Renata Kondratiuk doesn't believe in waiting to get her own place. Last week, the single 21-year-old bought a two-bedroom condominium in the Springfield Station gated community.

"I don't want to wait until I'm married to buy a place," Kondratiuk said. "I want to have my own personal portfolio. I want to bring something to a relationship that then can be equal."

And Kondratiuk, an auto-accessories sales rep at Koons Ford-Dodge at Seven Corners in Falls Church, isn't going to stop there, either. Besides the place she lives in, she also sees herself owning several investment properties by the time she hits 40.

Kondratiuk is one of a growing number of young single women in the Washington area and around the country who are buying properties on their own. Spurred on by the economy and the country's roaring job market, many women in their twenties and thirties no longer feel they have to wait until marriage to get started on their financial futures. Unlike their mothers and grandmothers, they're making big financial decisions, such as owning rather than renting, while still young and single.

"Single women are buying properties in their very early twenties now," said Roe Panella, an agent with Re/Max Metro 100 who has a lot of clients in that age bracket. "They're smarter than ever, they've been educated in how to handle money, and they have a sense of independence that younger women 20 years ago just did not have.

"These women see the waste of money through rental," said Panella, who sells in Northern Virginia. "They probably don't have enough money to enter wholeheartedly into the stock market. But real estate ownership is a venue they can enter with a limited amount of money."

"The biggest thing about these women," said Jeffrey LaRocque of Coldwell Banker Realty Pros in the District, "is that they're not waiting for the man anymore. Even if I find a man later, they think, I can still rent this out." And the statistics back them up.

In terms of sheer numbers, the largest increase in home buyers over the past decade has been among single female-headed households, with or without children, according to figures compiled by the National Association of Realtors.

In 1987, single women accounted for 10 percent of home buyers, NAR's figures show. Ten years later, by 1997, the most recent year for which statistics are available, that percentage had almost doubled, to 18 percent of all home buyers.

About a third of all single female buyers in 1997 were younger than 35. Fifteen percent were younger than 30.

Among first-time home buyers, the share for single women is even higher. In 1997, single women accounted for 20 percent of all first-time home buyers, up from 13 percent in 1987. Single men, in comparison, accounted for 11 percent of first-time buyers in 1997, up from 7 percent in 1987.

"The trend of single females buying has been a steady one over the last 10 years," said Mark Calabria, senior economist at the NAR. "But it's really shot up over the past couple years. And it's been driven by the very strong economy."

Calabria gives the credit primarily to the country's labor market. "Graduate degrees for women have gone up significantly," he said. Also, more women are in the labor force, "so more women are able to buy their own homes."

He also cites the fact that down-payment requirements have gone down and that there are several loan products on the market now that have allowed people to get into houses they couldn't have afforded before. But Calabria insists that this doesn't mean it's low-income women who are pushing the numbers up.

"There has been an increase in the low-income side of it," Calabria said. "But if you're talking about who are the single women buying today, the low-income part is small. It's women who are making a very good living on their own."

But why are affluent young women buying more than affluent young men?

Calabria speculates that it could be that young men tend to be more mobile, ready to move for a career step up. Others say it could just be that women are natural nest-builders, and now, with more money available to them, have decided to get started earlier.

Agents say there are a few traits that a great majority of these single women buyers share: They work incredibly hard, they know exactly what they want, and they're making good salaries.

"Their work ethic is just incredible," said LaRocque, who mostly sells in Kalorama, Dupont Circle and Adams-Morgan. "I worked with this one female attorney, about 23 years old, who used to call me at midnight every night, saying she was just leaving her office."

They also seem to know exactly what they're looking for. "They're coming to me saying I can afford X, these are the locations I want, and I've been pre-approved for a mortgage," LaRocque said.

And they are making good money, even though a lot of them would rather die than share that with their agent.

"They don't want to talk about their salaries, they don't want to talk about their jobs," LaRocque said. "They're very, very private. But I know I'm getting women straight out of law school making over $100,000 a year already."

Consider Clare Jenkins, a 29-year-old lawyer. Jenkins bought a condo town house in the older brick development of Fairlington in south Arlington two years ago.

Jenkins had graduated from Tulane University's School of Law just two months before she made her purchase. "I wanted to get some equity in property," she said, explaining why she bought so quickly after finishing school. "Rents were exorbitant and I wanted to establish a good credit history quickly."

So Jenkins, who had just moved back to the Washington area, paid $152,000 for the two-bedroom condo. She saved the down payment with some help from her parents. She got her mortgage, a seven-year adjustable, when interest rates were low. Her monthly mortgage payment is $895.

"It would be lovely if I met someone and we pooled our assets," said Jenkins, who does general civil litigation and family law for a small Alexandria partnership. "But I'm not waiting around for that. You don't have to be married to buy a home."

Jenkins lives near two other single female owners. One of her neighbors, Michelle Cobb, 30, bought a similar 1,400-square-foot condo in March for $150,000.

"I used to think I'd have to be married and settled down before I bought a home," Cobb said. "But then you realize that's not happening. And I wanted to own a house. I made that my personal goal by the time I turned 30." Cobb bought her condo six months before her 30th birthday.

The women share the names of contractors, exchange plumbers and generally help each other out when one of them needs help.

Cobb, who works full-time at the National Archives and is also pursuing a master's degree in public administration at Virginia Tech, put down $5,000 and got an FHA loan at 6.875 percent for the rest of the purchase price.

"Since I bought it in March, I've seen condos in similar condition here go from between $160,000 and $165,000," she said. "So I could've made almost $15,000 in six months."

One of the reasons buying is up among young single professionals--men and women alike--is that rental prices, especially in the District, have gone through the roof, agents said. And there is very little to rent out there anyway, they added.

"People who would have been renters before are now buying," agent LaRocque said. "With the federal tax credit for buying in D.C., the tax advantages to having a mortgage and the fact that prices for rentals have far exceeded the percentage that sales prices have gone up, all those reasons are pushing sales up among young professionals."

LaRocque gives his own situation as an example. "I have a one-bedroom unit right now that I bought a year ago near Dupont Circle," he said. "I thought I could get about $800 a month for it. But there's a good possibility that I could get about $1,400 a month for it now."

Just look to the nearest Home Depot for evidence of the shifting demographics in home buying and do-it-yourself projects.

Home Depot this year began offering Home Depot University classes, a weekly rotation of classes on subjects such as spackling, installing windows and putting up plasterboard. And they're getting almost as many women as men signing up.

Larry Fisher, manager of the Falls Church Home Depot, said out of 13 people now taking Home Depot University classes on Thursday evenings in Falls Church, six are women.

"The participation of women in our classes has been increasing," Fisher said. "One of the biggest classes they're getting involved in are the flooring classes. They're not big on the driveway-sealing classes, though."

Okay, so young single women are buying places by themselves and then putting in new kitchen floors alone, too. But it's not as if they've given up on men entirely.

"I've actually had some women ask for condos where there are a lot of single men," LaRocque said. "So they're not waiting, but they're still looking."