Single women acquiring second homes

Some find it easier to find suitable house than suitable mate

October 26, 2003|By Joyce Cohen | Joyce Cohen,NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

Owning a second home is typically something couples do. So Anne Waxman knew she was taking an unconventional step when she bought a second home as a single woman.

"I always wanted a home in the country," said Waxman, 47, who lives on the West Side of Manhattan. "I didn't do it the way that would be best for me - with a man I'm married to - but I did it."

Weeks before Waxman stumbled upon the house - a ramshackle four-bedroom house in East Jewett, N.Y., which she bought five years ago - she had been jarred by her father's sudden death.

"I thought, 'I am alone, nothing is happening in my life, I am used to letting things walk by,'" said Waxman, a teacher of the Alexander Technique, a method of body alignment. "But here is something affordable and doable, so let me do it for now."

Single women embarking on second-home ownership are the latest real estate pioneers, trailing those who, a generation ago, battled banks to get a mortgage without a husband as a co-signer and who, before that, rented apartments at a time when landlords required permission from their fathers.

Six percent of second homes are owned by single women, according to a survey last year by the National Association of Realtors. By contrast, 85 percent of those homes are owned by married couples; 5 percent are owned by single men; 2 percent by unmarried couples; and 2 percent by others.

But buying by single people is on the rise. In 2001, according to the association, 10 percent of second homes were bought by single women and 10 percent by single men, up from 8 percent for each in 1999.

It has never been odd for a man to own property. But the conventional wisdom is that even if a single woman has the financial wherewithal to buy a second home, why would she want to? With home and family so intimately intertwined, wouldn't it make sense to have a spouse, and perhaps a child, before settling into such a long-haul domestic arrangement?

"Women think about nesting and doing things very much with a partner," said Linda Edelstein, a psychologist in Evanston, Ill., and author of The Art of Midlife: Courage and Creative Living for Women. "A vacation home feels like something to be shared," she said. "For a lot of women, it wouldn't be fun."

Some people might view the purchase of a second home as emblematic of defeat, an admission that its solitary buyer is solidifying a soup-for-one lifestyle. But the women who buy second homes are not among them. They know that sometimes a suitable second home is easier to acquire than a suitable mate.

"Any intelligent Realtor today takes a single-woman purchaser seriously," said Stephanie Samuelsohn, owner of VantagePoint Realty in Old Chatham in upstate New York. Samuelsohn said she knows of 10 single-women buyers who have used her agency in the past five years, including six in the past six months.

It has been her experience that single women are more likely to buy a second home than are their male counterparts. "A single guy wants a hub of activity," she said, "but there are many women who have high-pressure jobs and want to relax and refresh themselves on the weekend."

For years, single women have been warned against falling victim to those fears that thinking long term - acquiring nice furniture; buying instead of renting - means "putting some kind of curse on yourself that you'll never have a partner," said Janice Witzel, a psychologist in Chicago who wrote her 1991 dissertation on women who had never married.

"I see the vacation home as a continuation of the good life being lived in the moment," Witzel said. "It doesn't preclude having a committed relationship."

Edelstein said that many women in their late 30s through their 50s take risks that they wouldn't have taken earlier, such as changing careers, starting a business or buying property. At age 41, several years after her divorce, she bought a second home on a lake in Wisconsin.

"I made a decision that I wouldn't let being single prevent me from doing anything I might do being married," she said.

That is the anthem of many single women who take such steps. "I think there's a catharsis women go through at 40," said Amy Trapp, a Manhattan investment banker who bought a second home three years ago. "Once, I would have been too afraid to take on the responsibility myself. Now, the benefits far outweigh the fear."

For two years, she rented a house in Chatham, N.Y., two hours north of New York City, "to sense whether it would be a noose or something I really enjoyed," she said. She eventually bought the three-bedroom, three-bathroom house for $275,000. Her terrier, Sabrina, romps on the 8-acre property.

Trapp, 45, spends about half of her weekends there, often inviting friends. "I love to cook and entertain," she said. She gardens, reads, takes Sabrina for long walks and sees movies by herself, having long since overcome the self-consciousness.

"In the city, I'm around people or on the phone all the time, and I tend to be a type A," she said. "It gives me peace to go where I am separated from that."

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