Don't give up . . . Do it now . . . This is the advice from some Washington area women who are part of a growing minority: Single women homeowners.

"Delay not," says Donna Haldane of Great Falls, "do it yesterday."

Haldane, 36, a project officer for urban development at the World Bank, set out in 1976 to "listen to my own rhetoric about self-help housing and build my own house -- for investment and for the fun of it."

Easier said than done, Haldane soon discovered. Convinced that the home market for singles and retirees was growing, Haldane searched for a large lot for a small, one-bedroom home.

Six months and 26 properties later, Haldane purchased 4 acres of land with 2 acres of pond.

Seventeen lending institutions refused Haldane before she met with Piedmont Savings & Loan in Manassas, Va., which was "prepared," she says, "to do business with a woman who was her own builder and who required unique financing arrangements."

After purchasing a frame-in house shell, Haldane studied construction terminology and put her expertise in cash-flow management to use in coordinating subcontractors. "People looked at me strangely -- with surprise."

Haldane's little nest took 12 months to construct -- through "fits and starts" -- until last fall when she moved in with no stove, no heater, and an overall savings of $40,000 from her own labor of painting, masonry, etc. a

Now with the home near completion, Haldane feels exhausted, but delighted with her house by the pond.

Most single or formerly married women follow a more traditional route of homeownership.

Barry Blake, 38, of Waldorf, Md., found herself in 1978 not only newly separated (with four children from 7 to 19), but also hunting for a smaller home.

In a time of rising interest rates, six months elapsed before Blake's first home was sold and the new, smaller home selected in New Carollton, Md. f

After her initial mortgage application was denied because the home was too close to commercial properties, Blake persisted, resubmitted her request, and received approval early in 1979.

How does a homeowner like Blake keep up with home maintenance? "I already knew how to do minor plumbing. I read books on home repair and with my 18-year-old son's help, we can do almost everything but repair appliances."

Blake's advice to single women looking for homes: "Be more assertive in asking for what you need, and don't give up."

Sharing you home is another option, says psychotherapist Susan Grossman, 35, of Arlington, who first rented a house after her divorce. Sharing that home with another woman whose child was the same age as her daughter (then 4) was a "fabulous sharing experience."

Dividing home-maintenance chores and child care brought relief to both mothers -- not to mention the advantages of a joint income.

When Grossman was ready to purchase property in 1977, financing was not difficult, but finding a roommate with a similar income was. Eventually, she rented a room to another woman.

"Our expectation," says Grossman, "was not to be best friends, but to maintain a financially beneficial business partnership."

So why are these women homeowners in the minority?

According to Joyce Skinner, director of HUD's Women's Policy and Program staff, housing was not a priority issue for women's organizations before 1976.

Women in increasing numbers began to seek home ownership and FHA mortgages after 1974, when the Fair Housing Act was amended to protect against sex discrimination in housing practice.

"After the appointment of Donna Shalala as assistant secretary of HUD's Office of Policy Development and Research in 1976," says Skinner, "there began a whole series of research and development programs concerning women on the urban scene and in the housing market."

Under the direction of Shalala, now president of Hunter (N.Y.) College, the 18-month-long Women and Mortgage Credit Project launched multi-media information programs, education seminars for women, lender-awareness programs, and extensive research and publications on women and housing.

"The goal," says Skinner, "was not only to give women information as to what they can do about discrimination, but also to talk about opportunities for ownership and gaining access to community housing resources."

Although Skinner concedes it may "take decades to eradicate negative attitudes about women without men," the visibility created by the Women and Mortgage Credit Project has smoothed the way for "femme sole" homeownership.

With the combination, however, of today's short supply of affordable housing, high interest rates, rising inflation and a single income, not every woman is able to go shopping for her own home.

But many do succeed: the percentage of single-women homeowners is not estimated at 19 percent.

School teacher Kym Nue, 43, of Oxon Hill, Md., and her two small children recently moved into their brand new home with "a lot of family support and the help of a knowledgeable, supportive real estate agent."

"By 40," says Nue, "I wanted to have my own home. Well, by 43, I said to myself -- I don't have anything but my children. Was I ready for this? Well, I prayed hard, and it was the best thing I've ever done. CAPTION: Picture, Donna Haldane: "She moved in with no stove, no heater, and overall savings of $40,000 . . ." By James A. Parcell -- The Washington Post