The “Single by Choice, Single by Change” panel discussion, designed to assist women homebuyers who are single, was conceived by a mortgage expert at Bridgeport-based People’s Bank.

A recently widowed woman and a young professional female trying to scrape together enough money for a down payment on her first home may not seem to have much in common, but they can both get much-needed help at a panel discussion led by a People’s Bank mortgage originator.

Jayne Bolton, a mortgage expert at Bridgeport-based People’s, came up with the idea to start an educational series on homeownership for single women after teaching a class for first-time homebuyers – many of whom had low to moderate incomes. She noticed many of her students had something in common.

“The majority of my students were women,” she said.

She said she supposes the reason for the disproportionate number of women is because women are more likely to ask for help or do research when undertaking something like buying a home. Bolton thought a class especially for women might be a good idea. So she asked some people what they thought about it, and the idea was received positively.

“The next thing I knew, it kind of snowballed,” Bolton said.

She added that she wanted to expand the class to include not only women who are single by choice, but also women who are single because they were widowed or recently divorced. Many of the issues they face are the same, Bolton said, noting that she thought she could help them.

So on April 6, at the Trumbull Public Library, she and several other panelists will give advice and answer questions to women who are trying to buy a home or who have to make decisions on what to do with their current home after there’s been a change. Bolton named the class “Single by Choice, Single by Change.”

Bolton said she hopes to get 20 women signed up for the discussion, which includes a light dinner. As of last week, she had five signed up. She has been advertising the panel discussion with fliers posted all over the area, and has been concentrating on locations like dry-cleaning businesses and gymnasiums. If the event goes well, Bolton said, she hopes to turn it into an educational series, with more panel discussions in other cities and towns.

Bolton said she also hopes the discussion will help bolster business for the Mortgage Department at People’s. In fact, she won a marketing award for the idea from Mortgage Originator Magazine.

Many Decisions

The event panel will be made up of Bolton; Realtor Candy Ferrer of Bridgeport-based Century 21 Greengarden, which is co-sponsoring the discussion; accountant Donna T. Bouchard of Woodbridge-based The ILZ Group; attorney Janice Catalano; and the female manager of a Home Depot store.

For women seeking to buy their first home, the panel will offer advice on mortgages and choosing a home. Ferrer will talk about some of the documents involved in buying a house and will advise the women to look at all different types of homes before making a final decision.

Bouchard will talk about the tax benefits of owning a home as opposed to renting, and Catalano will talk about some of the legal issues surrounding homeownership.

The number of single women buying their own homes has grown, Bolton said. Historically and statistically, it’s been common for men to buy a home or a condominium before getting into a relationship or getting married. But most women have waited until getting into a relationship or getting married.

“Very seldom do you see women doing that, but things are starting to change,” Bolton said.

In fact, from 1980 to 2000, the number of households headed by single women grew by almost 10 million, according to statistics from the National Association of Realtors. In 2002, 17.5 million single women owned their own home.

But the discussion also will help women who are single because of a recent change.

“Although it kind of focuses on the first-time homebuyer, it could be for anybody,” Ferrer said.

Widowed or divorced women often have many decisions to make regarding the home they once shared with their husbands. Divorced women can buy out their husband and refinance to keep the house, sell it or make many other decisions. Widowed women have to decide whether they want to keep their house and often have to figure out how to handle finances that their husbands may have handled.

“There are plenty of women who you think are very professional and kind of have a handle on everything, but there’s also the older generation where some of the women maybe were sort of queen of the house,” Ferrer said.

For some, dealing with things like their monthly bills can be unfamiliar.

“[The panel] is kind of looking at it in all different aspects,” Bolton said.

The panel also will discuss aspects of homeownership that affect all the groups of women. The Home Depot manager will discuss repairs the women can make themselves, and when it’s time to go to a contractor. She also will talk about the best way to deal with contractors.