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More singles move into the housing market

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The traditional route to homeownership - marriage, then mortgage - is losing a lot of traffic these days.

Low interest rates and good salaries are prompting a growing number of singles to shorten the rental stage or bypass it altogether so they can beat a quick path to the American dream.

One-third of people buying their first homes are single - twice the portion of just 10 years ago. And in some areas, the average new homeowner is younger than 30 for the first time since Neil Armstrong landed on the moon.

Owning a home has long been an important indicator of self-sufficiency linked to families. "What is new is ... people in earlier life stages doing it," says Tamara Hareven, a professor of family studies and history at the University of Delaware in Newark.

It's a sign of just how golden the economy is that so many singles - who typically have been less appealing to lenders - now earn enough to qualify.

It also hints at a new level of financial savvy. "I'm seeing more planning and saving,... and more people leave their parents' home directly to a purchase, without that middle ground or growing period," says Toni Sherman, a Chicago realtor and president of the national Council of Residential Specialists. Living with their parents for a few extra years, of course, is sometimes part of the strategy for saving.

Singles who can afford a down payment often find the financial logic persuasive enough to outweigh doubts about taking on the responsibility. "I realized that if I wanted to live alone, I would be paying a lot more in rent than I would in mortgage payments," says Ruthanne Gilbert, who bought a condominium five years ago in Scottsdale, Ariz.

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