My House Charming has arrived

A YEAR ago, I decided to take a financial risk. I wanted to buy my own place, by myself. I had resisted the plunge into real estate for a long time. Despite continuous promptings from family members, I had thought buying a home, or a condo in my case, was something best left as a teamwork challenge for couples. Or maybe I would simply meet someone who already owned his own home and I wouldn't have to worry about figuring out all that financial stuff (cue Snow White's song: "One Day My Prince Will Come") [Editor's note: The original story misidentified the Disney character's name.].

But prices in my neighborhood continued to soar while the interest rates dropped. I decided I needed to act or be left forever sweeping out my rented apartment. So I signed up for a first-time home buyer's course.

More and more single women are opting to purchase their own home. Recent data from The Harvard Joint Centers for Housing Studies shows twice as many single women as men bought houses in 2000, and those single women accounted for 18 percent of all home buyers (up from 13 percent in 1989). Home-improvement retailers say half of their purchases are being made by women who are buying specially designed power tools and signing up for their how-to workshops.

This is heartening news. But when I returned to my dingy apartment after my first home-buyer's class, I felt a little depressed. There was a lot to learn, and I was feeling lonely.

So I clicked on the TV to commiserate with the heroine of lonely young women living in Boston: Ally McBeal.

It was just starting. The camera zoomed up to Ally's determined face under her Burberry hat and she said, "I'll take it."

I couldn't believe the coincidence. There was my virtual alter ego buying her first fixer-upper somewhere in Boston's North End.

As Ally began to rip down walls and paint the kitchen, her co-workers gathered.

"You know, Ally," said one, "you don't have to buy a place just because you think you're going to be alone for the rest of your life."

"Ally, if you buy a place, no man will want you because men like to be the providers in a relationship," said another.

Popular personal-finance authors have long realized that romantic tendencies can be a major source of resistance when educating women about financial responsibility. I discovered this while perusing the bookstore and trying to figure out how to save enough money for a down payment.

"Don't wait for Prince Charming to solve your financial woes, take charge!" read one book. "How to hunt for House Charming," advised another. Yet another warned, "Don't become too emotionally committed before you close."

I carefully wrote down under my financial goals for 2002: "Find an affordable condo on a quiet street near the parks."

Five weeks later, I was a graduate of Boston's home buying class. But I could no longer bear to watch "Ally McBeal." As I tried to wrap my mind around the pros and cons of a 5-year-adjustable rate mortgage,Ally was effortlessly transforming a dump into a trendy home with the flick of a paint brush. I just couldn't keep up.

So I forgot about my financial goals. I got busy training for triathlons and dating a guy who knew little more about real estate than I did. Summer was a blur of races, picnics, and concerts on the lawn.

Then, in early fall, I pulled out my goals. "Ha," I thought when I reviewed them. "I guess no condo for me this year, I've run out of time."

Fast forward three months and I'm walking into a real estate closing, all by myself.

Beforehand, my brother, a financial consultant, had given me some advice: "Don't go alone to the closing," he said. "I know this is 2002, but women still get taken advantage of."

I thought about my female buyer's agent, the feisty female seller's agent, and the female instructor who had taught me everything I know in my home buyer's class - and I dismissed my brother's advice.

Now I'm busy ripping up carpet and painting cabinets in my own condo, on a quiet street, two blocks from the arboretum. My boyfriend, who had been cheering me on during the whole process, got somewhat grumpy in the final weeks before I closed. When I pushed him on it, he said, "I guess I just don't know what I'm going to bring to all this."

"I do," I replied. "I need your help moving in."

The cloud seemed to pass from his face. I think he knew a house, after all, only becomes home charming when you have a little love to fill it.

Kendra Nordin is on the Monitor staff.

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