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Apartment-Purchasing Boom Among Single Women

April 1, 1997

Working women are increasingly looking to buy their own apartments. (Photo: Kyodo)

Recent years have seen an increasing number of single working women buying their own "manshon" (the English word "mansion" has been brought into Japanese to describe high-class apartments and condominiums in urban areas). This trend is being attributed to the rising number of women who choose not to marry, a development claimed in turn to stem from their higher levels of education and increased integration into working society. A new market is taking form around this purchasing trend, with women increasingly being targeted for apartment sales and a "women's manshon magazine" featuring real-estate information hitting the bookstands.

A Place They Can Call Their Own
Late last year a woman working for a food company in Tokyo bought an apartment in the suburbs and moved there from the single-occupancy company dormitory where she had been living. She explains the reasons for her decision: "I would like to get married eventually, but I don't have any concrete deadline. I want to keep working as long as I can. And when I realized I was almost thirty years old, I started to feel wretched at the prospect of remaining in that cramped company dorm."

Another woman in her early thirties working for an Tokyo electronics manufacturer bought a manshon in nearby Yokohama at the start of this year. She expresses a similar motive: "Sure I want to get married, but I'm not desperate to do it right away. Sometimes I even feel like I might remain single for the rest of my life. So I decided that if that were the case, there was no reason for me to stay unhappy and cooped up in some tiny rental unit."

This trend is discernible in a survey carried out by the semigovernmental Housing Loan Corporation. The survey shows that women comprised 40% of the single people receiving loans from the corporation to buy apartments in 1995. And a "manshon-buying seminar for single women" offered by a major housing-information company has attracted over 2,000 participants since its inception three years ago. This same company also surveyed single women who bought apartments from January to June last year. The average revealed by their questionnaires was a 36-year-old woman with an annual salary of 5 million yen (40,000 dollars at 125 yen to the dollar), whose apartment boasted 57 square meters of floor space and cost 35 million yen (280,000 dollars). In the autumn of last year a womenÕs housing-information magazine catering to that sort of female readership began publication.

This heightened interest among single women in buying an apartment has opened up a new field of business for the real-estate industry. A major construction company began sales last year in Tokyo of apartments advertised as being "for women"; around half of the purchasers ended up being single women. Another company, after noting that 60% of its two-bedroom apartments sold last year were bought by women, is planning to concentrate its manshon sales efforts on the single-female market this year. Many of these apartments described as being "for women" are of a spacious, one-room type that is easily divided into separate areas with furniture and the like. The units are generally handy to a train or subway station and feature large kitchen areas as well as abundant storage space despite their small size.

Social Factors Behind Rising Sales
The conventional wisdom was once that while single, whether a man or a woman, a person should rent his or her housing. The Housing Loan Corporation did not begin providing funds to single homebuyers until 1981. Even then the loans were restricted to buyers over the age of 40; this age was lowered to 35 in 1988, but the age restriction was not abolished until four years ago.

But during the era when it was generally accepted that a man worked outside the home and his wife took charge of the housework and the upbringing of the children, it was the husband's concern to secure the funds needed to buy a place to live. A woman's housing problems were solved as soon as she got married.

But as women have increased their levels of education and entered the workforce in increasing numbers, their number that choose not to marry has also risen. The national census carried out in 1985 revealed that 30.6% of the women in the "marriageable age" bracket of 25 to 29 were unmarried. In the 1995 survey, however, this figure jumped nearly 20 points to 49.0%. For women aged 30 to 34, the unmarried ratio leapt from 10.4% to 19.0% over the same period. This trend is even more pronounced in the cities.

When a person lives alone and supports him- or herself, it is a matter of course for that person to think about the housing he or she will choose. When renting a home, monthly payments are not cheap, and the renter may worry as to whether he or she will continue to be able to pay after retirement. But on the other hand, a fairly young person can more easily obtain a loan to buy an apartment. Furthermore, there are now many condominiums on the market whose prices are such that monthly loan repayments are lower than rent would be. And if a person gets married after purchasing a manshon, the couple can then decide whether to live there together, to sell the unit, or to rent it out to a tenant. Indeed, many factors make ownership more attractive than renting, even for younger people.

Women wanting to buy apartments are receiving a tailwind in the form of the dropping land prices and ultralow interest rates in the wake of the bubble economy's collapse in the early 1990s. As long as the buyers have the moderate personal funds needed for a down payment, these manshon units are now well within reach of single women willing to scrimp and save a bit. The boom seems set to continue for some time.

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