Single women get their house in order

LARISSA HAM
Last updated 12:45 08/05/2013
Angie Deegan

PROUD HOMEOWNER: While excited by her purchase, Angie Deegan says signing up to a mortgage did cause some nervous moments.

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Finding a man is no longer considered a financial plan, if increasing numbers of female property buyers are anything to go by.

Australian property market players say an increasing number of women are striking out alone because they either haven't met a long-term partner, have separated, or are perhaps more financially savvy than their other half.

"No one waits for Mr Fabulous any more," Melbourne estate agent John Bisignano says.

Bisignano, the director and owner of Harcourts Northcote, says in the past 12 months, 40 per cent of buyers at his agency have been single women, mostly aged between 25 and 35.

In his area, women most commonly purchase a one-bedroom flat ranging from A$300,000 ($361,000) to A$350,000, with many getting help from their parents.

"They're looking for some slight 'wow' factor, whether it be a fantastic kitchen or an outdoor area. They do get a little bit more emotional (than male buyers)," he says.

Sydney mortgage broker and financial advisor Dominique Bergel-Grant agrees there are more women now buying solo.

"They're making their own choices and saying 'you know what, I've saved up a great deposit, I'm not going to wait'," Bergel-Grant, of Leapfrog Financial, says.

No regrets

Angie Deegan scanned a lot of groceries to put down the deposit on her first flat.

"I started working as a check-out chick at 15, so saved half of what I earned from that point," she says.

Deegan also lived at home through university and her early full-time working years, opting to save a deposit rather than rent.

After house-sitting around Melbourne, she decided she liked the suburb of Thornbury in Melbourne's inner north and at the age of 25, she bought a two-bedroom flat there using a deposit of about A$40,000.

While excited by her purchase, Deegan says signing up to a mortgage did cause some nervous moments.

"I remember feeling sick when looking at the home loan details and seeing how much interest I would have to pay,"she says.

Taking on a flatmate for two years helped on that front.

Eight years on Deegan, now a senior policy officer, has no regrets other than not extending herself further.

In late 2011 she sold her first flat for almost double the price she paid, helping her upgrade to a more modern, three-bedroom unit 500 metres away.

"Had I spent more at this point on a nicer flat then it may have increased more in value, which would have been helpful with my second property. But it's the luxury of hindsight and at the time may have caused me sleepless nights," she says.

Where to start

Bergel-Grant says the first thing prospective buyers need is a goal.

"'You need to sit down with a mortgage broker or someone and find out how much of a deposit you need to save," she says.

While saving, park your cash in a high-interest cash account. Then ditch your large credit card limits, because contrary to popular belief, this hurts rather than helps your home loan chances, Bergel-Grant says.

Melissa Opie, founder of Keyhole Property Investments, says the right time to buy is when you can afford to.

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Procrastination often leads to an "opportunity loss", she says.

"You've lost your capital growth; you can't buy time back."

Think about how long you want to stay in your property and whether you'd like to partner up or have a child, she says. If so, a one-bedroom flat might not cut it.

Hidden costs

Think renting is expensive? Once you own a place, there are gutters to fix, burst hot-water systems to replace, strata costs, bigger water bills and sewage.

Not to mention initial extras, such as stamp duty, conveyancing fees, house-and-contents insurance, connection costs and paying your share of rates and body-corporate fees before collecting the keys.

"On the day of settlement, you at least want probably $5000 to cover any miscellaneous costs," Bergel-Grant says.

She suggests having another three months' net salary up your sleeve and taking out income-protection insurance.

While interest rates are low now, don't forget to leave a buffer for increases, Bergel-Grant says.

She recommends tallying future mortgage repayments and other costs, and ensuring you can live on that budget before deciding to buy.

Mistakes to avoid

"Sometimes people think they're experienced because they watch The Block. They don't realise they're going to chip their nails and hurt their backs," Opie says.

Some single women investors have unrealistic expectations about the kind of home they need. "Initially, when some of them come to me they are looking for a big house, like a McMansion, but they're not about to give birth," she says.

She urges first home buyers to think with an investment buyer's mindset. Leave your emotions at the door. Opie says many buyers make the mistake of fearing debt, but their first property purchase, if done right, could set them up for life.

"People are really fearful of having a mortgage that's high, even though they can afford it," she says.

Others, such as Bergel-Grant, recommend staying below what the bank will lend you.

Bergel-Grant says mothers who have divorced should be careful not to blow their money - for example, renting something they can't afford - to keep the kids happy.

The final mistake to avoid is burying your head in the sand, hoping your financial situation will miraculously change.

"I have clients that cry in appointments," Bergel-Grant says. "They've ignored it for such a long period of time. It's a very hard emotional thing for people to deal with."

- Sydney Morning Herald

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