“If she has to ask, it’s too late . . .”

We are referring of course to one of the credos of marketing to women. Single women to be exact and for the first time in America’s history, they are becoming a more important segment in the home-buying market. While married couples still make up 60 percent of homebuyers, this group lost 10 percentage points in the past 12 years. America’s homebuilders and realtors should pay attention.

According to a New York Times article earlier this year, 51 percent of American women were living without a spouse in 2005, up from 35 percent in 1950 and 49 percent in 2000. Married couples have now become the minority. To respond to this cultural shift, builders have got to design and construct homes specifically for this market and the marketing strategy had better be smart, sophisticated, and segmented. It will pay to understand not only the gender, but also the numbers and the variability among groups within the female gender.

According to the Times article, the trend is occurring because women are marrying later, living unmarried with partners, widows are living longer, and divorced women are waiting longer to remarry. Post 1960’s, cultural trends of flexible lifestyles and independence have also been attributed to the emergence of the single women home buyer.

Some home building and marketing factors to consider: There is one major difference between the genders when it comes to making a large purchase like a home. Men see the home buying transaction as a matter-of-fact business deal, while women view the process as “wanting to connect” and want to treat the transaction within “a relationship.” The point is that home building is not just a widget game anymore. Builders must understand the concept of relating to women’s needs and creating a relationship with them first.

A Harvard University study, The State of the Nation’s Housing 2006, found that single women prefer homes in the city when compared to the more family oriented suburbs and they tended to shy away from new construction (which begs for answers!). They also buy smaller homes or less expensive condominiums for low maintenance, which offers them a greater sense of security. Builders are starting to catch on by offering lighter color schemes and focusing on kitchen upgrades, but this only scratches the surface and negates the current research.

Home builders and realtors will also need to remember that while marketing programs can be shaped around the female gender commonalities and targeted towards single women home buyers, they need to be refined within the different age groups based on their particular time in life. As futurist Faith Popcorn put it back in 2000, “if you’re marketing to one of their lives, you’re missing all the other ones.” Don’t think pink–just be smart, sophisticated and segmented.