Even the most empowered of women might feel her heart race as she gets out of the car at 11 p.m. and walks up a dark staircase to an empty house. But there are ways to keep your heart rate down.
Investigate neighborhoods. Visit during various hours of the day and night, and ask the neighbors (like people gardening or out walking their dogs) how safe they feel living there.
Get crime stats from the police. Don't judge neighborhood safety on appearances, or even on regional statistics you might find online (they tend to cover a broad area). Get neighborhood crime statistics from the local police precinct.
Examine safety features of any house you're considering. Many single woman gravitate towards condo or townhouse communities for safety reasons. Jennifer says, "I made finding a unit on the second floor a priority. The one thing I didn't want to have to worry about was someone breaking through my window." But freestanding houses aren't off limits, especially if you look for:
- drive-in garages with interior access to the house or unit
- windows high off the ground
- solid doors with sturdy locks
- entrance paths that are well-lit and not hidden by shrubbery or rocks, and
- an alarm system.
Some of these you can add yourself, but avoid any house with unchangeable features like a front door that can't be seen from the street.
Look for a House to Match Your Lifestyle
Think about what you like to do, and what things are important in your life. For example, many single women choose houses with large kitchens, because entertaining is high on their list. Or, they look for a house that's within walking distance of their favorite restaurants or other meeting places. In fact, a Harvard study found that most unmarried women chose their house location based on proximity to family and friends rather than to work or school.
Be Ready if Your Life Changes and You Want to Move
What if you buy a house and then fall in love, or settle down with another person? What if your house isn't big enough for two? Some women actually fear that buying their own home will be a jinx -- that they're telling the universe, "I give up on finding the right person to share my life with."
Let's kill off all thoughts of that jinx. Jennifer says, "I feel like this is an environment where I could actually build a relationship with someone, and have the privacy to do that. It's a good feeling of strength." And Diane says, "I've just fallen in love, with a man who I think was attracted by the idea that I own property, something he doesn't have to worry about."
If you're open to the fact that your life and living situation may change, you can put yourself in a good position to adjust, by taking these steps:
Buy a house with resale value. Give yourself an exit strategy: a house with good resale potential. (This is a good idea for any buyer, and also important if something like a job transfer might be in your future.)
The easiest house to resell will be one that's well-constructed and maintained, aesthetically appealing, and in a good neighborhood. Don't buy the biggest, fanciest house on the block. (They're harder to resell, because people who can afford them often prefer to buy in a more upscale neighborhood.) And read the newspaper to learn of any neighborhood changes, like a coming development.
Watch out for mortgage prepayment penalties. You want to be able to sell within the early years of the mortgage without being assessed a penalty.
Arm Yourself With Information
Self-education is the key to feeling comfortable undertaking this process on your own. Some ways to get information:
- Talk to other single-women homebuyers about their experiences.
- Read books such as Nolo's Essential Guide to Buying Your First Home , by Ilona Bray, Alayna Schroeder, and Marcia Stewart (Nolo). This book is written by three women and also pays particular attention to women buyers.
- Attend a first-time homebuying course.
- Check out websites such as such as www.realtor.com, by the National Association of Realtors (NAR), and www.hud.gov, by the Department of Housing and Urban Development.
- Visit Sunday open houses in the area where you're interested, to get a sense of prices and availability. Ask the agent how much the house might really sell for, since list prices don't always match sales prices.
- Assemble a crack team of professionals, including an experienced real estate agent, mortage broker, and home inspector, who will listen and respond to your needs. Ask friends for recommendations, and interview two or three before making a choice.
With the right planning and choosing, you'll be able to look back, like Jennifer, and say, "I know I did the right thing."
For More Information
For a comprehensive guide that provides everything you need to help you select the right house, the right mortgage, the right agent and the right inspections, get Nolo's Essential Guide to Buying Your First Home, by Ilona Bray, Alayna Schroeder and Marcia Stewart (Nolo).
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