The successful single female phenomenon is celebrated again later this month with the release on May 28 of Sex And The City 2.
- © Jeremy Selwyn
In London as well as Manhattan, a generation of women have come through their twenties and thirties watching these characters - savvy and successful, ambitious and independent - and been part of an extraordinary demographic shift that has seen record numbers of single women buying property.
'Tangible assets such as property are a financial priority for women'
Twice as many unmarried women are purchasing homes as single men, according to recent studies, and the trend is likely to continue as more women map out their own lives.
Research by Lloyds TSB shows that over the next 10 years the number of single-person households will increase by two million. Many will be under-35s, and at least 65 per cent of this group will be women.
"The impact on the property market is immense," says Karen Pine, psychology professor and author of Sheconomics. "Female homebuyers are set to contribute £40 billion more than their female counterparts of 20 years ago. Tangible assets such as property are a financial priority for women. The female aptitude for planning and research means women are likely to make shrewd decisions when it comes to homebuying." They are more organised and budget better than their single male counterparts.
The rise of sole female owners is the inevitable result of a century of economic change, she adds. The days of marriage being the way out of the suburbs for many women are long gone. Professional careers, long courtships followed by late marriage and late babies are de rigueur.
London, in particular, is a fashionable choice for singles, having culture, cuisine and as many lifestyle choices as you care to explore. More than half of all homes in the City and Westminster are single-person pads (including pied-à-terre properties for high fliers). Estate agents report that female buyers have different priorities to men and favour certain areas and certain types of property. Top of the list are areas that can offer personal safety and security.
The most popular spots are Chelsea, Kensington, Fulham, Clapham, Putney, Marylebone, Islington, Dulwich, Barnes and Fulham, according to Hamptons International.
In Clapham, a quarter of all buyers are single women. "Most are young, sociable and work in the City," says Fenella Russell-Smith, of Hamptons in Clapham. "Clapham is seen as good middle ground, not as alternative as Camden but more affordable than, say, Fulham, with lots of amenities: convivial bars and restaurants, cafés, cinemas, gyms, outdoor exercise classes or jogging on the common plus three Tube stations, meaning that walking times to and from home are short. Getting a cab from central London isn't cost-prohibitive, either."
Chelsea attracts two types of single female buyers, says Jeremy Creasor of Hamptons. They are affluent, middleaged women who want to be close to the social hub of London, and younger, hard-working career females who like a gentler, continental style of living with neighbourhood shops, galleries, fashion boutiques and cultural attractions.
"Ground-floor and basement flats tend to be passed over because of the security risk, whereas portered blocks are popular for safety and all the amenities that porters can offer, like taking in your dry-cleaning and parcel deliveries from online shopping," says James Hyman of estate agent Cluttons.
Apartment schemes tailored to singles
Developers are responding to the changing buyer profile by making apartment schemes more female-friendly and suitable for single buyers of both sexes. Underground parking in lock-up areas where women can walk to the lift and go up to their flat are very popular, as in the Norman Foster building, Albion Riverside, a successful development five minutes from south of the river across the Albert Bridge to Chelsea.
"Singles-oriented apartment schemes are the 21st-century equivalent of gentlemenonly Victorian mansion blocks," says Nick Davies, director of Grosvenor New Homes, a Clerkenwell-based niche development company. "Modern developments have lots of small flats because buyers on a single income cannot afford a large square footage and don't want to pay high maintenance charges.
"However, to make up for restricted internal space there are large amenity-packed common areas and 'lifestyle extras' - cinema/screening rooms, gyms, residents-only roof terraces, pool tables and ping-pong, lobbies with iPod docks and free wi-fi. It's like a private club."
Single buyers gravitate towards each other; they prefer to feel part of a like-minded community, with events or gathering places that make it easier for them to connect with neighbours. "This is different from what families want," adds Davies.
This Space, launched earlier this year, has proved a hit with singles. A refurbishment of a Sixties college building, it has 231 flats, 40,000sq ft of commercial space and is part of a lively retail strip on Wandsworth Road. An original 197-seat auditorium has been leased to a local theatre company, while restaurants are earmarked for the street-level spaces.
Additional storeys have been added to the original structure and a landscaped communal courtyard created. A smart entrance foyer is staffed by a 24-hour concierge. Communal areas and lift lobbies are spacious and have sofas, making them places to relax rather than rush through. Storage lockers can be bought for £2,500. Underground parking spaces cost £20,000. Prices start at £240,000. Call 0845 180 0004.
Design is also being influenced by single females. "They judge interiors differently to men," says Michelle Harris of developer Dandara. "Women pay more attention to wardrobe space and storage, the quality of appliances and bathroom finishes, and prefer more subtle lighting and decorative colour schemes, while guys are usually attracted to touch-pad everything, with as many gizmos as they can find to show off to their mates."
© Tony Buckingham
'My life on my terms'
Kate Bright, 30, has lived in London since graduating from university nine years ago, renting mainly in the southwest of the capital. She works for a public relations company in Chelsea.
When the banking crisis hit 18 months ago, she decided to take advantage of the soft property market and bought a shared-ownership stake in a new two-bedroom flat in Clapham Old Town. The full market value was £325,000. Called Ipsus, the new development comprises Scandinavian-style town houses and apartments in a gated mews.
"Safety was a key consideration. I had been mugged twice outside my previous address and had parts from my Vespa scooter stolen.
"It seemed the right time for me to get on the property ladder, for some financial security in the future and to be able to live my life on my own terms. When I choose to settle down with someone, I want to do so on an equal footing and not be dependent on them.
"Ipsus has been an amazing place to live. I helped set up a residents association and it's a close-knit group of like-minded people - very sociable, like a university hall of residence."