A place to call theirs alone

Single women are buying homes in Baltimore at nearly twice U.S. average

May 29, 2007|By Sumathi Reddy | Sumathi Reddy,SUN REPORTER

Therese Easley fought off nine other bidders to buy her house in Sandtown last year, the first home for the 40-year-old single woman who grew up in a public housing development in East Baltimore.

Ann Anderson, at 26, recently closed on her three-bedroom Federal Hill rowhouse, paying for it with 100 percent financing.

And Kelly Mulligan, 29, moved into her one-bedroom condominium in Bolton Hill last month, where her mortgage is no more than the rent on her former apartment in Fells Point.

Across Baltimore, single women - old and young, black and white - are buying houses, many for the first time, at rates far exceeding the national average.

According to a 2006 survey conducted by the National Association of Realtors, 40 percent of city homebuyers last year were single females, nearly twice the national average and the Baltimore County rate.

"The numbers blew me away," said Joseph T. "Jody" Landers III, executive vice president of the Greater Baltimore Board of Realtors. "I called the National Association of Realtors and asked them to check the raw data.

"When I saw these figures I was like, `What's wrong with the single men?' Women are just smarter than men, what can I say?" Landers said.

Last year was the first time that the Greater Baltimore Board of Realtors participated in the survey, so there are no historical figures for comparison in the city.

While single homebuyer figures are generally higher in urban areas, Baltimore's numbers still appear unusually high.

For example, 26 percent of homebuyers in Chicago were single females in 2006, while the figure was 33 percent in Memphis, said Paul Bishop, manager of real estate research for the National Association of Realtors.

But real estate agents say that single women have long been a strong force in the city's housing market and that, anecdotally, their numbers are only growing.

Most, they say, are women who rented for several years and decided to make the plunge, often taking advantage of housing assistance and loan programs offered through the city and state, and through groups like Live Baltimore.

And they're planting their roots all over the city, from the gentrified, lively areas of Federal Hill and Fells Point to the quieter, more leafy neighborhoods of Northeast Baltimore.

"It's amazing," said Alyssia K. Essig, 33, a real estate broker with Long & Foster. "I've been doing this for nine or 10 years, and I've always had a strong percentage of my annual sales being single women. Now it's especially younger women - 23 or 24 years old - buying their first house on their own. And I'm like, `Wow, you go girl.'"

No one seems to be able to entirely explain Charm City's female friendliness.

"I don't think there's any one single reason," said Dunbar Brooks, manager of data development for the Baltimore Metropolitan Council.

Brooks said he checked U.S. census data and found that the proportion of the city's female residents hasn't changed. "I guess it's just the attractiveness of the city," he said. "And when you really look for affordable housing prices, you're more likely to look in the city."

The average sale price of a home in Baltimore City last year was $173,157, according to the Metropolitan Regional Information Systems Inc.

Essig and other real estate agents say affordability and the urban lifestyle make Baltimore an especially attractive option for those coming from the Washington market, where the average sale price in the District last year was $528,463.

"They're realizing it's a good investment, and they're buying in the city because they want to have a life," Essig said.

Laura Cundiff is one. The 36-year-old bought a Federal Hill rowhouse in August, moving from Arlington, Va. She commutes to Washington, where she is a consultant for IBM.

"The housing prices were much better than the D.C. area," Cundiff said. "I liked the community feel and the manageable urban environment."

Though the numbers might seem out of whack, Bishop said that when one compares the data with the most recent census information, it makes sense.

`Really kind of unique'

"What you find is, there's a much higher than national average share of all households in Baltimore that are female households," he said. "It's really kind of unique. We haven't seen that elsewhere."

In the most recent census figures available, from 2005, the number of female heads of households who own homes was 9.1 percent nationally but 19.6 percent in Baltimore.

For renters, the figure was 19.6 percent nationwide and 25.8 percent in Baltimore.

Baltimore's percentage of married couples, at 35.3 percent, was also significantly lower than the national average, which was 61.5 percent.

"There is a pretty significant difference in the underlying demographics of homeowners," Bishop said.

One downside of the large number of single women buying houses is that they've been more affected by the regional and national rise in foreclosures and subprime loans.

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