The real estate market — with all its rollercoaster-like dips and turns — has occupied a huge amount of our attention in recent years. While most of the news has been bad (record foreclosures, innumerable bad loans), much has also been made of this cheerful fact: Single women have become a major force in the real estate market. According to the National Association of Realtors, last year unmarried gals made up 20 percent of all home buyers, where single guys accounted for 12 percent.
Why the discrepancy between men and women? No one seems to be able to put their finger on it exactly. I personally think it's because the concept of home resonates so strongly with women. Regardless of our marital status, we want to come home from work to a place that feels like ours.
According to the Joint Center for Housing Studies, the three main reasons single women are buying homes in record numbers are: to relocate closer to a job or family; because they need more space; and, the No. 1 reason cited, because they have a strong desire, plain and simple, to nest. I rest my case.
Realtors and builders are taking notice of this trend. In new home construction, builders are putting in extras such as security features, gourmet kitchens and yards with little to no maintenance required.
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For many singles, the time is ripe for that first big purchase. Interest rates are at historic lows and are expected to stay there for at least the near future, according to the National Association of Home Builders.
"I've been in real estate a long time, and this is the best market I've ever seen for buyers," says Jan Gray, a Northern California realtor who specializes in coastal properties south of San Francisco. "The rates are super low, and don't believe people who say it's hard to get a loan. It's just not like the old days, when banks accepted you if you had a pulse."
Gray has sold homes to both families and singles, and says unmarried women are among the most excited — and savviest — clients she's had. "They've ranged in age from 35 and settled on a career to and 60 and retiring," she says. "And for the most part, all have done tons of homework and know what they're looking for."
As a single woman, Gray knows the joys of feathering a nest by oneself. "When women shop for a home with a man, I always see them deferring to him: his need for a garage, or a work space, or a man cave. When women buy for themselves, they are excited about turning this place into something that reflects them and who they are — they know they could even paint the bathroom pink if they wanted to!"
So ... are you convinced? Herewith, some tips for being a savvy solo home shopper. For starters, it's no longer "location, location, location." It's now "location, condition and price."
Obviously, location is still important. Try to buy in the best neighborhood you can afford. But also take your passions and hobbies into consideration before investing. If you love the nightlife that a big city has to offer, consider living right in town, with restaurants and bars within walking distance. But if you're an outdoorsy type, a more suburban — or even rural — setting would put you closer to the weekend activities you love. Since many home-buying single women also are mothers, it's also important to consider a school district's reputation and the safety of the area.
For many solo buyers, a property's condition is of equal importance to its location. I purchased a brand-new condo almost 20 years ago, and reveled in the fact that I didn't need to call a repairman for almost 10 years. Old cottages in the woods may sound charming but can be money pits. Gray says, "I know it's boring, civil-engineering stuff, but before you buy, find out about drainage. Will your basement flood in winter rains?" And don't be afraid to poke around at the foundation, especially when you're buying an older home. Spending a few dollars on a professional inspector can save heartache down the line.
Where the rule of thumb used to be buy the most expensive house you can so that you can realize more of a return, nowadays you should carefully consider your monthly mortgage payment. Experts say it should not exceed 28 percent of your pre-tax monthly income. And stop thinking of a house as an investment and just think of it as a home (and perhaps also a tax write-off).
Consider Your future
Single women are buying houses at all different stages of their lives. Some are just starting out and still plan to get married and have kids someday. Others are "done" with marriage and looking happily at a future on their own. Before you buy a house, think about what you want your future to look like. If kids are a big hope, buying a studio condo could be a mistake. Likewise, you might not want to rattle around a four-bedroom place if you're solo. Adds Gray, "Also, listen to your body. Smart women know that they should find a place with minimal stairs if they plan to grow old there."
Might this home become a rental?
Some single buyers — especially younger ones — might not have the most stable lives. Perhaps their employers might transfer them to another city for a year, or they might fall in love and want to move. For that reason, when you buy a home, try to envision its potential attractiveness as a rental. Is it close to stores, restaurants and other pluses? What are the rent prices in that area, and would your mortgage payment be equivalent?
How much upkeep will you want to do?
If you're an avid gardener, having a yard with roses and hedges might seem like a dream. But if you're brown-thumbed like me, a condo might be the perfect answer. And if you have to have that lawn to be happy, but lack the time to mow it, Gray recommends that you "factor in the cost of a gardener before you sign on the dotted line."
Take it slow
If you watch shows like "House Hunters," you might believe that buyers spend about 20 minutes in a house before writing that huge check. But experts advise that you take it slow: See as many different kinds of homes as you can. Even if you don't think you'd be interested in a condo, you might see one that turns out to be perfect for you. Gray even advises clients to visit a house they're interested in several times. "Go at different times of the day to see its exposure to the sun. Orientation of a home is also important." And there's no need to rush! It's a buyer's market right now, with a glut of homes for sale. So take your time and enjoy the process!
For information on the basics of home-buying, visit RealEstateABC.
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