- The Washington Times - Friday, July 11, 2008

While the women of “Sex and the City” spend most of their time searching for the perfect man, the reality is that plenty of single women are spending their time searching for the perfect property to buy.

The National Association of Realtors‘ (NAR) 2007 Profile of Home Buyers and Sellers found that 20 percent of all home purchases nationally were made by women, or about 1,285,000 homes. In the past decade, NAR says, single women have accounted for about one in five buyers.

In the Washington area, NAR’s statistics show that single female buyers represent 24 percent of the market. Single male buyers are 15 percent of the home-buyer households, with 51 percent married couples, 7 percent unmarried couples and 3 percent listed as other.

Single women buying property is part of a natural progression - now that, according to the U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics in 2005, women earn 58 percent of all college degrees. These well-educated women go on to earn significant salaries and want to build their wealth and security through homeownership.

NAR says the national median age of single-women buyers was 41 in 2007, 32 for first-time single-women buyers and 50 for repeat buyers.

While local real estate agents try to avoid stereotyping their customers, many say women are among their favorite clients because they tend to be well-organized and prepared financially and emotionally for buying a home.

“It’s hard to characterize people across the board, but in general, single-women buyers are more decisive than other buyers,” says Glen W. Sutcliffe, a Realtor with W.C. & A.N. Miller Realtors, a Long & Foster company, in the District. “They say what they want and they need and express themselves very directly, so there’s very little guessing and the whole transaction is easier.”

Mr. Sutcliffe says single women must be decisive to have attained the kind of financial security that allows them to buy a home in the expensive D.C. area on a single salary.

“Women buyers have changed in the past decade or so,” says Pat Estryn, a Realtor with Coldwell Banker Residential Real Estate LLC in McLean. “They are more savvy and understand the importance of their credit rating. Single women tend to research mortgage companies and understand the value of building up equity in a home for their financial future. Lenders are eager to work with women when they have a good job with high income and a pattern of saving money.”

Andrea Evers, a Realtor with Evans & Co. Inc. in the District, says at her office, single women buyers are the favorite type of client.

“It’s almost an office joke that single women are the best to work with because they are so well-organized, with a list of what they want and don’t want,” Ms. Evers says. “They have usually already seen a lender, so they are financially prepared, too. We’ve found that single men are much less likely to actually a buy a home, that they know they should buy, but they tend to decide just to rent after looking around for a little while.”

Greg Ford, an associate broker with Long & Foster Real Estate Inc. in Potomac, says that, like most buyers, women have issues that are important when looking for a home.

“Couples and families usually focus most on the schools and community features,” Mr. Ford says. “For single women, security is paramount. They want to know where the parking is in relation to their front door and they do not want a first-floor home in a condominium.”

Focusing on security means many single women are interested in a condominium or town home and want to live in a safe neighborhood.

“Not only do women not want a first-floor or basement location, they are also concerned about having a balcony away from places where someone could climb onto it,” Ms. Evers says. “It’s also important to be in a safe walking neighborhood, especially if they want to walk home from a Metro station.”

Ms. Estryn says single women prefer to be near a Metro station or close to downtown Washington rather than in a more distant suburb.

“Women buyers tend to be more meticulous than couples about what they want, maybe because they do not have to compromise with someone else,” Ms. Estryn says.

Mr. Ford says condominiums appeal to single women because many don’t want to do yard work and are more comfortable with secured parking in a garage.

“But a lot of the reasons condominiums are appealing to single women crosses gender lines to be equally attractive to single men,” Mr. Ford says. “Condominium living saves people time, with the fitness center right in the building and the lack of maintenance. Maybe it is just the issue of time constraints that make them popular for all singles, not just women.”

Kathy Colville, a Realtor with Long & Foster Real Estate Inc. in Sterling, Va., says her experience with single buyers has revealed a gap between priorities for men and women.

“Single men are totally different than couples when they are looking at homes,” Mrs. Colville says. “Single men are all about the land. No matter how big or small the yard is, that is the single most important feature for a single man. They always start looking at a place by staring at the yard to see if it speaks to them. Married men tend to follow along with their wives, although they end up in the yard, too.”

While Mrs. Colville agrees the top priority for single women is safety, she says many also are looking for a home with little to no maintenance.

“Single women do not want a large yard or a home which will require a lot of work,” Mrs. Colville says. “Women rarely will take on a fixer-upper, while a single man will live in a hovel if the land is right.”

Ms. Evers says she believes single women simply do not have the time to wait for repair people and do not want to be tied to a home that needs significant maintenance. Many of them travel and work long hours that prohibit extensive home projects.

Mr. Sutcliffe says some women he works with have opted for a fixer-upper and are willing to spend the time with contractors to improve the residence before moving into it.

“Some single women make the choice like anyone else, knowing that a brand-new condo in a choice area would be out of their price range, so they decide to put in the work to fix a place,” Mr. Sutcliffe says.

Mr. Ford’s perception is that single women generally are not looking for a “handyman special” because, he believes, they are too busy to take on the additional work required for that type of property.

“Generally, though, women have a better sense of cosmetic things, so they recognize when something will require minor work and will accept that,” Mr. Ford says. “My observation is that more ambitious renovations mostly appeal to couples.”

Ms. Estryn says that while women do not mind changing the carpet or repainting, they generally prefer newer homes that will not require mechanical or electrical work.

“Couples are more likely to take on something riskier,” Ms. Estryn says. “You have to be brave when you are buying property, and when you are a single woman, you have to be even braver.”

Ms. Estryn says single-women buyers tend to buy in an urban area unless they have a dog.

“If they have a dog, it makes a big difference, and women will opt for a single-family home as long as it is in a good area with a lot of joggers and mothers with strollers,” Ms. Estryn says.

Mr. Sutcliffe says the single women he works with usually focus on a particular neighborhood and will only look in that area.

“Single women tend to want to be closer to everything urban,” Mr. Sutcliffe says. “If they can afford a single-family home outside the city or a condo in Georgetown, they are more likely to pick the condo.”

Ms. Evers says most single women she works with are renting downtown and want to stay downtown.

“They want to stay close to their friends, and they are afraid that if they move to a neighborhood away from Metro that no one will visit them,” Ms. Evers says.

In the suburbs, too, single women are looking for a home that has close neighbors and busy streets.

Mrs. Colville says, “They are mostly concerned about living in an area close to plenty of activities, with a lot of people around and shops and restaurants.”

Women tend to bring friends or family members along to search for a home, or at least to give a stamp of approval to a property already chosen.

“Women do like to have a second opinion, probably more often than single men,” Mr. Ford says. “It is not an issue of bringing a man along for the decision, either; it is just wanting someone else to see the place to make sure they are making a good decision.”

Ms. Evers says most of her single-women buyers bring a family member or a friend along to get a second opinion on a potential purchase.

“Sometimes I think it is just more fun for people to have a friend along when they look at homes,” Ms. Evers says. “Single men will sometimes bring their girlfriends in at the end to get their approval.”

Mrs. Colville says women almost always bring friends along and will see a home two or three times - or more - before finalizing a purchase.

“With single men, I sometimes suggest that they bring in their girlfriend to see a place if they have been dating awhile,” Mrs. Colville says. “The women take personal affront if their boyfriends buy a place and they haven’t been included in the decision. But the single-women buyers I work with are rarely in a serious relationship, so they bring a male friend or a female friend along for affirmation.”

Financially, working with single women is similar to working with other buyers, whether they are couples or single men. In decades past, lenders sometimes were skeptical of a single woman’s ability to purchase a home on her own. Today, Realtors agree, lenders look only at the savings, credit rating and income of women buyers to qualify them for a home purchase.

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