Wanda Mittman is "addicted" to real estate.
A divorced, single woman and mother living in Manhattan, where she owns a
co-op in the Carnegie Hill section, Mittman closed her small importing company
in the gift market in 1997 and decided to purchase and renovate properties as
an investment strategy. She started with an "ugly" East Hampton home she bought
in April 2000 for $622,000 that she aimed to furnish, rent out in the summers
and eventually restore and sell for a profit.
"The house was about 5,000 square feet, a dated contemporary, and the front
was quite ugly - perfect for me, of course," says Mittman, who is in her late
40s. "I always look for the ugliest properties with a great location and great
potential - that's my motto."
In February 2006, after spending about $180,000 on renovations and
furnishings and earning $238,000 in rental income, Mittman sold the
seven-bedroom home for $1.25 million - more than double what she paid for it.
"She's a woman who enjoys purchasing real estate, renovating it and turning
a profit," says Susan McGraw, senior vice president for The Corcoran Group,
who served as Mittman's real estate agent on both ends of the sale.
"I planned on buying another investment property in East Hampton," adds
Mittman, who since has gotten her real estate license and has joined Corcoran's
Chelsea office. "I love it. ... I feel extremely confident in real estate
And Mittman's not alone.
Growing group of buyers
Single women, as a demographic, represent the fastest growing segment for
home purchasing. According to the National Association of Realtors, a
Washington, D.C.-based trade group, single-female home buyers represented a
record 22 percent of all buyers in 2006, up from 14 percent in 1995, for a
total of 1.66 million - making them the second biggest category of buyers
behind married couples, and well ahead of single men, who are at 9 percent.
Industry observers attribute the growth in single-woman home ownership to a
new independent mind-set, increased wages for women and better financing,
spurred on by outreach programs such as those offered by Fannie Mae and Freddie
Mac that are aimed at first-time home buyers and minorities.
"Compared to any time in history, women are making more money, they're on
their own longer and they're not, in the very traditional sense, depending on a
man to buy a home with them or for them," says Eden Jarrin, co-founder and
chief executive of BeJane.com, a Web site that caters to women who need support
and advice on tackling home improvement projects.
Additionally, says Jarrin, 31, who as a single woman in 2003 bought her own
home for $540,000, "if you buy into the generalization of women as 'nesters,'
then they'll place more importance on the home or take more pride in it than
the average man and are tending to put their money into homes."
Donna Raskin, co-author of the 2006 book "The Single Woman's Guide to Real
Estate" (F+W Publications, $14.95), says "the single most important thing women
should know" about buying a home on their own is that it "doesn't mean you
will never get married and buy a house with a partner."
She says, "I think some women believe they should wait until they are in a
relationship. But that isn't true. Women who take good care of themselves
financially are certainly more likely to take better care of themselves in
other ways, too. Homeowners are financially more stable than renters. Also,
since women are getting married later, they should invest their money wisely
before marriage. In turn, if they don't get married or if their marriage is
troublesome, they will be more likely to be able to take care of themselves."
'We're just people'
Indeed, all the single women interviewed for this story viewed buying a
home as an investment, either short-term or long-term. But the overriding
sentiment among them, whether they were divorced, engaged or had never married,
was that they could make this financial commitment.
"I hate the word 'empowered,'" says Susan Robinson, a New Orleans native
and investment banker in her 40s who purchased a four-bedroom home in
Sagaponack for $995,000 in November.
"We're just people like guys are. We need to give ourselves more credit as
just people. Still, I think it's just great. Everybody should feel like, 'I can
Aspasia Zoumas, 48, agrees. "I knew that when I was 22 years old and I
divorced my husband and had a 3-year-old kid, that I didn't need a man to take
care of me," she says. "Some women find out much later. When I hear a woman
say, 'Well, I never pay a bill. My husband takes care of that,' I look at her
and I wonder what planet is she on."
Like Robinson, Zoumas lives and works in Manhattan, where she has owned an
Upper East Side apartment for about 20 years, and she bought a home in East
Hampton in March 2005 for $2.2 million that she currently rents. "I love real
estate," says Zoumas, who owns Techne & Associates, an architectural and
interior design firm.
Zoumas, who has bought and sold in the area previously, currently has her
home on the market for $3.795 million. "I believe in the Hamptons very
strongly, so I always like to buy something, fix it up, make it look nice and
turn it around," she says.
"By the time a woman decides she wants to purchase, if she doesn't already
own, she's savvy enough to understand that buying a property is a long-term
investment," says McGraw of Corcoran . "My customers tend to be already very
savvy about business, so they're not daunted by the banks."
However, not all women are undaunted.
The first thing Raquel Caruso, 37, of Wantagh, did when she decided she was
going to buy a home on her own was take a trip to Barnes & Noble. "I bought a
book, 'Home Buying for Dummies,'" (Wiley, John & Sons, $21.99), says Caruso,
who works in sales at WBAB/102.3 FM. "It's really a learning process, a lot of
decisions for one single person who hadn't done this before. It was very
For her, no fixer-upper
Caruso had been renting an apartment for eight years in Bethpage and says
she felt like she was "just throwing my money away." She bought a ranch home
for $450,000 in August and lives there with her fiance, Tommy Dowdeswell, 40,
a carpenter. As handy as he may be, he did not come with her when she went
looking. So she was on her own.
"I was looking to make an investment," she says, "and I needed a house that
was 90 percent done. I'm a single woman who doesn't know how to build walls
and put cabinets up and put tile up."
Kelly Wong, 38, a media buyer and consultant, also purchased her home - in
Bethpage in 2001 - partly because it was in "move-in" condition. "All I did was
clean, paint and sand down the floors," she says of her ranch home, for which
she paid $326,000. "I didn't want the hassle of remodeling, because I didn't
have the extra money or the time to find someone to work on the house.
"I found it challenging to learn the ins and outs of a house, especially if
things went wrong - losing electricity, learning the circuit breaker, loss of
heat, learning about the water heater," adds Wong.
Robinson, on the other hand, had her own renovation company in New Orleans
and was handy. "I was also fortunate that the sellers of my house were
wonderful, wonderful people, and they gave me all their files - information on
the heating system, on the yard and how often it should be pruned, the pool
person, the sprinklers.
"It gave me a primer on how to take care of this house, although a couple
of weeks ago the sliding glass door all of a sudden wouldn't lock, so I just
got my screwdriver and took the lock apart and put it back together myself. I
felt like a little Miss Smarty Pants."
Owning her own home has given Robinson a boost. "In my work as an
investment banker I don't produce anything," she says. "I don't build the
bonds. They're intangible. So it's just so great to spend the weekend painting
my kitchen cabinets, and when they look great, I'm like, 'Wow.'"
"It's the best thing I ever did," agrees Caruso. "Now when I pay my
mortgage every month, I feel like I own something. It's mine. Now I have an
investment instead of throwing my money out the window."
Before you start to shop
Donna Raskin, co-author of "The Single Woman's Guide to Real Estate," offers
these tips for single female home buyers.
Don't borrow more than you can reasonably pay in a mortgage. "Sit down with
an uninterested party - for example, a financially secure relative or banker
who isn't going to be involved with the loan - to determine what you can
afford. Don't go above that number."
If you can't afford what you want or what is available where you live,
consider alternatives, such as living with a friend or your family while you
save money for a larger down payment. "Or consider buying a house with a
friend," Raskin says. "Just be sure it is someone you trust, someone you know
is financially responsible and that you create a legal binding contract that
protects both of you in case one of you wants to get out of the deal. This is a
financial deal, not an emotional one."
Know your market. "Read the newspapers and talk to a variety of agents,"
says Raskin. "Right now, buyers have more of an edge than they did two years
ago, so take advantage of the market to make a decision that will help you
grow. You don't want to lie awake at night worried that you borrowed too much
or that you bought the wrong house."
- DINA SANTORELLI
�Find a real estate person who is really working for you. When I first started,
they were taking me to houses that I specifically said, �I don�t want to live
across from a parkway or on a main street, and they�re taking me there. It�s a
waste of my time.� - Raquel Caruso, Wantagh
�I always buy neighborhood. Then I look at the house. A house you can always
fix up, but the neighborhood has got to be what it is, has got to be the best.
Always go with your gut feeling. Never buy something that you wouldn�t live in
happily.� - Aspasia Zoumas, East Hampton
�Move to an area close to friends and family that can help you. I luckily live
near my brother, cousin and friends that already have homes and are very
willing to help with any emergencies.� - Kelly Wong, Bethpage
�Do your research. Go on the Internet. There are lots of sites to help you
figure out how much mortgage you can afford. And then figure out how much cash
you can put down, and then start looking at houses. Don�t go on the Internet or
look at houses having no idea what you can afford.' - Susan Robinson,
Who's buying homes
While married couples dominate the U.S. home-buying market, single women
represent its fastest-growing segment.
Married couples / Single women / Single men / Unmarried couples / Other
1995 70% 14% 9% 6% 1%
1997 64% 18% 11% 5% 2%
1999 66% 18% 9% 6% 1%
2001 68% 15% 7% 7% 3%
2003 59% 21% 11% 8% 1%
2004 62% 18% 8% 9% 2%
2005 61% 21% 9% 7% 2%
2006 61% 22% 9% 7% 1%
NOTE: May not total 100 percent due to rounding
SOURCE: NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS (U.S.)