Buying Trend: Growing numbers of single women enter housing market

The sizable yard, well-kept bathroom and beautifully maintained hardwood floors of an older home did it for Megan Fulara.

It was love at first sight when Jenny Zinkel walked into the wood-framed, window-filled family room of a tidy ranch-style house.

But before these two young, professional, single women bought their first homes, they spent a lot of time researching and planning. A house would be a wise investment for sure, and would get them out of cramped apartment living. It also would be the biggest purchases of their lives, they say, and therefore nothing to rush into.

?It was so scary, making a big purchase like that,? says Fulara, 26. ?I really wanted to see my money going toward something. I thought it would be a terrific way to build equity and get out of my tiny apartment.?

She and Zinkel are part of one of real estate?s fastest-growing nationwide trends?the rise in first-time home buyers, particularly single, never-been-married women. Both were in exclusive relationships when they began their searches. They still are; in fact, Fulara is engaged. But buying a house was a decision they made for themselves. They would be living more comfortably and building equity, whether the road led to marriage or not.

In the last five years, single women have outpaced single men by a 2-to-1 margin when it comes to buying their first homes, according to National Association of Realtors statistics. In 2003, single women bought one in five homes; men bought one in ten. The single woman segment makes up about 18 percent of the home-buying population, the second largest demographic behind the traditional two-income family.

?They see it as a good investment,? says Mark Helmuth, president of the Peoria Area Association of Realtors. ?They?re not waiting to do it.? He himself has sold as many homes to women first-time home buyers in the last four years as he had in the eight or nine years before that.

Times have changed. More women have careers than ever before and fewer are rushing to get married, statistics show.

Zinkel, 34, doesn?t find it surprising. ?If you?re going to be an independent woman now, buying your own house is something you consider,? she says.
The market still is good, Helmuth says. ?I don?t think we?ve ever had a down market for first-time home buyers,? he says of his 15 years as a realtor.
The typical first-timer is looking for a two- or three-bedroom house, he says. And the overall trend toward larger houses goes for first-time buyers as well. They want ?more house,? as Helmuth puts it.

The increase in home ownership is due largely to continuing low interest rates, flexible financing and the prevalence of local and government programs that offer special incentives, officials say. ?We get an awful lot of first-time home buyers,? says Carol Fliginger, mortgage banking officer for Heritage Bank?s Peoria Heights, Ill., branch.

But it goes beyond that, she says. ?Anyone, even if they have less than perfect credit and don?t have money for a down payment, can find a home. If they really want to become a home owner, they can,? she says.