Property: Who needs Mr Right?

Instead of waiting, single women are buying houses, says Gwenda Joyce-Brophy

Single women buying a property on their own are becoming a new force to be reckoned with. Ten years ago, a young woman who left home would typically buy a flat with a friend and work out a careful agreement about what would happen when the first of them met and married Mr Right.

Today, as more and more women reach their thirties without finding him, and realise they are possibly never going to, their buying habits have changed. They're now buying for themselves, and for the long term.

Lesley Robertson, a branch manager with Abbey National, has seen a dramatic increase in the number of such women. "Women in the Nineties are more independent, and their earnings potential is higher than it has ever been," she says.

"I have noticed big changes, even in the past three years," agrees Mark Burgess, manager of Mann and Co, estate agents in Bromley. "Women's earning power is reflected in the price that some of them can afford, even as a first-time buyer. Recently we had a woman in her mid-twenties looking for pounds 200,000 properties."

Mairi MacLean, 31, a director and principal legal consultant for an international search company in London, is a prime example of these successful, independent women. She lives in a period property in Islington, north London, where five-storey houses can go for more than pounds 700,000. But girl power in the property market is more than about money. It is as much a matter of attitude.

"There is no doubt that the dynamics of social behaviour have really changed," says Ms MacLean. "I used to have romantic notions in my twenties, and believed the whole Cinderella fairy tale, but then reality hit. Now I enjoy having my own space. And if I ever do get married, I'd probably keep the property as an investment."

For women who find themselves alone after discovering Mr Right was Mr Wrong, buying their own property can be an important part of regaining their sense of self-worth. "My ex-partner expected me to fall apart when we split," says Elaine Nielsen. "And for me, having my own property became symbolic of something I had to prove, to myself and to other people. The fact that I haven't ended up in a tower block in some urban badland, which could so easily have happened, makes me very proud."

Elaine lives in a Victorian terraced house she's gradually restoring. "This property is where I - willingly - expend much of my time, energy and money. I have genuinely come to enjoy doing all the DIY. Last year I totally revamped the kitchen; this summer I brought all the external maintenance up to scratch. The house and I have grown together."

So, unhindered by a man, what do such women seek from their homes? "One reason I chose this property is that it is incredibly convenient for work and there are no transport problems for getting back after a night out," says Ms MacLean. "And there are so many facilities, such as eateries, within easy reach." Security is particularly important. "The fact that there is a police station nearby is reassuring," she says.

"Location is extremely important to women," says Mr Burgess. "A property that is on well-lit roads, and the feeling they can travel in relative safety are key issues."

Sylvia Newman, of Knight Frank estate agents, has been involved in selling several smart, new London apartment blocks in areas such as Clerkenwell, Islington and Docklands - all particularly popular with single women. "Women take a longer time to choose a property than men, and they're more particular. There is a definite difference between what men and women consider important - security issues such as good lighting, not just externally but in the communal areas." These expensive flats tend to attract women older than the average first-time buyer.

What if Mr Right turns up? "I'm hugely cynical," says Elaine Nielsen, "but if I did meet him, it's very unlikely I could live with him in this place. But I wouldn't get rid of it - on the contrary, it would be my way of maintaining my independence."

THE IDEAL MATCH

Good, safe transport links, with parking close to the property.

A flat in a block with a porter. It isn't within everybody's reach, but it's what many women would like. Some older mansion blocks in London have porters - there are high service charges but these properties can be cheaper than an equivalent in a converted house.

Outside space - women are much more likely than men to look for a balcony or small garden.

Kitchens that are big enough to eat and entertain in.

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