What Women Want

What do women want?

Modern statistical methods are shedding some light on this perennial puzzler: They want to own a home.

And, for many women, neither today’s tougher financing rules nor their marital status is standing in their way.

“Single women are the second largest segment of home buyers,” says Walter Molony of the National Association of Realtors.

Since 1997, single women have accounted for about 20 percent of all purchasers, give or take a percentage point or two in a specific year, according to NAR statistics.

Moreover, recent research reveals that other objects of women’s desire – like high-paying careers – may further propel the female home buying trend.

Given the important role that women play in real estate markets, businesses “ignore them at their own peril,” Molony says.

The real estate industry is not only paying attention, but probing the question of exactly what women want from and like about homeownership.

Here’s a look at real estate’s evolving feminine side:

Safe, Supportive Neighborhood

Although single women are often attracted to condo units in secure buildings, “they most commonly buy single-family homes,” Molony says.

Single mothers represent about 75 percent of the buyers in the single-family starter home developments of C&E Home Builders, says Jim Cuddihy, of the Petersburg, Va., firm. “They want a place for the kids to play, and they like the neighborhood of all [similar] homes, it has a safe feel,” Cuddihy says.

The “pocket neighborhoods” developed with cottage-like homes and neat yards attract many single women buyers, says Ross Chapin, architect of the homes in forty-some pocket developments around the country. “I think this is because they like the feeling of independent ownership of a home… along with support and security of living in a close-knit community,” Chapin says.

Easy Living

If there’s one word single women use most commonly to describe a feature of a home they like, it’s “freeing,” says Paul Foresman, vice president of Design Basics, an Omaha, Neb., firm which studies women’s housing preferences.

“They want to be free from worries about maintenance and free from anything that wastes their time,” he explains.

That means features like vinyl or composite decks that don’t need to be re-stained; floors that are made of very hard, scratch-resistant wood; and laundry rooms placed steps away from her bedroom closet; Foresman says.

Money Matters

The share of single women buyers dipped slightly, to 18 percent, in 2010. That’s probably because single buyers have only their own income to rely on and “are uneasy with what the future could hold” in the economy, says Neil Caron, vice president of Freedom Mortgage Corp., South Windsor, Conn.

That’s a very practical concern, and it is why singles should keep emergency savings that would cover at least six months of basic expenses, advises Susan Honig, of Veritana Financial Planning, Burbank, Calif.

She says, “If it is a couple – each with stable jobs – I usually recommend anywhere from three to six months of basic expenses in savings, but singles need to go longer, perhaps even covering a year’s expenses.”

Proud Owners

More young women than young men now want a high-paying career, according to the Pew Research Center, with two-thirds of women ages 18 to 34 saying it is a high priority, compared with 58 percent of men.

That should only mean more single women buyers in the years ahead, says Tracy Hutton, broker-owner of Century 21 Scheetz in Indianapolis.

“Women take extreme pride in the fact that they can accomplish the dream of homeownership on their own,” Hutton says. “It symbolizes to them success and independence. Women also seek the stability that goes along with owning a home in a desirable community where they can connect with others.”

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