Nancy Gear was 56 when she decided to trade in her house on a half acre outside Redding, Calif., for something smaller and closer to town. “My husband died several years ago, and I found I was spending every weekend doing yard work or housework,” says Gear, a former division director for the county probation department. “I also realized it wasn't so safe living alone in the country. If I screamed, no one would hear me. So I decided to make some lifestyle changes upon retirement. I put my house on the market, went to Central America for three months, and then rented while I looked for a new place in the 1,000-square-foot range.”

Gear found what she was looking for in Parkview, a three-acre pocket of 33 single-family cottages on small lots, just two blocks from Redding's City Hall and a newly renovated grocery store. The two-bedroom, 1,000-square-foot bungalow she now owns (the “Cedar” model) is a place that feels secure when she's home alone—and one she knows is watched after by the neighbors when she's not.

“Now I can leave my house for a month or two and know that someone is keeping an eye on it,” says the avid mountain biker and kayaker who serves on several nonprofit boards and volunteers as a relief worker for the American Red Cross.

Gear may live by herself, but demographically speaking, she is not alone. Single women now represent 22 percent of home buyers, up 14 percent from a decade ago, according to the National Association of Realtors. That number is likely to increase as more women divorce, delay marriage to focus on their careers, outlive their domestic partners, or simply eschew wedlock altogether. And with college degrees and work-force participation at record highs among women, this group's buying power is nothing to sneeze at.

So what exactly do they seek in a home? BUILDER looked at four neighborhoods that sold well to single women, and the design features that sealed the deal.

Learn more about markets featured in this article: San Diego, CA, Anderson, IN, Seattle, WA, Los Angeles, CA.