By age 31, John Rew reckoned he'd had enough of renting.
The one-bedroom apartment he'd occupied for years in Hunt Valley was starting to close in on him. And the accountant yearned for the freedom afforded by a home of his own -- a place where he could play his drums without the neighbors complaining.
"Buying was the next frontier -- the next evolutionary step to being an adult," said Mr. Rew, who is purchasing a dark red brick bungalow in the Hamilton area of Baltimore.
Like an increasing percentage of American homebuyers, Mr. Rew has never been married. The tradition that one should be wed before buying a house is no longer holding back many single buyers, national statistics show.
Last year, never-married buyers accounted for nearly one of every three first-time buyers, 32.3 percent. That's up from 29.8 percent in 1992, and 21.2 percent in 1991, according to John Pfister, who heads marketing research for the Chicago Title and Trust Co.
Singles now account for the largest percentage of first-time buyers ever recorded by Chicago Title since it started putting out its "Who's Buying Homes in America" survey 18 years ago.
The survey, which samples housing markets across the country, found that 19.8 percent of those who bought homes last year were single. That was up from 14.8 percent in 1991.
The latest report says low mortgage rates and moderate home prices were the lures that coaxed more first-time buyers into the market last year. Overall, first-time buyers accounted for 46 percent of all 1993 home purchases. That's well above the more typical 38 percent to 40 percent of the 1980s.
In the past, singles such as Mr. Rew might have waited until marriage before buying a house. But after ending an engagement recently, he headed into the housing market anyway. On New Year's Eve, he checked several for-sale properties in Hamilton, where he grew up.
By late January, Mr. Rew had found the right house. He put a $64,000 contract on the modest two-bedroom brick bungalow of his choice. The deal is expected to go to settlement next month.
Like many single buyers, Mr. Rew discovered that one income is now sufficient to cover a modest mortgage payment.
"The bottom line is that I could actually afford the peace of mind of owning a home of my own," Mr. Rew said. Monthly payments on his bungalow will come to just $600. That's just $50 more than the rent on his Hunt Valley apartment.
Not only does Mr. Rew expect to enjoy the privacy of owning his own home. He's already benefiting financially from the tax breaks he expects to gain on mortgage interest. In anticipation of mortgage interest deductions, he's already decreased the withholding from his regular paychecks. That means fatter paychecks.
TC "Normally it would take two incomes to qualify for a home purchase. But with interest rates down, it's now possible to buy an entry-level home on a sole income," says Rick DelSantro, director of marketing for the mid-Atlantic division of Century 21, the franchise realty chain.
Low mortgage rates were the lure for Daryoosh Mosleh, a state traffic control technician who is single. Mr. Mosleh, 28, decided to trade rent on his $536-a-month apartment in Glen Burnie for $800-a-month payments on a hybrid Cape Cod-rancher in Catonsville that sold for $115,000.
"Financially it seemed like a sound move," said Mr. Mosleh, who estimates he will save $150 a month on his income taxes after he takes his mortgage interest deductions.
Prodded by a cousin, Mr. Mosleh is glad he took the plunge into homeownership. The home gives him more space to pursue his hobbies, which include the invention of electrical circuitry devices and sculpting in wood.
Still, he never expected to buy before getting married. Why are so many single men doing it? "Because it takes longer to find a wife than a house," he said.
At Otis Warren Real Estate Services, the Northwest Baltimore County firm, sales manager Gail Briscoe Wilson says life experience has taught many singles that it's better to rely on only one income for a house payment.
"Singles are seeing how, when the marriages of their friends break up, people were too dependent on two incomes to buy the house. After they're divorced, both partners have to sell and move," Ms. Wilson said.
Increasing self-reliance is a factor for many single buyers, especially women, according to Ms. Wilson.
"People are saying you don't have to have a spouse to buy a house. They have self-esteem enough to realize they don't need a significant other to help either with the payment or the upkeep," she said.
Aggressive marketing by real estate agents in rental communities, where singles predominate, has been a factor bringing many single buyers out into the market recently, said Lou Occhionero, sales manager for the Charles Street office of Coldwell Banker Grempler Realty in Baltimore County.
"Most renters are getting pounded gently by real estate agents telling them what a good opportunity it is to buy," Mr. Occhionero said.
Other findings of the latest Chicago Title survey:
* The average monthly payment for first-time buyers last year was $950. It was $1,076 for repeat buyers. Both of those figures were down about 10 percent from two years ago.
* On average, first time buyers were spending 32.2 percent of their household income for their monthly payment. This compared with 30.7 percent for repeat buyers. Again, these were down about 5 percent to 10 percent.
* The average age of a first-time buyer was 31.6 years; repeat buyers were typically 41 years old. Both were up slightly from 1992.