Gender Differences in Real Estate and Behavior


By Diane Saatchi

Gender is complicated -- period. How men and women differ when buying and selling real estate can have more (or as much) to do with others’ expectations than with the individuals themselves.

As I observe men and women I am often reminded of those Psychology 101 gender labeling studies. You may recall them: Infants were handed to adult test subjects, and the babies dressed in pink were gently cradled and soothed; those dressed in blue were bounced and roughed up. []

However much gender roles have changed in the last 100 years, it seems that a tendency remains within us to be more protective of women than we are of men. Of course, there are always exceptions, but in general, I regularly see differences in something as gender-neutral as buying and selling real estate.

The team: Men are congratulated, women are cautioned.

Among the customers I’ve worked with, women more often feel like they need to bring another person along when they’re considering buying a house. And when a woman brings somebody to look at the house, that someone takes on the role of the protective advisor, who points out what may be overlooked or should be considered. “Did you talk to my broker?” they ask. “Who recommended that inspector? Are you sure you don’t want to be closer to the city? Aren’t those taxes high?”

When a man brings a friend or someone out to look, a typical question is, “Can I come for July 4th weekend?”

Photo of snowstorm Mars by Morgan Anderson 

The difference may be coming from the advisors, but it could also be how the invitation to join is presented. For women, it’s usually not “I bought a house ... come and look at it.” It’s “I’m thinking of buying this house, I want your opinion.” In other words, women may be more likely to evoke the protective, are-you-sure-you-want-to-do-this response than are men.

This difference extends to a buyer’s professional team, like their lawyer and mortgage broker. If a man goes to his mortgage broker and says, “I want a 30-year fixed,” the broker says “Sure.”

If it’s a woman looking for a mortgage, the broker asks, “Have you thought about getting an adjustable rate? Have you thought about putting more money down?”

The perspective: Men see a purchase, women see a lifestyle.

Men tend to look at the financial decision of buying a home as very practical, and might be less likely to look at the lifestyle they’d lead within the house in the same practical way. For instance, a woman might say “I’m 50 years old, so I probably should have the master bedroom on the ground floor.” If a man can walk up steps today, however, he tends not to think he’s going to need to worry about that. In my experience, women are more likely to project themselves into the future, living in that home.

This difference extends to the perspective a buyer has after purchasing a home he or she isn’t happy with. If men end up not liking the house like they thought they would, the fallout is usually just some extra closing costs when they decide to re-sell it.

On the other hand, women may expect more from the purchase than four walls and a monthly mortgage payment. It’s not just about real estate; it’s about “Am I going to be single? Am I going to have children? Is this going to help me get ahead in my career? Am I going to get stuck with it? Can I afford it? What if I lose my job? What if I get pregnant?” Women tend to worry more, and be more careful with making their decision.

The decision: Men jump in, women wait on the shore.

I am not talking about all men, but among those who purchase a vacation home in the Hamptons, many value decisiveness. Making a wrong choice is more acceptable than is being indecisive.

When it comes time to pull the trigger and buy, I often see another difference, which might be attributable to a personality -- perhaps the Wall Street banker -- than a gender:

The house is a commodity to men, and engaging in commerce is syntonic. If it turns out to be the wrong house it could be sold and traded for another, and as such does not reflect on a man as a person. On the other hand, women are more likely to see the house as a statement of who they are, so making a wrong decision is intolerable. (Remember: “Am I going to be single? Is this going to help me get ahead in my career?”)

You could say this applies to many purchase decisions. Just watch men and women in a supermarket.

© 2016 Diane Saatchi