The Ladies’ Turn
When it comes to house hunting, Kim Sliney is the first to admit she can be picky. The 46-year-old interior designer just couldn’t see herself living in small, chopped-up rooms. Or being happy in boxy interiors adorned with blah bathroom tiles and Formica counters. After visiting—and vetoing—37 houses, the single mom from Exeter, R.I., happened upon her just-right fit: a newly built, $350,000 home that boasted a spacious-feeling layout, killer walk-in closets and custom details like crown molding, granite countertops and a gas fireplace—for no extra charge. How did she stumble into this particular development? She was driving around in the area and saw a woman-centric sign on the entrance. “It was very intriguing,” says Ms. Sliney.
Men may think they run the world, but it’s women who are now getting the royal treatment from the housing industry. Indeed, say housing market watchers, builders are now strenuously working to win the hearts—and checkbooks—of female buyers. And with the economy punishing the sexes unevenly, single women have become an especially important force to be reckoned with in real estate. According to the National Association of Realtors, they now sign on the dotted line in nearly a quarter of all U.S. home deals—up from 14% in 1995.
And home hassles aside, skeptics say some of the marketing flurry around women is half-baked. Part of the problem, says Scott Testa, a marketing professor at Cabrini College, is that the real estate industry has been a late adopter of modern marketing techniques. Its fairly recent desire to learn what customers want simply leads to better design—like kitchens opening up into family rooms—which isn’t necessarily woman-centric. “More people like open design,” Mr. Testa says. “Whether that’s a woman preference, I don’t know that as a fact.”
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