real estate

4 tips for single, female homebuyers

But that payment amount covers only the principal and interest. The buyer would also have other home-related expenses, including property taxes, homeowners insurance and private mortgage insurance.

Add in other debts -- such as a car loan and credit card payments -- and the homeowner could find herself pushing against the upper limit on a prudent monthly debt load.

Annette Simon, a Bethesda, Md.-based Certified Financial Planner, says it's a mistake for single women to overextend when making a purchase.

"Diversification is the cardinal rule," she says. "You should not have a mortgage that's so big you still don't put at least 10 percent of your income in a retirement plan."

Shop aggressively for financing

A Consumer Federation of America study in 2006 found that women received an outsized share of subprime mortgages, says Barry Zigas, director of housing policy for the Washington, D.C.-based CFA.

Zigas worries that mortgage lenders may not provide women with all loan information and options because of stereotypes about women's alleged lack of financial sophistication.

"Have the loan officer lay out all the options," he says.

Check rates with several mortgage lenders, and don't simply select a lender based on a recommendation from a friend, adds Zhenguo Lin, assistant professor of real estate at Mississippi State University.

Lin co-authored a recent study that found women head of households pay 40 basis points -- nearly 0.5 percent -- more on home mortgages than other borrowers.

When controlled for income, credit score and other factors, that difference dropped to 8 basis points. But that's still significant, says Lin, who believes the cost variance is due to the fact that 41 percent of women say they relied on a recommendation, while only 25 percent of men did.

Try to get seller concessions

One of the most misunderstood aspects of ownership is how much money is needed to maintain the home.

"You can expect anywhere from about 1 (percent) to 3 percent of the home's value" paid out each year to cover fixes and projects, says Durham, N.C.-based Certified Financial Planner Jennifer Lazarus.

Today, many buyers are able to get concessions from sellers upfront to fix any imminent problem an inspection turns up. That helps cut maintenance, at least in the near term, says Benjamin Clark, president of the National Association of Exclusive Buyers Agents in Avondale, Ariz.

Moreover, buyers frequently ask for one-year warranties that cover repairs on appliances and major systems, and sellers are providing and paying for these policies, Clark says.

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