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Women Invested in Real Estate, Then & Now

Posted by Patricia Rattray on March 28, 2023

Although women are fully represented among US residential real estate agents, we still have a long way to go when it comes to adequate representation in the rest of the real estate industry, which includes residential and commercial investment wealth, equal pay, and construction management.

About 64% of realtors today are made up of women, although women still need better representation at leadership levels. This is an outstanding achievement, considering that women had zero members when the National Association of Realtors was formed in 1908. However, when we look at women’s progress in other real estate roles, particularly those which lead to substantial wealth and control over the development of our towns and communities, there is much work to be done.

In the last century, women’s homeownership has grown exponentially. The broader fight for gender equality has opened more opportunities for women to own a home than ever before. However, there still seems to be an imbalance. Although more women are now entering the housing market as first-time or even second-time buyers, they don’t make profits equal to their male counterparts, they are still paid less for all industry jobs, and they are not accessing investment opportunities at the same pace as men.

Our Journey to Own Real Estate Should Not Be Forgotten

The journey for women in real estate has been a challenging one. Until the 1800s, state laws in the United States prevented women from owning properties in their names. Mississippi was the first state to allow married women to own property in their name in 1839, thanks to Betsy Love Allen, who fought and won the case that kept her property from being seized from one of her husband’s creditors.

In 1848, the married women’s property act was passed, which paved the way for married women to own and control their property. Significantly, the act allowed a married woman to keep personal property before marriage for herself. This act also extends to property obtained as gifts.

The next significant change didn’t come until 1862, when the US Homestead Act was passed to allow women to claim land. Remember, the 1848 act only allowed married women to buy, keep, and control land. On the other hand, the homestead act allowed all women, whether single, divorced, or widowed, to own federally granted land in their name. Thousands of women took advantage of the Homestead Act of 1862. However, it had many loopholes, and unfortunately, no substantial development occurred until almost a century later, when the 1963 Equal Pay Act encouraged women in the workforce to buy properties in their names. With this act, women could open bank accounts and declare interest in purchasing properties.

Shortly afterwards, the Fair Housing Act was passed in 1968. The Fair Housing Act prohibited discrimination against women in buying/selling, renting, or finance of properties. The law also covered discrimination based on sex, race, religion, skin color, and marital status. 

Despite these improvements, women continued to face bias and discrimination in the real estate market, especially from banks, credit unions, finance companies, and retailers. This necessitated the equal credit opportunity act of 1974.

The equal credit opportunity act prohibited any creditor from discriminating against any applicant based on sex, race, color, religion, marital status, and nationality. Before this, banks and other financial institutions often discriminated against female applicants or held them to a different criterion from their male counterparts. Until then, females needed to bring a man along for bank transactions. The man would be required to co-sign any loan or mortgage regardless of their earnings. After the law was passed, bankswere held accountable if they discriminated against women. The act also made it illegal for banks or lenders to ask women about their marital status if they were applying for separate credit, if they were pregnant, or whether or not they’d return to work after maternity leave.

From here on, women could buy and sell properties in their name, thanks to the dedication of suffragettes and supporting legislation. However, the struggle for full equality and the wealth and power that real estate affords continues well into the 21st century.

Single Women have Made Strides in Home Ownership

Today, single women have made great strides in home ownership. Single women have bought more homes1 than single men since at least the 1980s. Statistics show today that women are getting more mortgages than men, with 19% of single homebuyers comprising women. This is high compared to the 9% of single men homebuyers.

For example, single women in Louisiana are more inclined to buy a home than single men. 15% of Louisiana owner-occupied households are owned by single women, while men are at just 10%.

Florida has the most significant gender gap in homeownership with women leading the way. There are more single women homeowners in Florida, succeeding by 4.55%, possibly because women live longer than men and Florida is a popular retirement destination.

Single female homebuyers now make up 20% of first-time homebuyers

Women are more likely to be first-time or second-time buyers compared to men. In 2019, studies showed that females are 20% more likely to be single homebuyers compared to 11% of single men. Women are noticing the generational wealth that comes with purchasing a home. With access to higher-paying jobs, education, and a change in the head of the household stigma, women are now becoming first-time homebuyers.

Single Women’s Investment Returns

Even though single women have come far, they do not see the same returns on the house at selling point. Why is this?

Single females get lower returns from their home investments.

In a study by the Yale School of Management, researchers found that single women spend about 2% more when buying a house, and when it is time to sell it, they get a price of 2% less than a man would. Women buy at a higher listing, and when they are ready to sell, it’s relatively low compared to the listing price. With a loss of up to $1,500 per year on their home, this return gap disadvantages women.

What might explain this different could be the additional and different priorities that many single women weigh when buying and selling. Their priority to wait to buy/sell in a better market is not at the forefront when considering factors like an excellent neighborhood, school district, or location.

Aside from Home Ownership, Female Representation throughout the Real Estate Industry Still Lags

What might further explain the lower returns that single women get from real estate investments is the fact that women have less exposure to female mentors for real estate investing, commercial sales, and construction management jobs.

Only 31.6% of real estate investors are women and 68.4% of real estate investors are men. This gap limits the amount of same-sex role models and mentors for women when learning and optimizing investment strategies, such as flipping or building residential and commercial property portfolios.

Also, women are underrepresented in almost all jobs in the broader real estate industry where jobs can be high-paying and offer extensive career growth and stability. Women only make up 36.7% of the commercial real estate workforce, and this number hasn’t significantly changed over the past 15 years. Out of 10,786,000 workers in the construction industry only 1,173,000 are women. A lack of exposure to how to build, buy, sell, lease and manage commercial property can impact the perceived risk for women of owning these types of assets.

When women do not have exposure and access to trusted resources in these areas, they remain at a disadvantage.

In 2022, women numbered only 10.9 percent of the entire U.S. construction workforce. A knowledge of best practices in construction management and cost control is essential for sound real estate investing. When women do not have exposure and access to practical and trusted resources in these areas, they are at a disadvantage when it comes to building wealth through real estate acquisitions. In the US, it is much easier for men to acquire the skills and social capital that facilitates and lowers the cost of investment transactions.

The Industry-wide Pay Gap Might Explain the lack of Women Real Estate Investors

What might contribute to the lack of female investors is the pay gap throughout the real estate industry for a variety of real estate related jobs, specifically because it takes money to make money in real estate. For real estate investors in the US, the average male income is $81,123 and the average female income is $74,675.

Even though 56.6% of residential real estate agents are women and 43.4% of residential real estate agents are men, women still make less, 69 cent to the dollar for the same job in 2020. This difference narrowed to 92 cents to the dollar at the management level.3

An astonishing gap occurs for bonuses and commissions where men make nearly 56% more than women

For women within commercial real estate, the salary gap between males and females lies at about 10%, or 90 cents to a man’s dollar, but the most astonishing pay gap occurs for bonuses and commissions where men make nearly 56% more than women.

Overall, these numbers demonstrate that there is tremendous opportunity for women to make gains throughout the real estate industry, beyond buying a home. Through mentorship, networking and taking advantage of construction and investor education, women can increase their financial strength, grow their voice in the building & renovation sector, and also impact community and neighborhood development opportunities that can be far-reaching and have a lasting legacy.

I enjoy coaching women to build real estate portfolios. Contact Patricia Rattray to get to the next level with your real estate assets, 203-570-2096.


  1. “What Is the Homeownership Gender Gap?”
  2. in commercial real estate need more representation
    – “The History Of Women In Real Estate | Bankrate”) 
  3. “Successful women in real estate: Trends to know in 2022 – The Zebra”)

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