ESTATE


Winks make developers smile
2009/03/25, 1:56 pm
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IN a generally weaker market for condominiums, one type of buyer is showing increasing strength: WINKs. Housing trend analysts came up with the acronym for “women with income, no kids.”

Last year in New Jersey, almost half of all condominium buyers — 45 percent — were women in this category, analysts say. That fact dovetails with the findings of various national studies that over the last decade, the number of unmarried women buying housing of any type increased 20 percent.

The Otteau Valuation Group in New Brunswick recently reported that in New Jersey, WINKs represented 21 percent of all buyers last year, up from 14 percent the year before.

The percentage of single male buyers rose to 10 percent from 9 during that period.

“Amongst all single-woman buyers, condos are far and away the most popular choice,” said Jeffrey G. Otteau, who heads the group, a housing-trend analytical company.

Of the studies bolstering that finding, one conducted two years ago by Harvard University’s Joint Center for Housing Studies has been described as the first major analysis of female buyers.

The terms “unmarried” or “single” include the not-yet-married, the divorced and the widowed, Mr. Otteau said. Women with grown children or children who do not live in the household are also included.

“I didn’t know I would be called that,” said Luma Oweis, who recently bought a two-bedroom condo at 40 Park, a building now under construction in Morristown. “But it fits.”

Ms. Oweis, 36, a geotechnical engineer who founded her own company four years ago, is single, childless and a first-time buyer. She said she decided on a condo because, “I think it’s a good lifestyle for me: convenient, in the center of town, only two miles from my office.”

She said she preferred the “social atmosphere” of a condo to the relative isolation of a single-family house, and wanted to “look out the door and see action, and buzzing around.”

Also, Ms. Oweis said, she often works 18-hour days and eats out a lot during the week, so she is excited about the prospect of being able to walk to restaurants in downtown Morristown.

Unit prices at 40 Park start in the low $500,000s and exceed $1 million for penthouses overlooking the historic Morristown Green. But market analysts say that the surge in WINK condo buyers holds true across the price spectrum.

In addition, some brokers said they had already noted that single women were increasingly part of a separate recession-related mini-trend: shared housing.

At the Mill Pond at Eatontown, a newly built development where two-bedrooms start at $252,990, Nancy and Ann Mareska, sisters aged 48 and 45, each bought condos.

Also at Mill Pond, Joan Marangella, 68, and Liz Campoli, 52, who are longtime friends, became joint purchasers of a two-bedroom. Every unit in the complex has nine-foot ceilings and a patio or deck.

All four of the women are divorced. As the Harvard study noted, women who owned homes while married frequently have equity available to invest in new homes.

“Lizzie and I were both looking to downsize,” said Ms. Marangella, who has grown children and is a supervisor at a cardiology group.

“I felt the economy and everything was going downhill. It is important to foresee these things, and make a conscious decision.”

Several studies of female buyers have noted that while unmarried women have lower average incomes than unmarried men and couples, they are less likely to finance their home purchases, and that if they borrow, they borrow less.

Tara Gellatley, who set herself a goal of having a custom-built abode by the age of 35, is currently picking out tiles, trims and fixtures for the condominium that she is buying at Water’s Edge at Point Pleasant, a Pulte Homes development.

“I’m proud of buying as a single woman,” said Ms. Gellatley, 33. “You put yourself on a tight budget, set guidelines and boundaries, and you can do it.”

Ms. Gellatley, who is employed in her father’s maritime shipping business, bought her first condo in Brick 10 years ago when she worked in the hotel industry.

The Harvard study found that unmarried women are much less likely to live with their parents than single men are.

But the question of whether WINKs are more likely to receive financial help from family members to establish their own households was not addressed.

Certainly, it happens.

“I really wanted to have my own place,” said 25-year-old Christine Corrales, who owns a one-bedroom apartment at the Trump Plaza in Jersey City. “My mom became an investor so I could do that.”

Ms. Corrales says she is thrilled with the secure, “hotel-like” atmosphere at Trump, where the 24-hour concierge is there should she forget her keys, and the people from the in-house dog-walking service always say hello.

Ms. Gellatley, meanwhile, is financing her own purchase, but moving into the same complex where her father bought a penthouse condo last year.

And Ms. Oweis will be living just two blocks away from her parents. They recently bought a condo at the Vail Mansion development in Morristown.

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/03/22/realestate/22njzone.html?ref=realestate&pagewanted=print

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