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Women become a force in home buying

The antiquated notion that a "woman's place is in the home" has a more modern twist.

Women are finding their places in homes, all right, and in record numbers. But this time, they're crossing the thresholds of single-family residences sans spouses.

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In fact, single women have been out-muscling single men as first-time home buyers at a rate of about 2-to-1 over the past five years, National Association of Realtors research indicates.

In 2002, approximately 18 percent of all first-home buyers in the United States were single women while just 9 percent were single men, according to preliminary data from the National Association of Realtors' forthcoming Profile of Homebuyers and Sellers. Those numbers are up from 2001 tallies, when single women constituted 15 percent of the home-buying market and single men constituted 7 percent.

"Women need a sense of financial security, and they obviously see a home as a sound investment," says Walter Malony, industry-trend specialist for the NAR. It's also far easier for single women to get a mortgage than it was two decades ago, he adds.

Setting the stage were several changes in lending standards, including a general relaxing of underwriting/down-payment requirements for home purchases and the FHA's push to allow single parents to count child support as income.

Protracted low interest rates and low down-payment programs also contribute to the trend, say analysts, as do chronically high divorce rates.

The single-woman home-buying phenomenon is not just a U.S. phenomenon. In Great Britain, the same segment is forsaking rental flats for self-owned homes at an even higher rate. More than 21 percent of British first-time home buyers in 2002 were single women, according to Her Mortgage, which specializes in women home-buyer services.

The rise in single female buyers
Back in the states, some of the country's top residential real estate firms have seen their customer base of single women buyers grow sharply in recent years, including Pittsburgh-based Howard Hanna Real Estate Services, which has 65 offices in Pennsylvania, Ohio, West Virginia and New York.

Single women now comprise about 20 percent of the operation's first-time buyers system wide, says Helen Hanna Casey, the company's president.

"We see more families encouraging their daughters to own homes -- and not just be content to wait until they get married," she says. "Women are making more money and they are exerting more control over their destinies."

Single men, on the other hand, don't show the same nesting instinct, she says. "And their parents don't seem to be as concerned about the same type of security for them."

Women are also no longer bound by the notion that they must buy a house for life, so they are less apprehensive about buying a lower-cost abode because they realize they can sell with relative ease in this more transient, move-up society as their lives change, according to Casey.

"We have women who might have rented for 20 to 25 years who are now buying in new (suburban) communities for a different lifestyle. Then we see a lot of young people who have moved back here from Washington, New York or Boston. They are buying new homes instead of moving back with their parents."

Casey said the single-woman home-buyer push began in earnest about eight years ago and has not abated.

Steven Lowenstein, a Realtor with Coletta & Associates of Cincinnati, said he too has seen an increase in the segment.

Women shop harder for homes
Lowenstein notes a distinct difference in the house-hunting habits of women, which may contribute to the trend. "Women will go out and look at homes all day long, eight days a week," he said. "Men? Well, you have to just about drag them out."

-- Posted:Posted: June 12, 2003




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