Real Estate Agents, Buying into Diversity
MADELEINE BRAND, host:
House hunting can be a complicated and often frustrating experience--looking for the right home in the right neighborhood at the right price can take months. And the search can be even more complicated for Muslims. Zoe Corneli, from member station KALW, traveled to a Muslim community in Freemont, California, and she has this report.
ZOE CORNELI reporting:
Riffet Hussein(ph) is a real estate agent. He says, like any good realtor, he has to be sensitive to what his clients want in a home.
Mr. RIFFET HUSSEIN (Real Estate Agent): What I try to find out is what you are in the market for. What is your concern.
CORNELI: And among Hussein's clientele, the answer to that question is often different from what it might be for other Americans. Hussein is originally from Pakistan, and about 40 percent of his clientele have similar backgrounds. Most of them follow Muslim law, which requires certain practices in their day to day lives. Abdul Khan is one Riffet Hussein's clients. By day, he works as a software engineer for Symantec Corporation. At night, he comes home to a traditional Muslim household.
Mr. ABDUL KHAN: Definitely, there would be some space where, you know, you have to go recite the Koran, you know, we don't take our shoes in there, we don't take our dirty clothes and all those things there. We try to keep it as clean as possible.
CORNELI: Khan and his wife have been looking for a home for about a year. For now they live with their 3-year-old daughter in this modest rented condominium. It's spotless with white carpeting and white furniture. But keeping an observant Muslim household isn't just about cleanliness, Kahn's wife keeps her body covered, and wears a traditional scarf.
Mr. KAHN: She's very much with (unintelligible), she refrains herself from coming in front of men, you know, mingling with men and all those things.
CORNELI: Protecting his wife's modesty is one of the family's biggest concerns as they look for a house.
Mr. KAHN: If she wants to access the kitchen, or if she wants to go to the bedroom, she should have an easy access, so that if the visitors are home, they should not be able to see her.
CORNELI: Muslim culture encourages friends and family to get together frequently. In such a close-knit community, the Kahns socialize with other families several times a week.
Mr. KAHN: Either we go to someone's place, or somebody else comes to our place. Any of our parties out here, definitely, we set aside for men. We set aside for women.
CORNELI: And that means it's important to have a lot of room, including separate living rooms for men and women. But the Kahns haven't been able to find a house within their price range that meets all of these needs. That's a common problem here. And it's made even harder by the fact that many Muslims don't believe in charging or paying interest.
Arsha Rasheed(ph) is a database administrator. Four years ago, he was ready to make a down payment on a spacious home in San Francisco's Mission District.
Mr. ARSHA RASHEED: I had certain limitations. I could only go through Islamic financing. And Islamic financing, at that time, were not able to pay more than seven months.
CORNELI: His down payment of $60,000, plus an interest-free loan from an Islamic financing agency, was still short of what he needed to buy the house. And his faith stopped him from taking out an interest-bearing loan to make up the difference. Rasheed decided instead to compromise and buy a condominium. It's financed through an Islamic agency that doesn't charge interest.
Mr. RASHEED: But, end of the day, I'm paying more. And people sometimes ask me, are you crazy? You're throwing your money away per month, and I, I can't explain it to others. But it gives me satisfaction that, at least I can tell my God that I tried my best.
CORNELI: A common type of Islamic financing is a shared ownership model, in which the finance company becomes the co-owner of the home, and the buyer pays rent while paying off the loan. This kind of plan avoids interest, but it's not cheap.
Ozia Osef(ph) is a teacher of the Islamic Center Fremont Sunday School. She wears a pastel hijab printed with a watercolor pattern, and carries her 18 month old daughter Selena with her. In 1997, Osef and her husband bought a new house, where they now live with their four children and his parents. Though they've since refinanced with a no-interest plan, the couple first bought the house with a conventional mortgage.
Ms. OZIA OSEF: It was very tough decision. That's why we, you know, try our best to get the Islamic financing, but, you know, at that time, it was impossible.
CORNELI: Osef says they needed a home which could accommodate a proper Muslim household, with space for extended family and social gatherings, even if it meant paying interest on a loan.
Mrs. OSEF: Because we needed more room, that's we, you know, upgraded our house. And thank God we did it at that time, otherwise we wouldn't have been you know be able to buy it at this market.
CORNELI: With the difficulties of buying a home that fits their lifestyle, some Muslims are turning to building their own homes. This presents its own challenges, because it's hard to find undeveloped land in good neighborhoods and near good schools. For Abdul Kahn and his family, building isn't an option. So, it's not clear how long they'll keep looking at homes.
Mr. KAHN: That decision is not in my hands, it's in my wife's hands. But I think I can always just keep trying.
CORNELI: For NPR News, I'm Zoe Corneli in San Francisco.
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