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1902 N. Commerce St., #105
Milwaukee, WI 53212
(414) 659-4411
Jean M. Stefaniak

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Women taking over real estate

Single females buying homes early in life, getting married later

By Prashant Gopal
The Record (KRT)

HACKENSACK, N.J. - Stephanie Ghelman is buying a condo for the second time. She's 33.

Ghelman, who was a renter in her 20s, decided four years ago to build some equity and buy a studio condominium at Independence Harbor in Edgewater. Now, she's getting ready to close on a one-bedroom condo in the same complex and sell the studio.

Three of the five bidders on the studio are, like her, single women. And so are an ever-growing number of home buyers throughout the country.

"Women are much more independent than they've ever been as far as education and career," said Ghelman, who works in medical sales. "More and more women are getting married later because they are focusing on their careers. They are saving money and can afford to buy."

Last year, 21 percent of all U.S. homes were purchased by unmarried women, up from 10 percent in 1985, according to the National Association of Realtors. The association's figures include single-family houses, condos and town houses.

Only about 9 percent of homebuyers last year were single men, and some observers say that women are more likely to see home ownership as a path to financial security.

"Women are buying into the investment aspect of real estate," said Fort Lee Realtor Nelson Chen, who is Ghelman's agent. "Even if they're thinking of marrying soon, they're saying, 'Why not buy something rather than continuing to rent.'"

The trend is especially prominent in the condominium market, where properties are less expensive than single-family homes. Four in 10 condo buyers in 2005 were single women, according to the NAR. Many women find condos to be particularly attractive because they offer a maintenance-free lifestyle and security features such as gates and doormen.

Middle-school teacher Rebecca Samuels bought her first home last month, a condo in The Mill at Little Falls. Samuels, 25, who saved for a down payment by living with her parents, said she decided that real estate is a sound investment that doesn't have to wait for marriage.

"Whoever I share my life with, I'll be able to set myself up for a better financial future," Samuels said.

Of course, many single buyers are well into their adult life. Some are divorced or widowed and are simply downsizing. Others never plan to get married.

Real estate agents are increasingly paying attention to women buyers, who, according to some observers, might have been treated with skepticism just a few decades ago if they approached a broker looking to buy a house.

Partly because so many women are now likely to have lengthy credit histories and solid incomes, they are also getting warm treatment from lenders.

Some builders have taken note of the trend, as well, and include features in their single-family homes that they say are especially appealing to women. Los Angeles-based KB Homes, for example, says features that appeal to women include large walk-in closets and spa-like bathrooms with whirlpool tubs.

What's not clear is why single men aren't buying at a similar pace.

"Our survey doesn't explain why," said Walter Molony, a NAR spokesman. "It gets down to being as simple as women have a better understanding of housing as a long-term investment. Single guys are more interested in consumption. They don't get serious about real estate until they meet the right woman."