How women can climb the property ladder with confidence

Australian women are now significantly more likely to be leading the charge when it comes to the property market, research shows, offering a glimmer of hope to those who are looking to step on or up that foreboding property ladder.

Having recently gone through the process of purchasing my first property, I am no stranger to sexism in the real estate world. It can be confronting, embarrassing and frustrating to operate in a male-dominated industry, particularly when it's new territory, and - if you're anything like me - it could put you off the whole process.

New research from Westpac shows that more women than men are buying homes to live in or as investment properties, or looking at renovating and selling their existing homes.

According to the ABS, women are a little more likely than men to live in a home they own or are buying, and slightly more likely to own their home outright. The ATO also found that a massive 47% of Australians who own an investment property are women.

Both statistics are impressive, considering the specific financial challenges women face, and empowering, demonstrating to women who are thinking about making their first property decision that the hurdles to property ownership are not insurmountable.

Why more women are taking the reins of the property market

"Women are still behind when it comes to securing their financial future," says Michelle May, a buyer's agent with her own company and over 20 years of experience in the property industry. Partly due to the national gender pay gap, "[women] know that their superannuation alone isn’t going to be enough to fund their retirement and they are now looking at property as an alternative way of securing their independent wealth."

Dr Diaswati Mardiasmo, National Research Manager at PRDnationwide, believes that with more working women than ever before who are no longer taking a traditional backseat role in their household, women are looking to take charge of their own self-care and well-being, which also means taking control of their finances and property. 

Michelle explains that, with single-parent households increasingly becoming the norm, women also simply cannot afford to depend on a partner solely for their future and have become more confident in going it alone when it comes to buying property.

The challenges affecting female property-ownership

The real estate world is still an incredibly daunting place - there's a huge amount of red tape and property market-jargon to navigate, not to mention the large sum of money that's on the line if things don't work out. And unfortunately, despite this reassuring new research, there are unique challenges faced by women looking to tackle the property market.

The ongoing fight for equal pay and spending more time away from their careers to have children or care for their family are just a couple of the financial hurdles women face when looking to save to purchase their first property. The gender pay gap currently sits at 17.3%, with women in Australia who work full-time earning on average $1,325.10 per week, compared to men at $1,602.80.

"I would also say that there is such a thing as a 'Confidence Gap' - not just in relation to women and property, but to how they handle life in general," says Michelle.

Research has shown that there is a big difference in the way that men and women approach major decisions and it’s confidence - rather than knowledge or expertise - that often results in action. The same can be seen when it comes to property buying. Michelle believes that the lack of knowledge of the market or property is partly what has put women off buying in the past.

How women can assert themselves in the property market

Dr Diaswati suggests channelling your own version of Sasha Fierce if faced with any sexism during your property search; "Men are notoriously known as the more confident, decisive, decision-maker type – so when faced with sexism, I shut it down by channelling my own boss lady persona and also by being decisive and confident."

"Unfortunately this is still a testosterone-dominated market, but I have found that knowledge is power! Don’t be afraid to use the research that you no doubt will have done," says Michelle. "Unlike men, women tend to enter the market prepared, having done prior research, fully aware that this is not an area that they would have previously known much about. Use this knowledge to your advantage."

Dr Diaswati agrees that it's important to arm yourself with information and statistics if you're seriously interested in buying a property. Gather data - like the suburb’s growth, how it compares to other areas and past sales in the region - and "when you're speaking to the agent, use this information to comment on the property and suburb, so that the agent knows that you know what you're doing and that you're not messing around," says Dr Diaswati.

Getting the right advice from experts is also invaluable. Conveyancers, buyer's agents and mortgage brokers can be an absolute godsend during the property buying or selling process, and - if you find one you trust - will come to be your best property pals.

"Everyone has an opinion on property and it is not always those who shout the loudest who are right," says Michelle. "So pay for a strata report, building and pest and contract review. Don’t get the cheapest person to do it; good advice is worth paying for. The hundreds of dollars you saved on the initial due diligence can cost you many hundreds of thousands in capital growth in the long run."

Dr Diaswati suggests reaching out to the Women's Property Panel, who can partner you with a team of independent professionals, experts, builders and developers - your Property Panel - to help you invest wisely.

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