The Housing Scene by Lew Sichelman

Quick Takes: Gaps, Gains and Shrinking Inventory

Women have broken through the “glass ceiling” in the homeowners association field. But in at least nine major cities, according to a new report, they are all but shut out from buying homes themselves.

A study by real estate data firm PropertyShark and its sister company, RENTCafe, found that the housing gender gap persists in nine major cities, including Chicago, Seattle and Denver. In those markets, single men can afford to buy or rent a starter home -- but, due to the gender wage gap, single women cannot. (A starter home, for the purposes of this study, was defined as either a studio or one-bedroom residence -- whether apartment, condo or house.)

Even worse, 14 markets were found to be so expensive that neither single men nor women could afford the average mortgage payment on a typical first residence. Manhattan, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Boston topped that list.

In the most expensive markets, the monthly payments on a starter house would command “upwards of 80 percent” of a woman’s median income, the study said. In places where men can take the first step onto the housing ladder but women can’t even get a toehold, the payments would exceed 30 percent of the median women’s income.

The median income for single women was considerably less than men’s in all 50 cities covered in the research.

There’s no such divide in the homeowners association field, according to the Community Associations Institute (CAI). The group provides resources to homeowners and professionals in more than 338,000 community, condominium and co-operative associations in the United States.

Women not only hold the majority of positions on the CAI’s leadership roster; many also lead organizations in the community association field that work with multi-million-dollar budgets. And according to the latest research, their salaries are on par with their male counterparts.

“From entry level to executive, there are no barriers in our industry for women to achieve great things,” says Cat Carmichael, chair of CAI’s 2017 Business Partners Council.

The home-building business is still dominated by small shops that build only a few houses a year. But last year, big builders -- both national and regional -- grabbed their largest share of the market since 2010.

In 2016, the 10 largest publicly traded builders captured a combined 27.4 percent share of the 559,000 single-family home closings. D.R. Horton alone nailed more than 40,300 deals, giving it a 7.2 percent share of the market. By comparison, the 10th largest company, Toll Bros., closed 6,100 houses for a 1.1 percent share.

Public companies enjoy several advantages over their smaller counterparts. They have better access to less-expensive credit, the lifeblood of the business, through the capital markets. And they can buy building products in bulk for their numerous projects.

But small builders have their own skills. For one thing, they are a lot more nimble and can move quickly if their markets change. They also tend to be much more flexible in their ability to customize their houses to meet local demands and preferences.

Here are the top 10 home builders for 2016: their number of closings and their shares of the market.

-- D.R. Horton: 40,309, 7.2 percent

-- Lennar: 26,563, 4.8 percent

-- Pulte Home: 19,95, 3.6 percent

-- NVR: 14,928, 2.7 percent

-- CalAtlantic: 14,229, 2.5 percent

-- KB Homes: 9,829, 1.8 percent

-- Taylor Morrison: 7,369, 1.3 percent

-- Meritage: 7,355, 1.3 percent

-- Hovnanian: 6,712, 1.2 percent

-- Toll Bros.: 6,098, 1.1 percent

According to Trulia, the inventory of houses for sale nationally hit a record low in the first quarter of 2017, falling 5.1 percent over the last 12 months. That makes it eight consecutive quarters that inventory has stumbled, putting upward pressure on asking prices.

Looking at the housing stock nationally and in the 100 largest U.S. metropolitan areas, Trulia found that the decline was most pronounced in the starter home category, which fell 8.7 percent from the first quarter of 2016 to Q1 2017.

Over the same period, the number of trade-up places listed for sale dropped 7.9 percent. At the same time, the inventory of premium houses slipped 1.7 percent.

“The persistent and disproportional drop in starter and trade-up home inventory is pushing affordability further out of reach,” the Trulia report said. “Starter and trade-up homebuyers need to spend 2.9 percent and 1.6 percent more of their income, respectively, than they did at this time last year.”