Investment: It's a woman's world

Female skills and instincts make women canny property investors. Graham Norwood reports on a quiet revolution
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The Independent Online
Dealing with estate agents and tenants may, for many, be more likely to induce sleepiness than set pulses racing, but Lisa Hulyer thinks otherwise - and believes more women should follow her footsteps.

"Property is sexy for women, thanks to role models such as Sarah Beeney. It's quite something to say that you're a buy-to-let landlord or that you've bought and developed a property and sold it for a profit. If you've done that in what is basically a male-dominated industry, you deserve to have a spring in your step," claims Hulyer, a lettings agent who runs seminars and distance-learning courses to encourage women to become landlords.

She emphasises that property is not a nine-to-five job that obliges people to choose between families and work, and so is perfect for women. "We're the primary carers of kids and the ones playing the most time-consuming role in bringing them up. We're the ones who need a career that can work around this and not against it," says Hulyer, who has three buy-to-lets of her own.

She says women can adopt unorthodox strategies for dealing with investment in particular. For example, they can use their multi-tasking skills learnt when they juggle families and careers. By comparison, looking after budgets, co-ordinating tradesmen and sticking to timetables on a renovation project are not so difficult. Likewise, women are less competitive, so they work together more successfully. One of Hulyer's pet aims is to get a group of women to contribute pounds 3,000 each and run an investment consortium. "Women are more flexible and more collegiate than men. It could work," she insists.

Figures suggest Hulyer may be knocking at an open door. The Halifax says single women formed only 9.8 per cent of the first-time-buyer market in 1983 but that rose to 23.1 per cent in 2003; according to Ludlow Thompson, a London estate agency, 40 per cent of its 2,500 landlords are women - a proportion rising by 5 per cent annually.

One of the most successful is Diane ter Averst, who lives in Tunbridge Wells but has more than 20 properties in Stratford-upon-Avon, Sussex and the City of London. Last year she bought 10 new homes and had 24 tenants move in or out of her houses and apartments.

"I think we're more organised and adopt a no-nonsense approach. When I buy a property, I seek a reduction if necessary and want it ready for letting on day one. I don't do as my male counterparts do and aim to have it let 11 months out of 12, because I want it let 12 months out of 12," says ter Averst, who used to be a lecturer but is now a full-time landlord. She searches for new properties, designs and decorates them herself, finds her own tenants and manages her business from an office based in her own home. "Male landlords don't know how I do it," she says.

Maggi Hutchison is another serious property player, with four properties, most in London's Docklands. They have not only given her an income but a new job, too. She has become an estate agent. "It was a logical progression for me. I had always enjoyed buying property for myself and decided to make a career of it."

If more women take the plunge, they should know what they are up against in property establishment - it's a man's world. The National Association of Estate Agents says 77 per cent of its membership is male, and only 23 per cent female; the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors has 90 per cent men and 10 per cent women; about 85 per cent of conveyancing solicitors are men. Only the Association of Residential Lettings Agents produces a pro-women bias, claiming two-thirds of 8,000 lettings managers employed in high-street agencies are female.

"It's intimidating to know that as a woman who wants to invest, you're probably going to deal largely or exclusively with male estate agents, financial advisers and lettings staff. Women need to be encouraged through the process," says Hulyer. She is organising networking events to introduce women who want to invest to others who have broken through the glass ceiling to become landlords, developers or estate agents.

A few in the establishment recognise the growth of the female property expert and ensure that show houses on new developments and branch offices of estate agencies have at least some women staff on hand.

"The overall influence of women in the market is massive. In couples and familes, women have invariably been the key decision-makers in design, layout and location," according to Clive Fenton of Barratt Homes. "We see lots of smaller-scale women buy-to-let investors but are also seeing the emergence of a newer breed of bigger players - women who are shrewdly building and managing extensive portfolios," he says.

Lisa Hulyer's courses: email