Women become a force in home buying
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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.
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
"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.