Buying a home today takes a certain confidence -- in the market and in your own financial strength. A lot of single female homebuyers are taking that bold step in high heels, with no one at their side.
Nationally, single women accounted for 21 percent of all home purchases in the year ended this past June, while single men accounted for just 10 percent, according to the National Association of Realtors.
Experts say female homebuyers share characteristics and concerns that set them apart from male buyers. Following are some tips that single female buyers should keep in mind when purchasing a home.
Though the nation has witnessed a housing bust, homes should still climb in value over the long haul, leaving longtime owners with a valuable asset, says Mariko Chang, a consultant who recently completed a report on the wealth gap for women for the Insight Center for Community Economic Development in Oakland, Calif.
But it is a mistake to expect a quick run-up in property values, says Chicago-based certified financial planner Leisa Aiken, especially because there's still an abundant supply.
Aiken and Chang agree that owning a home can help women enter a more secure retirement if they pay down their loan balance over time.
"You shouldn't think of a home as an investment that will make you rich," Aiken says. "But if you buy a home that you can afford to pay off, maintain and live in over a long period of time, you'll have a low-cost place to live in retirement."
Mortgage lenders may approve borrowers with good credit and other favorable factors for a home mortgage that -- combined with their other regularly occurring debts -- takes up one-third or more of the borrower's gross pay.
However, experts caution it could be a mistake to borrow as big a home loan as a lender will approve. The payment amount covers only the principal and interest. The buyer would also have other home-related expenses, including property taxes, homeowners insurance and private mortgage insurance.
Add in other debts -- such as car loan and credit card payments -- and the homeowner could find herself pushing against the upper limit on a prudent monthly debt load.
Annette Simon, a Bethesda-based certified financial planner, says it's a mistake to overextend when making a purchase.
"Diversification is the cardinal rule," she says. "You should not have a mortgage that's so big you still don't put at least 10 percent of your income in a retirement plan."
A Consumer Federation of America study in 2006 found that women received an outsized share of subprime mortgages, says Barry Zigas, director of housing policy for the Washington-based CFA.
Zigas worries that mortgage lenders may not provide women with all loan information and options because of stereotypes about women's alleged lack of financial sophistication.
"Have the loan officer lay out all the options," he says.
Check rates with several mortgage lenders, and don't simply select a lender based on a recommendation from a friend, adds Zhenguo Lin, assistant professor of real estate at Mississippi State University.
Lin co-authored a recent study that found female heads of households pay 40 basis points -- nearly 0.5 percent -- more on home mortgages than other borrowers.
When controlled for income, credit score and other factors, that difference dropped to 8 basis points. But that's still significant, says Lin, who says she believes the cost variance is because 41 percent of women say they relied on a recommendation, while only 25 percent of men did.