It's no secret that many young people are marrying later or not at all. Yet, surprisingly, many want to buy a home anyway.
"More young folks are delinking homeownership from marriage. They want the personal freedom of staying single along with the predictability of not facing constant rent increases," says Merrill Ottwein, an Illinois real estate broker and past president of the National Association of Exclusive Buyer Agents.
Many of these young would-be buyers want to live in cities.
"I've never had a single client who says they want to live as far as possible from town. Once they're out of school, they want a surrogate community where they can meet their friends on foot," says Deborah Rutter, a real estate broker who sells homes near the University of Virginia campus.
Sid Davis, a veteran real estate broker and the author of "A Survival Guide for Buying a Home," doesn't advise just any single buyer to purchase a property. He recommends against buying if your job is rocky or you expect to go on to graduate or professional school in the near future.
"If you could be moving in five or fewer years ... you probably should abstain from buying a house now. That's because your transaction costs could more than wipe out any appreciation you might enjoy," Davis says.
Be especially careful to avoid short-term ownership of a brand-new house, says Davis, who points out that a new property typically requires some expensive initial fix-up costs, such as landscaping, fencing and window treatments.
But if your life is on a steady course and you perceive that real estate values are on the upswing in the area where you live, don't let your single status keep you from making a purchase.
Here are a few pointers for single buyers:
-- Stay within your financial comfort zone.
Years after the real estate downturn, mortgage lending standards remain rigid. Still, as Ottwein says, it's possible for single homebuyers, or anyone, to borrow more than is prudent for their lifestyle.
"Remember that the people who make mortgages know nothing about your spending priorities," he says.
Also, keep in mind that as a single person living alone, you're financially more vulnerable to the impact of an unexpected job loss than someone with a second wage earner supporting the household.
"Single people should be especially cautious about maxing out on a home loan. Go ahead and buy a place, but avoid becoming 'house poor' because of it," Ottwein says.
-- Seek a "roommate suitable" property if you can afford one.
After sharing space with roommates in college dorms or living with friends in rented apartments, you may be looking forward to living alone in the home you buy. Still, Ottwein encourages you to consider a property that would be attractive to potential roommates, should you one day need the rental income to offset your mortgage payments.
What sort of property would be most alluring to roommates? Ottwein suggests you look for a place with a bedroom suite that includes a private bath -- so a roommate could live more autonomously. A separate, outside entrance to the suite would be ideal. And a property located near a college or university campus, where demand for rentals is strong, could also be a good bet.
-- Seek an energy-stingy home.
After moving in, many first-time homebuyers are surprised by the size of their outlays for home upkeep. They hadn't expected to spend so much for everything from plumbers' bills to lawn fertilizer. The size of their utility bills also comes as a shock.
Obviously, some costs associated with homeownership, such as taxes and insurance, are unavoidable. But home shoppers can more easily contain some costs by selecting an energy-efficient property that's well insulated and has substantial, double-pane windows, says Davis, author of "Your Eco-Friendly Home."
"Don't try to project your future energy costs based on what a home's sellers have been paying during the last 12 months. Energy prices are always subject to the vagaries of the market. Plan for the worst-case scenarios," Davis says.
-- Factor your social life into your buying plans.
If you're like most young single people, your social life is hugely important to you. Even if you expect to outpace your friends in the quest for homeownership, you won't want your move to result in social isolation.
You don't have to live in the immediate vicinity of your friends to stay in touch. But you'll want to avoid buying a property many miles from your closest friends, even if that's the most affordable choice.
"Granted, you can probably get more square footage for the money if you move far out of the city. But very few singles are happy rattling around in a big house if they're socially isolated because they live an hour away from their buddies," Ottwein says.
(To contact Ellen James Martin, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.)