Single people form the country's fastest-growing population group. And going it alone has become a lifestyle choice they are prepared to pay for. Typically this year singles will spend £5,014 more household costs than the shared costs of couples.
Singles account for about 40 per cent (19 million) of all UK households, up from below 10 per cent in 1960 - an extraordinary demographic shift that is causing huge property ripples. Karen Pine, psychology professor at the University of Hertfordshire and author of Sheconomics, says the Sex-and-the-City generation of high-earning, independent single females is making the running, the inevitable result of decades of social and economic change.
For the first time, more British women than men are training as accountants and lawyers. Others have high-flying careers in banking or the creative sector. The days of marriage being the way out of the suburbs for women are long gone. Careers, long courtships, followed by a late marriage and late babies are de rigeur.
"Over the coming years female homebuyers are set to contribute £40 billion more to property than their female counterparts of 20 years ago," says Pine. Women tend to be more organised and budget better than single men, she adds. Some are splashing out on the female equivalent of the bachelor pad. Others are securing their future with sensible buy-to-let investments.
For their part, men too are thinking of the longer term when buying or renting, with many choosing a property and a place that will suit them through to middle age as singles. This is a huge market sector that developers deliberately target.
Gender differences remain
Women pay more attention to security and storage space, and prefer more subtle lighting and decorative colour schemes, men like gizmos and monochrome - matt black and brushed stainless steel, with dark wood finishes.
Says Nick Davies of City-fringe estate agent Stirling Ackroyd: "Males like to be close to the pub, winebar, café, restaurant, deli and dry cleaners and shops, so they can get everything done and drop in for a drink on the walk home from the office or the station."
Clapham attracts a lot of single women. Most are young, sociable and work in the City or West End. The area is seen as good middle ground, not as alternative as Camden but more affordable than Fulham, with convivial bars and restaurants, cinemas, gyms, outdoor exercise classes or jogging on the common plus three Tube stations, meaning walking times to and from home are short. And getting a late-night cab from central London is not too expensive.
Clapham One is a new development of 199 flats in the fast-improving "old town", an original Georgian quarter between the common and the high street that was left behind during the gentrification of the 1990s. Most Clapham One flats are in a funky tower that incorporates a new library; other homes are in an adjacent gated mews. Prices from £320,000. Call 020 7939 0800 or visit claphamone.com.
Singles who can afford to live centrally, are preferring City-fringe areas and those bordering the West End, especially Shoreditch, Southwark, Bermondsey, Clerkenwell, Dalston, Wapping and Islington.
Schemes built with singles in mind
Avante-garde, a new 25-storey tower between Brick Lane and the Broadgate office complex. Due for completion in 2013, the building will have a swish hotel-style lobby, a residents' roof terrace, gym, courtyard gardens and a lounge for private functions. Prices start at £250,000, rising to £1.7 million for duplex penthouses. Call Hurford Salvi Carr on 020 7250 1012.
Bermondsey Central is a slightly off-pitch address near a railway viaduct running out of London Bridge station but is nonetheless close to all the SE1 action - Shad Thames, Bankside and Borough Market. Indeed, an overspill Saturday street market has popped up in railway arches alongside the development, giving momentum to the creep of gentrification.
Prices start at £280,000 for the 67 apartments, equivalent to about £500 a square foot - relatively low for a travel zone one location. Call Stirling Ackroyd on 020 7749 3810.
The Distillery Deptford, is a goodlooking residential tower on the site of the old Seagar gin factory, right next to Deptford Broadway DLR station. Higher floors have terrific views, taking in Greenwich Observatory, the river bend, Canary Wharf and the City. There will be a public viewing gallery at the top, while a designer hotel is earmarked for a listed section of the original factory. Apartments range from studios to two-bedroom duplexes with glass walls. Prices from £180,000 to £435,000. Call Galliard Homes on 020 7620 1500.
Islington Green is the heart of the Upper Street action, with the Everyman cinema a main attraction. Here, 13 smart flats have been squeezed onto a small site at Providence Place. Prices from £395,000. Finishes include walnut flooring, white high-gloss kitchens with granite worktops, underfloor heating and timber-decked terraces. Call Fyfe McDade on 020 7613 4044.
'East is the new west, with variety and energy'
Architect Nicholas Lyons, 30, who lives in a converted Victorian warehouse close to bustling Brick Lane, says "east is the new west".
"I love the variety and energy of Shoreditch and the wider area right up to Victoria Park. People from all over London now socialise here; it's a huge melting pot and easy to meet people. I work from home a lot of the time; there's a close-knit community of creatives and a real sense of neighbourhood, and, at weekends, it's like a festival, really full-on."
He chills out by repairing old push bikes (passing them on to delighted cyclists), and likes the freedom of "riding aimlessly around London, making chance discoveries and, being an architect, hidden building site opportunities." Another of his pastimes is "carrom", an ancient Indian shuffle-board game popular with Bangladeshis who live in the area. "I went to the European finals in Paris and now organise local tournaments. It's a nice change of pace from the day job - relaxing and quite contemplative."
His man-about-town life also involves arranging social events for the Royal Institution of British Architects, often at "pop-up" property sites in regeneration areas. Going out of London is for holidays, he says. "Usually I head off with friends or family to the Lake District for sailing and hiking."