SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — Even after she signed the purchase contract, it still didn’t seem real, Mariah Brunz said of buying her own home in 2021.

“I took me a while to let it sink in,” Brunz said. It took the single mom of six kids six offers on six houses to get the house she wanted and needed.

“The relief was huge,” Brunz said. “It is a proud accomplishment for me.”

Brunz found a home in southeastern Sioux Falls.

Elisabeth Olsen also bought a home in 2021.

The two women are among the 19% of all home loans in South Dakota, according to recent study by Inspection Support Network (ISN). The ISN study analyzed a variety of real estate data.

Olsen found her home in central Sioux Falls, not far from the Sanford Health Campus. It was in a neighborhood where she had lived in a rental unit for about 10 years.

“I didn’t want to leave my neighborhood,” Olsen said. “I love being in central Sioux Falls. I’m very happy not to be a renter anymore.”

The path to home ownership for women isn’t easy. In part because women, depending on the job and education, tend to make about 80% of what men make. It’s can be more difficult for women who are single parents, according to multiple studies.

“It took me several years as a single mom,” Brunz said. A divorce and a job change delayed her buying process.

Olsen had a personal change several years ago which delayed buying a house.

Elisabeth Olsen in front of the home she bought in Sioux Falls in 2021. Submitted photo.

The real estate market for the past few years has been challenging for all buyers which Brunz and Olsen said was true for them.

Tara Allen has been selling real estate in the Sioux Falls area for 10 years. She is the president of the Realtor Association of Sioux Falls (RASE) and the CEO of Allenedge Realty.

Allen ran the numbers on 276 recent home sales in the Sioux Falls area.

She was taken aback to learn that about 19% of those sales were to women, which matched the ISN study. Twenty-six percent were to single males and 53% were to couples.

Allen also reviewed 92 sales for 2018 in which 18% of those buyers were female. The percentage was 23% in 2020 on 135 sales.

The numbers are interesting because the real estate industry is increasingly adding women to realtor, broker and ownership list, Allen said.

Although women make up roughly 20% of all homes sold recently in the U.S., home ownership by women has been increasing since 1990, according to the NAR and the Urban Institute. The home ownership rate for women was 50.9% in 1990 and 61.2% in 2019.

Research shows some factors for the increase such as gains in education which provide more income to buy and even divorce as women may often gain the home in a settlement.

Preparing to buy

Olsen and Brunz were ready to buy homes at least a few years before they were able to make their 2021 purchases.

“I was looking for a couple of years before COVID,” OIsen said. But then a life change prompted her to wait for a while.

Brunz was serious back in 2016. But, she briefly stopped her operating her own business for a payroll job in 2018 before returning to her own business. Because she left her business and then returned to being self-employed, she needed to prove her income again for three years.

The two women had different needs in a future home.

Olsen works in the home renovations industry.

“I can buy an older house and it doesn’t intimidate me,” Olsen said. She wanted an older home in her current neighborhood. It needed to be home large enough to for her to host family and friends.

Brunz wanted a home large enough for her family but the home could not require a lot of repairs or improvements.

“I had set goals,” Brunz said of her budget, income and other factors.

A living area inside Mariah Brunz’s home in Sioux Falls. Submitted photo.

But when 2021 arrived, “because the market shifted so quickly, all my goals had to be restructured, Brunz said.

From October 2020 to October 2021, the average price of a home in the U.S increased by 18% which was the largest increase in 45 years.

A Yale study showed that nationally, single women spend about 2% more than men when they buy a house.

Financing that home

“The thought of having to save for a down payment at the price of a house…it would take me, as a single woman, a long time,” Olsen said.

Olsen said saving for a large down payment such as 20% of the cost of house wasn’t practical as she paid back student loans she had secured as a non-traditional student and made vehicle payments.

“I utilized the (federal) first time home buyers loan,” Olsen said. She also used at least one South Dakota-based loan program.

She’s now building equity in her home “instead of renting and trying to save for a down payment,” Olson said.

“It was a rude awakening when I was finally able to buy a house,” Brunz said of her 2021 search. She had to adjust her original budget to not (…not put myself in a place where I was house broke).”

In 2021, the median value of a home in South Dakota increased to about $200,000.

“It was so tough. I had to jump up another price range,” Brunz said.

Brunz found a bank she was comfortable with on her second try. The bank found her a very good mortgage rate that allowed her some flexibility on her budget, she said.

“The other layer was that it’s now a race to buy house how but making the best offer that best serves the seller and not the buyer,” Brunz said.

Brunz was excited when she made her first offer on a house. She was still excited about her offer on a second house that was also was rejected. “It happened again for a third time,” Brunz said.

Olsen was also not having much luck. One day she decided to pray on it. The next day she saw a for sale sign on a house in her neighborhood.

A stairway and front door in Elisabeth Olsen’s home. Submitted photo.

It took six attempts for Brunz to secure her home.

“It popped up one morning. I said (to Realtor) let’s put in an offer right now,” Brunz said. “It was in an older, established neighborhood. It was in my price range.”

Although it did need some updating it wasn’t any major work and she could fit those in her budget and time frame. “It was work I could do over time,” Brunz said.

She was also pleased that the seller agreed to a home inspection. Brunz said she doesn’t know about electrical and plumbing and similar items.

A disheartening part of searching for a house was sellers and buyers who were willing to forgo an inspection to improve their bid chances, Brunz said. That’s a decision that Brunz believes could backfire for some homebuyers.

It also made the process seem less professional and fair overall, she said.

Olsen works in the home renovation business and felt comfortable waiving a formal inspection. Instead, she knew people she could trust to check out the house.

But not everyone has those resources, Olsen said. In general, she said, it’s good to have a home inspected.

Advice for other women

“Get a realtor that you know and trust and feel comfortable with,” Olsen said. “You want to be able to be open with them and you want them to be open with you.”

Olsen said her family connected her to her real estate agent. Brunz’s sister was her real estate agent.

Buyers should trust themselves if they don’t feel comfortable with a real estate agent or lender. “You want someone working in your best interest,” Brunz said.

Even though she knew she wanted the home as soon as she peaked through the windows, Olsen said owning a home is “weighty responsibility.”

“There is satisfaction in knowing it’s yours to take care of,” Olsen said.

Women should not be intimated by the prospect of buying a house, Olsen said. And they don’t need to wait until they have a family or a spouse or the perfect job.

Olsen said some prospective female home buyers may not need or want to live in their first house for many years so the first house may not be the perfect house.

Sometimes, the first house is the first step which leads to another house, she said.