Move over, Mr. and Mrs. Homeowner: Single women have entered the homeownership market in a big way. According to the National Association of Realtors, unmarried women–a group that encompasses divorcees, single moms and widows as well as never-married women–have become the second-largest segment of home buyers in the country, exceeded only by married couples. In other words, single women represent a home building and remodeling market you can't afford to ignore.
To do business with these homeowners, you need to understand their housing preferences. Sara Lamia, president of Home Building Coach Inc. of Fort Collins, Colo., says a few things are high on the wish list for almost all single-women homeowners. One is security. They may prefer a gated community, for instance, so they can feel safe going for a run after work.
Doris Pearlman of Possibilities for Design, Denver, says the house itself needs to be designed with security squarely in mind. The garage should be attached to the house, and the building should incorporate a security package, perhaps featuring outdoor lighting, an alarm system, limited use of side lights by the front door, and windows that can be locked ajar to allow ventilation but not entry from the outside.
Another priority for single women is a bed-and-bath suite that serves as a personal haven, says Lamia. Women want to pamper themselves with luxury features such as a whirlpool tub or an aromatherapy steam shower. For added appeal, include a connecting space—perhaps an office or exercise room—that turns the suite into "a little apartment."
Open kitchen-dining-living areas work well as living/entertainment centers for single-women homeowners. And many women, particularly those who have come from other countries, want a home with flex rooms, multipurpose spaces that can serve as bedrooms for houseguests.
Single women tend to choose smaller homes than couples do. One reason is that many of their activities lie outside the home. And many prefer in-town locations.
While they'll go small on house size, single women won't scrimp on quality or style. "In general, women buyers are very aware of design trends," Pearlman says. They want new colors, natural materials such as marble, stone and wood, and the warmth and texture that can be achieved through such detailing as beadboard walls, applied trims and hand-scraped wood floors. A range of architectural styles, from traditional Victorian to Arts and Crafts to sleek contemporary, appeal to women buyers as long as they’re well-executed.
Of course, different segments of the single-women housing market are looking for different things. Lamia offers some insights:
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