Sunday, November 7, 2004

What single women want in a home

A story published today in the Charlotte Observer reports that single women of today aren't waiting around for Prince Charming to help them buy a home, and are increasingly likely to make the homebuying leap even without the glass slipper, according to the numbers.

More than 21 percent of homebuyers are single women, says the National Association of Realtors, up from 18 percent in 1997. While married couples still rule the residential real estate market, single women are twice as likely as their male counterparts to buy a home.

The trend appears to hold true in the Queen City.

Maia Williams, president of Builder Services Inc., a division of the Allen Tate Company, and a 20-year veteran of the Charlotte real estate market, says she has watched the growth of single female homebuyers outpace men by three to one. Among singles who buy new homes, 68 percent are women, says Chuck Graham, a real estate analyst with Newton Graham Consultants. Graham says that given the numbers, he's surprised area builders aren't doing more to lure single women.

"When you look at a lot of model homes, they're furnished with male, macho dark colors and leather," said Graham. "I think there's a huge opening here for someone to tap into this demographic."

So we talked to local real estate experts who frequently work with single female clients and asked them this question: What do women want in their castles?

PHYSICAL SECURITY: In focus group after focus group, women say they put a high priority on safety in the home, says Williams, whose company supplies real estate agents to new home builders. That means well-lit streets and common areas, close proximity to neighbors and attached garages. Don Eldred, a Coldwell Banker United agent who gets more than half of his work from single women, has seen this trend in action. "A lot of my clients want to be able to drive up the driveway into the garage, shut the door behind them and be home," he says.

FINANCIAL SECURITY: Among her clients, agent Elizabeth Grillo of Helen Adams Realty sees financial security as more important than physical security. "Women are better risk takers -- they are smart and careful and they seem to be better with money in general, but they are also willing to take a look at some edgy neighborhoods if they think it will be a good investment," Grillo said.

Grillo speaks from personal experience. As a single mother with a 4-year-old, she bought a house in the NoDa arts district in 1997, well before it became known as a hot neighborhood.

She also thinks women do more homebuying homework.

"I think men tend to see us as consultants more and sort of delegate the responsibility to us," she said, "while the women are right there with me every step of the way."

LOW MAINTENANCE: The desire for minimal home maintenance tends to transcend gender, says Williams. Male and female professionals often don't have the time or the know-how to maintain a single-family home on their own. That makes townhouses and apartments a logical choice among singles, she says.

Realtor Lauren O'Connor of Coldwell Banker United runs counter to that trend, having traded her townhouse for a house nearly three years ago. She wanted more space and a yard for entertaining.

She advises single clients not to be afraid of buying a house. She pays a service to maintain her lawn for less than what she was paying in condominium homeowner's fees, she says.

BATHROOMS: After all the serious considerations of street lighting and lawn mowing, single women still want some luxuries in their home. Eldred says the most sought-after interior features he sees among single female clients are in the bathroom, where soaking tubs and ample drawer and counter space are key.

"It's a tough world out there and I think a lot of women see a nice master bathroom as their little oasis," Eldred said.

KITCHENS: A women's place may no longer be in the kitchen, but women still care very much about what is in that room, says Allen Tate agent Amanda Dillashaw. If men see a kitchen is neat, clean and functional, that's fine. "Women are more likely to have specific features in mind," says Dillashaw. "You're more likely to hear `I wish it had an island' from a female buyer."