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Single women have come a long way in real estate

These days more than one in five home buyers is a single woman.

Spurred on by a healthy real estate market, a variety of new loan options and more buying power than they had in the past, single women have become a powerful demographic in the real estate market.

"We saw the trend starting 10 years ago, and it became so common three to five years ago that we don't notice it anymore," says Ron Phipps, broker with Phipps Realty in Warwick, R.I.

In 2005, 21 percent of all home buyers were single females, up from 16 percent in 1993, and were the second-largest group of home buyers, according to statistics from the National Association of Realtors.

"It's a wonderful phenomenon," says Ilyce Glink, author of "100 Questions Every First-Time Buyer Should Ask." "There has been a real change in the sophistication of single women in response to their own money -- they feel they can do it."

A long way, baby
It wasn't always that way. In the 1950s and 1960s, single professional women had a hard time even getting a mortgage, says Richard Gaylord, Realtor with RE/MAX Real Estate Specialists in Long Beach, Calif., and first vice president of the National Association of Realtors. His mentor in the business -- a woman -- had to fight to get mortgages for her clients. And while it seems unthinkable now, he remembers her telling him that even with an independent, high-dollar income, banks worried, "what if she becomes pregnant and can't work?" he says.

Glink recalls going to a bank with her husband in 1989 for a mortgage. She started talking about her paycheck and remembers being told, "Don't worry honey, your income doesn't even count," she says.

These days, mortgage lenders are actively courting single female customers. And many real estate agents and consumer finance gurus believe that the increasing number of different loan products is at least partially responsible for the trend.

With things like 5/1 adjustable-rate mortgages or new, no- or low-down payment loans, loans have become "more creative and more flexible," Glink says.

Thomas Stevens, president of the National Association of Realtors, agrees. "There are so many new loan products that where there's a will, there's a way," he says.

Other factors that may be helping are the large variety of home-improvement shows and the wealth of do-it-yourself products and seminars from big-box retailers.

"The modern media kind of reflects this," Glink says. "Women are seeing women who are out there buying and selling. It gives women a lot of confidence."

It's creating "a ripple effect," says Rachel Drew, research analyst with the Joint Center for Housing Studies at Harvard University. "As more women are buying homes on their own, their friends are seeing that happen and saying, 'Maybe I could buy a home.'"

Next: "What do women want?"
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