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Planet Money: Single Women Are Shortchanged In The Housing Market

NOEL KING, HOST:

Buying or selling a home is difficult, even if you are very savvy with money. But academics have discovered it's even harder if you're a single woman. Sally Herships and Stacey Vanek Smith from our daily economics podcast The Indicator From Planet Money explain what's going on.

SALLY HERSHIPS, BYLINE: A new study just came out of Yale School of Management. It looks at how well single women do versus single men when they buy a home or when they invest in the housing market.

KELLY SHUE: Housing is probably the largest purchase made by most Americans.

HERSHIPS: That's Kelly Shue. She teaches finance at the Yale School of Management. And she says we invest more in our homes than in the stock market. So when she and her colleague, Paul Goldsmith-Pinkham, recently bought houses around the same time, they were paying a lot of attention to the transactions.

STACEY VANEK SMITH, BYLINE: Kelly and Paul ended up looking at data from over 50 million housing transactions. And here is what they found. On average, single women buy houses for 2% more than single men, but they also sell those houses for 2% less.

SHUE: Women are losing about $1,370 per year relative to men because they tend to buy the same house at a higher price and sell for a lower price.

VANEK SMITH: Just knowing the gender of the other party can affect the sale. According to Kelly Shue, when women make low offers, they are treated differently than men who make the same low offers.

SHUE: It is an unfortunate consequence of perhaps our culture and the fact that we may expect that women are more willing to share the pie and share the surplus from negotiation.

HERSHIPS: This is called gender expectations. It's possible that women are expected to be nicer, to be more generous, to be more thoughtful. It's the idea that everyone should benefit from the sale of this house, both buyer and seller. But no matter what the reason is, that is not exactly what happens when single women sell houses. Remember, single women buyers, they are already spending more buying at higher prices. And they also sell for less. And guess who they give the biggest discounts to.

SHUE: We find that the largest discounts tend to occur when it's a female seller and male buyer.

VANEK SMITH: Single women also do worse when it comes to what is called market timing. Kelly says that could be because single women tend to be more tied down.

HERSHIPS: And in case you're wondering, Kelly and her co-author accounted for all kinds of things - education, income, age, type of home, listing agent, ethnicity. They adjusted for all of these things and the results stuck.

VANEK SMITH: So this is kind of distressing, but there was a silver lining. There was some good news, depending on how you characterize a silver lining.

SHUE: Women on average do better when they are transacting with other women.

VANEK SMITH: So there is a tip for single women. If you are buying or selling a house, like, look at doing business with a woman. You might get a better deal. And Kelly had some other tips. She says if single women are able to, they should try to think long term, to become long-term investors, because every time a single woman buys or sells a house, she is likely to lose 2% compared to a single man. Stacey Vanek Smith.

HERSHIPS: Sally Herships, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF WINDSOR AIRLIFT'S "FOREST FAIRIES") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.