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Women become a force in home buying -- page 2

He suggests that first-time women home buyers seek out a woman mortgage banker if possible. "Like a woman doctor, they may be more sensitive to a woman's needs," he says. It's odd, he notes, that while residential real estate is dominated by women, its chief funding instrument, mortgage banking, is still largely male dominated. That's slowly changing, but there are still plenty of career opportunities for women in the mortgage business, according to Lowenstein, who pens a regular local real estate column.

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Lowenstein suggests that all first-time buyers get pre-qualified for a loan before starting their search, so they'll have a realistic price range to work with from the beginning and use their hunting time more efficiently.

"Single home buyers might give a little more thought to condominiums and townhomes because there will be other singles around and a variety of community services such as exercise facilities," he says.

The National Association of Realtors estimates that 47 percent of condominium owners are single women.

Easing the intimidation factor
Doug Perry, first vice president of Countrywide Home Loans, said the home-buying process can be intimidating to first-timers of either sex. He said they should not hesitate to get free expert advice from lenders, either via phone or Web sites. "It shouldn't cost you a thing until you sign (for the loan)," he says.

Countrywide has seen an increase in first-time women buyers, in part due low down-payment programs and other products that make buying easier, Perry says. "It helps buyers keep up with those rapidly rising home prices."

Perry has also seen women's earning and home-buying power grow significantly in recent years.

Brian Sullivan, spokesman for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, says there is no gender-specific program available for first-time women home buyers, but HUD's American Dream Down Payment Initiative, plus its home-buying Housing Counseling program, as well as a proliferation of low-down-payment programs are assisting new home buyers in unprecedented numbers.

"The down payment is the single greatest obstacle facing first-time buyers," says Sullivan. "But today, more Americans own their homes than at any time in the past."

Lenders notice the shift
Muriel Siebert, founder of the Women's Financial Network at Siebert, says banks are starting to cater more to female home buyers. "They know they're good customers, and we're seeing more people at these institutions who are tuned into women home buyers and to women business owners."

Siebert's organization, which provides financial advice for women, cites a Long Island University study that says a woman's standard of living drops from 27 to 45 percent in the year following a divorce, while a man's rises 10 percent or more -- factors that obviously can make it tougher for the woman to buy and sustain a home.

"We have more women working today who are the key supporters of their family, and they want to give themselves and their family stability," says Siebert, who was formerly banking superintendent of the state of New York and the first woman to own a seat on the New York Stock Exchange.

Women can face unique life-changing events and may be more prone to drop out of the workforce to raise children or care for an aging parent. And that can drop pension and retirement benefits precipitously, according to Siebert.

"Because women are living longer, their need for future financial stability is even more of a concern. Owning a home gives them that stability."

Steve McLinden is a freelance writer based in Texas.

-- Posted: June 12, 2003




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