able to get a mortgage without needing a male guarantor. Yet these days, women are outpacing men in the property market on many fronts, new research shows.

Not only do more women own their own homes than men, they’re also more likely to be active in the housing market in the near future, according to data from Westpac’s home ownership report, released today.

The data – based on a survey of more than 1000 home owners and first home buyers in Australia – shows 71 per cent of women are considering either buying a home or investment property, renovating or selling in the next five years, compared with 61 per cent of men.

Westpac research shows more women than men plan to take action in the housing market in the next five years.

Kathleen Tan is one such property investor. The 30 year old not-for-profit worker bought an apartment six years ago in Sydney’s Western suburbs which she rents out.

“For me, I work in a sector where salaries are probably lower than your average, so it was an alternative way of investing to support my future,” Ms Tan said.

She now plans to sell up and use the profits to buy a home in Sydney’s Northern Beaches in which she’ll live – a move she sees as “another proactive step” in setting herself up financially. “There’s no way I’d have been able to take this step to buy a home to live in, had it not been for my initial property investment.”

Ms Tan is by no means alone among active women in the property market. Westpac’s customer data shows the number of females taking out home loans increased 16.5 per cent over the past five years. This trend seems particularly strong among first-home buyers, a group which has seen a surge in activity recently, last month recording the highest proportion of all mortgages taken out in five years according to Australian Bureau of Statistics lending data.

Emma Dupont-Brown, general manager of product for home loan broker Mortgage Choice, said she was continuing to see more women than men happy to buy property before meeting a “significant other”.

Mortgage Choice buyer data shows that while the majority of first home buyers in 2017 were couples, of the 22 per cent who bought by themselves, 58 per cent were women. The figure is also high among customers of home loan specialist RAMS, at 49 per cent, up 2 percentage points since 2013.

“Women know they don’t have to rely on a partner to be financially independent and realise the value and importance of investing their wealth,” Ms Dupont-Brown said.

Westpac’s research suggests this trend is set to continue, noting that twice as many female first-home buyers as males (22 per cent versus 11 per cent) said they were considering buying an investment property in the next five years.

Westpac research shows more female than male first-home buyers say they are considering buying an investment property in the next five years.

If successful, they’ll further swell the ranks of female homeowners. The latest ABS housing data shows 60 per cent of women live in homes they own or are buying, compared to 56 per cent of men, and more women (23 per cent) than men (20 per cent) own their homes outright.

And when it comes to property investment, the number of female taxpayers receiving rent has risen from just under 14 per cent in 2010-11 to 15.4 per cent in 2014-15, according to the most recent Australian Taxation Office statistics. This compares with a slimmer rise among men in the same timeframe, from 14.7 per cent to 15.9 per cent. The ATO data suggests around 47 per cent of all investment properties are owned by women.

ABS data shows more women than men live in homes they own or are buying.

Felicity Duffy, Westpac’s head of women’s markets, which focuses on improving services for female bank customers, said many factors were likely to be contributing to these trends, including that women appeared to be using property to “take control of their financial future”.    

“Our research suggests women are becoming savvier and feeling more confident in the property market. They understand that home ownership can lead to greater financial security,” Ms Duffy said, adding this was particularly important to women who face income inequality and unpaid maternity leave.

These challenges remained stubbornly persistent in the latest ABS Census, which showed fewer women than men are employed, women earn less money and have lower superannuation balances, and significantly more women than men work part-time or casual jobs and take unpaid time out of work for parental leave.

Ms Duffy said other factors likely to be contributing to women’s relatively more active role in the property market were that they live longer, resulting in more widows choosing to downsize or move. “Also, many of our bankers say they observe more women than men taking control of family finances and, among younger singles, women tend to be diligent at building up deposits so they're better prepared to jump in when the time is right.”

Changes to bank products and services in recent years designed to support women may also be contributing, Ms Duffy added, including Westpac’s decision in 2016 to make it standard practice to recognise paid parental leave and return to work income when assessing a person’s capacity to repay a home loan, something banks would rarely have done before.  She said to date, more than 1360 families have benefited.
“We took a view that parents shouldn’t miss out on opportunities to buy homes just because they were taking time out to look after their newborns, despite the fact they’d soon be returning to their jobs and incomes again at the end of their leave.”

Emma Foster is a freelance writer. Previously, she led Westpac Wire and was a key contributor until December 2022. Prior to joining Westpac in 2013, she spent almost 20 years in corporate affairs and investor relations, primarily in large financial services and consultancy firms, in Australia, UK and Europe. She is also a photographer and podcaster.

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