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(MCT)-Laurie Minchew has been in her new home for only about a week.

But the 35-year-old single woman says she made the right decision to buy the three-bedroom house in Red Oak, Texas. The appeal was both the lifestyle and investment potential of homeownership.

"It was about 50-50," says Minchew, who was previously living with a friend. "It's still all very new for me, but I like it."

The latest housing industry surveys show that single women are the fastest-growing segment of home buyers-now second only to married couples. They account for nearly one in four home buyers and purchase houses at more than twice the rate of single men.

Researchers say it's a combination of social changes and finances that's causing the increase.

"More women are simply living alone-either never married or formerly married-and are much more active in career paths earning more money than ever before," says James Gaines, an economist with Texas A&M University's Real Estate Center.

Gaines says it is also "no secret that for the past five years or better, homeownership has been a very desirable investment position."

He also points out that "historically, this was a small group in terms of homeownership, so any increase will look large in percentage terms."

Over the last 10 years, single female buyers have been the fastest-growing segment of the housing market, according to surveys by the National Association of Realtors.

In 2006, they made up about 22% of home buyers, compared with 14% in 1995, Realtors' research shows. At the same time, the number of married couples in the market has fallen by almost 10 percentage points to 61%, and single male buyers have remained unchanged at about 9%.

Whatever the reason, home builders are catching on to the shift in the market.
"We are looking for opportunities to address this market," says builder Steve Wall, who sold Minchew her home. "Having products that address each of the buyer groups is important."

"There was a time when you had a one-size-fits-all mentality," Wall says. "We have to give people what they want, not what we want to build."

Real estate agents are also refocusing efforts to attract single female buyers at a time when the overall housing market is a bit soft.

"I've had a lot of female buyers this year," says Kim Fowler, with David Griffin & Co. Realtors. "My average age of the five or so single women I have sold to this year has been about 28."

Fowler just sold a two-bedroom condo in Oak Lawn to Laurie Self, who's in her mid-30s.
"The rent just went way up at my apartment-that was part of my motivation," Self says. "Mortgage rates are good now, and it's a buyer's market."

"I saw how real estate prices were going up like crazy," she says. "I can flip it in a few years and have some equity."

It isn't just builders and home sellers who've seen an uptick in single female customers.
"We have had a lot more single-female renters than we initially thought downtown," says Ted Hamilton, with Hamilton Properties, which has successfully converted several downtown office buildings into rental housing.

Hamilton estimates that about 40% of his single renters are women and that many of them like the security aspect of the buildings.

The turnaround in the central business district has also caught the attention of these renters, he says.

"The more vibrant downtown gets, the more appealing it will be to single females."

Copyright © 2006, The Dallas Morning News.
Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Business.