Single women in the home-buying market

Single women continue to be one of the fastest-growing segments of the housing market. Despite higher prices, soaring interest rates and rising taxes, single women -- divorced, widowed, or never married -- now make up from 10 to 12 percent of the total market. They remain slightly ahead of single men in their desire to put a roof of their own over their heads.

These facts come from the National Association of Realtors in Chicago, which says 2.35 million existing homes and l million new homes were sold in 1981.

The increasing number of single women homeowners today reflects their ability to borrow mortgage money more easily as a result of federal laws passed in 1974 and 1975 to curb sex discrimination in lending and home buying. It also signals the fact that more women have moved into better-paying jobs. It is also far more socially acceptable now for young single women to buy homes of their own, rather than wait around for a husband to make the ownership dual.

A few years ago Ruth Rejnis became one of those single women who put her money down, secured an 83/4 percent mortgage, and moved into her own sturdy 1910 house in a turn-around neighborhood in Hoboken, N.J. She had discovered the area when she was writing real-estate news for The New York Times and had said to herself, ''If I ever get tired of Manhattan, I sure wouldn't mind living in Hoboken.''

In 1975 she got tired of Manhattan, moved to an apartment in Hoboken, just across the Hudson River, and then took two years to search out the right house.

It turned out to be a roomy semi-Victorian that had already been remodeled into two living units and was in good condition. She took over the top floor and rented out the lower apartment, an arrangement that helps her make the mortgage payments and maintain herself as a free-lance writer. It has already proven a good investment.

A couple of years ago, Miss Rejnis incorporated much that she had learned about home ownership into a book called ''Her Home: A Woman's Guide to Buying Real Estate,'' published by Anchor Press/Doubleday. Next month Ace Books is publishing an updated version in paperback ($2.75).

''Since the original book came out,'' Miss Rejnis says, ''the high end of interest rates have moved from 11 percent to 18 percent, and times are definitely bleaker. To buy a house these days women have to do a lot of spade work and be awfully canny. But if they can afford it and can work out a manageable financing package, I advocate buying now and not putting if off into the future.''

Canniness, in her view, means many things. It includes sitting down and thinking through exactly what you could and should buy at this time -- whether it be a house, a condominium, a co-op, a loft, a mobile home, or a share in joint ownership of some sort.

Next, she says, go to the library and read everything you can find about the perils and pleasures of home ownership and about different mortgage programs. She also recommends ''The Single Person's Home-Buying Handbook'' (New York: Hawthorn/Dutton).

Before you begin looking, Miss Rejnis recommends, purchase a small paperback called a Monthly Mortgage Calculation Book to keep handy. It consists of nothing but tables that give instant access to monthly mortgage rates and pay-out plans.

Then see what's available in housing. Consider all the options. Shop for a real-estate agent who knows the market thoroughly and knows the financing programs that might prove you aren't as priced out of the market as you might think.

Shop neighborhoods, says Miss Rejnis, by driving or walking through. If you find one you like, visit the city hall to check out zoning regulations. Try to determine what the future might hold for the area. Ask the local real estate editor if he could direct you to any new revival areas or new housing developments.

Contact the head of the preservation or revival group in the area and ask to meet other people who have already successfully renovated old houses. Listen to their stories and get acquainted with their network of craftsmen, contractors, and sources of materials.

After you find the home you want to buy, have it professionally inspected. Miss Rejnis says the fee for such inspection is money well spent: ''The fellow who did mine told me that within a year or so I would need a new roof. Sure enough, two years later I had to replace the roof, but I was forewarned and prepared for it. I refer often to his long, typed list as a guide to upcoming repairs.''

Finding a contractor you can trust is a challenge, she admits. ''I worked through a neighborhood network of friends and neighbors, getting names of those who did good jobs and names of those to avoid. When possible, I looked at work contractors had done. I never suggest people simply consult the Yellow Pages, nor accept a contractor without following up on his references and checking his name with the Better Business Bureau.''

''I knew nothing about homeowning when I bought my house,'' she says, ''and I certainly was not handy. But I've learned how to snake a drain; change fuses; scrape paint; wield a hammer, a screwdriver, and a paintbrush. I may never know much about my heating and cooling and other mechanical systems, but at least I've learned how to find and hire the right persons to do repair or replacement jobs. My contention is that any woman is capable of owning and running a house, a condo, or a co-op, and so she should never be afraid to take the plunge of ownership.''

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