Fall Real Estate 2003

Publication Date: Wednesday, October 8, 2003

Forget Prince Charming
Seminar encourages women to buy their own homes

by Elizabeth Wagner

Amid boxes of Christmas decorations, sewing machines and rolls of fabric in a multi-purpose room in Menlo Park's Little House, four eager women with pens poised in their hands jot down notes as Carla Rayacich speaks about women and households.

Carla Rayacich, president of Stanford Mortgage in Palo Alto, teaches classes on 'Home Buying for Women.'

But she is not teaching a home economics class; instead, she is teaching home buying.

Rayacich, president of Stanford Mortgage in Palo Alto, designed a "Home Buying for Women" seminar for the Menlo Park Community Services Department, which covered the basics of home buying, the financial nuts and bolts, and the home-buying process, in three, two-hour sessions in July.

"I wanted them to find out if home buying would be beneficial to them both in the quality of life and financially," Rayacich said. "And then I wanted to give them the tools and courage to go do it if it was beneficial for them."

The idea for the class came to Rayacich a year ago when she was hosting a professional women's breakfast discussion group and her guests wanted her to give them advice about buying homes.

Anne Dowd, a recent homebuyer in Mountain View, shares how she managed to afford to buy her own home.

She was stunned by how little the women knew about the real-estate market and how afraid they were to buy on their own.

"People need information and coaching to buy their first home. They can kind of go into it blindly. Ideally they should be pre-informed," she said. "Women buying homes for themselves have different ways of approaching the market than a family and single man would."

As Rayacich passed around a talking stick -- a wooden rod with leather strands and multi-colored beads dangling from it -- her students disclosed various reasons for taking the class. The intimate setting and small class size made the home-buying process seem less intimidating.

"I want them to express all their fears so when they are done they can do it," Rayacich said.

In the small-class setting, Carla Rayacich offers women the tools for home buying, from evaluating their own financial positions to finding loans.

Amy Koo, a recent Stanford Graduate School of Business graduate and renter from Belmont, is planning to buy a townhouse or single-family residence in a similar area.

"I'm a single female and I just didn't want to wait to buy a house (until) after I'm married," she said.

"I want to be able to buy something for myself," said San Mateo resident Anny Maran, whose husband does not want to get involved with the home-buying process.

"I want to find out more about the process and the pitfalls to avoid," Jennifer Cohen, physician, added.

One of the most prevalent pitfalls that women fall prey to is listening to their internal fears that hinder them from buying homes on their own, according to Rayacich.

During the first class she outlined scenarios that commonly stop women from taking the plunge to homeownership.

For example, women lack knowledge about the finance because they are not taught about money from their mothers as sons do from their fathers, she said.
They also fear the risks and commitment involved with buying a home, which include losing money in the fluctuating market.

"Real estate is the only relatively safe place to put your money," she said and advises her clients to ride the dips of the market.

Many single women often wait to buy property until they are married, though Rayacich boldly stated that Prince Charming may not ever come along.
Rayacich took a more practical approach in the second session, offering financial tips about finding loans and making monthly payments. Maran learned creative ways to get mortgages without being a millionaire, and Koo said the classes boosted her confidence.

"I thought I had to wait longer to get a down payment. The class made me more comfortable that I can do this. I don't have to starve myself," Koo said.

Rayacich's concrete examples of comparing different loans and rates calmed Cohen's fears of stretching herself too thin in the finance department.

"It definitely made me more comfortable and it was more fun and less scary," Cohen said.

"I want you to have the serenity of knowing that what you are doing is the right thing," Rayacich said with outstretched arms and closed eyes in an imitation-yoga position. Her bright-red coat adorned with big gold buttons exuded power and an effortless self-confidence.

Owning property has always been important to Rayacich. At 18 she owned 3 percent of a condo that her father bought, knowing that owning a piece of the property was a good financial deal. When she sold the condo, it paid for her college tuition and wedding.

At 22 she owned her first equity share on a condo in the Oakland-Berkeley region. When she sold the place it paid for her MBA at Stanford.

"It was money I just wouldn't have had if I had been wasting it on rent," she said.
Anne Dowd is a testament to Rayacich's savvy home-buying and cheerleading skills. Dowd was convinced that she could never afford to buy her own home because she was not a typical buyer -- she was single, had little money saved, and made a modest salary working in education.

After Dowd began working for Rayacich, the home-buying guru hounded Dowd about taking the steps to buy her own property and outlined how feasible it was to purchase a condo on her salary.

"It all seemed so out of reach until she put the numbers in front of me," Dowd told the class. "It was pretty powerful."

Now Dowd is living in a place that is much nicer than the apartment she was renting. She is making money on her own property every day and can do whatever she wants with the condo -- even paint her walls pink, she joked.
Women can afford housing in Silicon Valley, but "the fear is just stronger here because there are such high prices," Rayacich said. In fact, buyers are at an advantage in Silicon Valley because the home values go up and stay up. She uses these statistics to calm and support women.

The women in the class agree that the seminar provided them with a helpful road map.

Koo believed the class gave her a head start in the real-estate market because she would have wasted time researching on her own. Maran learned to be less afraid and take more risks when tackling real estate independently.

"Good things don't always come from depending on other people," she said, referring to women's husbands. "Women have to get involved for their own financial future."

Cohen found the class empowering. "It gives us the tools to go out there and do it."

Though Maran wished she had been financially counseled 25 years ago,

Rayacich believes there is no turning back. "All that exists is the present. I say go girl."

Rayacich is planning to offer classes again in winter and spring quarters in Menlo Park, as well as in Los Altos in the spring. (She can be reached at Carla@stanfordmortgage.com for updated course information.)

She is also kicking around the idea of setting up a home-buying fair where women can talk to Realtors, tax accountants and handymen -- all integral people in the buying process.