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This article was published on: 07/01/2004

SELLING: Growing Niche

BY BARBARA BALLINGER

Different criteria from men
Capture a burgeoning market

What women want

The uptick in single-female homebuyers is sending a clear message: The segment is large, growing, and unwilling to wait for Prince Charming before making a downpayment. Women today have their own funds, and they want to build equity rather than rent.

Just how big a category is the single female market? Approximately 21 percent of all buyers in 2003 were single women for a total of 1.7 million. That makes them the second biggest category of buyers, behind married couples but well ahead of single men, according to the National Association of REALTORS®’ 2003 Profile of Home Buyers and Sellers.

Women buyers aren’t just single moms or divorcées, the prime single-female niche in the past, says Mark Prather, president of Mark 1 Mortgage in Cerritos, Calif. “I’m seeing more young women in their 20s,” he says.

And women’s dreams sometimes don’t stop with a single residence. A small but growing number, particularly those who live in major cities or vacation at popular destinations, buy a second property to rent for investment.

Wendy Tilton, adjunct associate professor at New York University’s Real Estate Institute, has seen more women attend her licensing classes of late. “They’re not attending to learn to sell but to master how to make a sound investment analysis,” Tilton says. “They’re thinking about developing an income stream for retirement.”

Different criteria from men
What women spend on property is only slightly less than what single men spend—a median of $139,500 versus $142,000, according to the NAR report. So what do they want for their money?

Their criteria often differ from those of their male counterparts, who, yes, are more likely to seek large garages for their cars and tools and living spaces to fit their electronic gear, says Chicago designer John Wiltgen.

That doesn’t mean women want to be short-changed on personal space. After living in a suburban condo for eight years, Amy Biderman, 46, a public relations coordinator at a Washington, D.C., area university, was ready for a change. “I wanted land, no common walls, no condo fees,” she says. Although her price range made her goal tough to achieve, Biderman found a three-bedroom, 1,300-square-foot rambler in need of repair, she says.

Regardless of whether they’re seeking a one-bedroom unit or a single-family house on a plot of land, women tend to put safety high on their list. “Security represents the new curb appeal for women,” says Hilary Becker, CPM®, a broker-owner with Becker Real Estate Services Inc. in Lynbrook, N.Y. “Most don’t want the last house on a dead-end street or one with limited lighting. If they want a condo, they prefer it in a building with a 24-hour doorman and on a high floor.”

Being close to family, friends, and work is another priority. Jill Tappe, 25, director of business development at The Tappe Group, a coaching and training company in Arlington, Texas, chose her three-bedroom, single-family house last August, in part because it was seven miles from her office and close to Dallas and Ft. Worth, where she travels.

One way single women can address the need for both safety and companionship—and reduce expenses—is through shared housing, says Marta Borsanyi, founding principal with The Concord Group, a real estate consultancy in Las Vegas and San Francisco and Newport Beach, Calif. It’s a trend that will grow, she says, to the extent that floor plans can be created or adapted to offer privacy zones for both parties.

Capture a burgeoning market
It’s always dicey stereotyping any target group. But if you want to go after the growing niche of female homebuyers, practitioners with experience in the market say this is what you can expect.

How they buy. Women tend to be more specific about what they need in terms of square footage and cost and, therefore, generally look longer than men, Becker says.

What they spend. Many don’t want to spend as much as lenders qualify them for, says Prather, who recommends a fixed-rate mortgage if they plan to stay at least 10 years.

How they negotiate. When they find the right home, most act decisively and zero in on details in the contract, says Dana DiPasquale, a salesperson with Baird & Warner’s Lincoln Park Chicago office.

Their wish list. Many seek an overall warm, fuzzy feeling that connects them emotionally to the house. Biderman was taken with her home’s 1951 charm and hardwood floors. Others are captivated by a well-equipped kitchen, attractive master bedroom and bathroom, or spacious closets, says Chaz Walters, owner of Hot Property Residential Brokerage in Chicago. DiPasquale has found the following can clinch a transaction: an in-unit washer-dryer; a master bath with separate shower and tub and plenty of drawers for makeup and a hairdryer; and a gym in a high-rise building.

How much maintenance they’ll do. A lot of women today—inspired by retailers’ classes, female-friendly tools, and plentiful how-to materials—are tackling their own remodeling projects. That doesn’t mean they seek out fixer-uppers— unless price makes that a necessity. “They still want turn-key properties so all they have to do is paint and carpet,” says Lesslie Giacobbi, with Seven Gables Real Estate in Anaheim Hills, Calif.

What their home connotes to them. Many single women form a deeper attachment to their purchase than men do, says Becker, which he attributes to the fact that men job-hop more.

Cheri Davis, a broker at Walters’ company in Chicago, has another explanation. “I didn’t wait for my prince before I bought my condo or two-flat, and I don’t think anybody should wait for anyone to make your life better,” she says.

ONLINE EXCLUSIVE
NAR Library’s Field Guide to Women Homebuyers
Books for Single-Female Homebuyers
2003 NAR Profile of Home Buyers and Sellers(item #186-45-03)

QUOTE

Remember, Ginger Rogers did everything Fred Astaire did, but she did it backwards and in high heels.
—Faith Whittlesey




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