We’ve purloined this Ernest Hemingway quote before. It’s the one from The Sun Also Rises in answer to the question, “how did you go bankrupt?”

“Two ways,” Mike said. “Gradually and then suddenly.”

The economy of Hemingway’s words pulverizes.

It’s the way to talk now of matters where a foregone conclusion should be obvious much earlier on to ones who must ultimately reach it. They–we–instead, tend to choose denial until the truth smacks us in the face.

So it is with customers of new homes. Customer-centricity is all the rage in talk, but how does that play out in practice?

For instance, who is your customer? Through what lens to you view him–or her–and how do you speak, listen to, care about, design for, engage, nurture, and convert?

Critically important–especially now, as order volume gathers momentum, but forces of uncertainty, competitive stress, and economic volatility also intensify–what does knowing your customer better mean for whom you count among your team members, your firm’s leadership, your design and product development associates, your trusted advisors? Does your team reflect your claim to being customer-centric? Do you hire, promote, and include team members in ways that mirror how your customers have changed?

How up are you on the data? Data that impacts everything from your omnichannel initiatives, to your community plan, to your home design, lean toward a transformation that may have seemed gradual, but is now sudden.

The single-person, female household home buyer.

BUILDER sibling company Meyers Research’s director of Economic Research Ali Wolf flags this trend in a recent note to clients. Wolf writes:

The reasons single women want to buy a home are similar to any other group, whether that’s for wealth accumulation, tired of spending money on rent, or simply the ability to make something their own. When shopping for a new home, single women often want the same thing as coupled shoppers:

  • “Safety is a universal element,” according to Tim Sullivan, our Senior Managing Principal of Advisory. Safety is important for all types of home buyers, but for single women, in particular, well-lit space with a connected garage resonates. A gated community also adds to a feeling of security.
  • Desire for easy maintenance. While women are equally as capable as men to take care of their home, time is a valuable commodity. Homes with lower maintenance offer the lock-and-leave flexibility that is attractive to single women buyers. The desire for low-maintenance living is also particularly attractive to childless Millennials and empty-nester Baby Boomers.
  • Overlap with other buyer types. The need for space changes with lifestage, but we see single women overlapping most with first-time buyers and families. The overlap with the former is based on the affordability constraints that come with a single income. A low monthly payment, efficient floorplans, entertainment space, and conveniences are key considerations. For the latter, single parents and families are both looking for a traditional single-family home with bedrooms for the kids.

Underlying these key drivers, which should now be embedded in design, messaging, and sales tactics for markets nearly everywhere, are profound, albeit, glacial trends that have been unfurling across the demographic landscape for decades now, but today reflect a tipping point.

A new Pew Research analysis backs up the statistical evidence Meyer’s Wolf draws on, clarifying how it is that she finds that single-women influence the market and buy new homes at twice the rate single male household heads do.

For instance, did you know:

  • Women are in the majority in jobs that draw most heavily on either social or fundamental skills – such as legal, teaching and counseling occupations – accounting for 52% of employment in these jobs in 2018 (up from roughly 40% in 1980)?
  • The share of women has also risen greatly among those working in occupations that rely most on analytical skills – such as accounting and dentistry – from 27% in 1980 to 42% in 2018?
  • The earnings of women as a ratio of the earnings of men increased from 0.67 to 0.85, a narrowing of the gender wage gap from 33 cents to the dollar in 1980 to 15 cents to the dollar in 2018?
  • Women’s earnings increased by 58% from 1980 to 2018 in jobs placing the greatest emphasis on analytical skills.
  • Women’s edge in high fundamental- and social-skill jobs and college education raised their earnings by 4 cents to the dollar in 2018 when compared with men’s earnings.

It’s change, and it’s happened gradually and then suddenly.

And it’s not going to unchange, but rather, change more, more meaningfully, and more suddenly.