October 26th, 2018
The house was on a quiet street near the corner of 60th and Oklahoma, an intersection that is dominated by the church of St. Gregory the Great. I had never been to the house before. The area is on Milwaukee’s far south side, a part of town that is attractive to firemen and cops. These are people who work for the City, and therefore need to reside within its boundaries. At least, they used be required to be residents of Milwaukee. I don’t know if that is still the case. The far south side of Milwaukee is not quite suburbia, and it is not hip and trendy, and it is definitely not the hood. It is especially not the hood.
Sometimes you wind up in unexpected places. I was there because the parents of the Syrian family wanted to an English-speaker to be present as they shopped for a house. The mother, A’isha, has a friend is fluent in both English and Arabic. However, this friend was unavailable to be present as A’isha and Turki inspected the house. I just happened to be in the family’s home, tutoring Ibrahim on his homework, so I was asked to come along. My Arabic is minimal, but I have known the family for over a year, and they apparently trust me.
The realtor was there to show us the home. He was there to sell. Of course, that’s his job, but it brought back to me a flood of unpleasant memories from when Karin and I were looking for a house back in 1990. I am sure that he is a good guy, but I was suspicious of everything he told us. Just because…he’s a realtor.
Keep in mind the size of the Syrian family. They have eleven children. I am no stranger to large families. I grew up with six younger brothers. I know how much room is required for a big family. This house didn’t quite meet the requirements. There were issues.
The realtor wanted us to look at the basement. Why not? It was a finished basement, and a finished basement always makes me uneasy, because things are hidden. I asked the realtor about any possible water damage, and he stared at his smart phone until he could tell me that the sellers had indicated that there had not been any water in the basement. This told me nothing. The basement had no sump pump. The carpeting and the paneling on the walls hid any problems.
The basement wasn’t very big, and most of its space was consumed by a humongous wet bar. The bar had several stools and a couple built-in beer taps. I found this to be oddly amusing. I said to Turki, who was looking at the bar,
“I don’t think you are going to use this much.”
He gave me a wry smile, and said, “No”, as he shook his head.
I asked the realtor, “Have you figured out that these people are Muslim?”
“Well, I don’t think they will be entertaining guests at the bar.”
He shrugged, “They might find some alternate use for it.”
The deal breaker came when we looked at the one and only bathroom in the house. The place had four bedrooms, but only one bath. A’isha made it clear that one toilet wasn’t going to be enough. Thirteen people and one bathroom? Noooo.
The realtor asked the Syrians what they really wanted.
A’isha blurted out, “Two baths!”
The realtor countered, “How about one and a half?”
A’isha relented, “Yes, maybe one and a half.”
The realtor asked her, “How many bedrooms?”
“Four! No, maybe five!” (Do the math: thirteen people in the family divided by five bedrooms. That’s still crowded.)
Oddly enough, I live in a house with one and a half bathrooms, and five bedrooms. However, the Syrian family isn’t moving in to our home. There is way too much of my wife’s yarn and wool filling up most of the space.
The realtor asked the Syrian couple how much money the bank had offered to provide.
A painful silence.
Okay, these folks are new at this game. They started by looking at a house. That seems reasonable. Karin and I did the same thing years ago. However, that is the wrong place to start. A person starts by talking to the bank. The bank determines how much of a house a person can afford. The realtor takes that dollar amount and looks for available homes. You start the process with the money, and the process ends with the money. It’s all about the money.
Buying a house is probably one of the most stressful events in a family’s life. It is a huge, long term commitment. It’s scary as hell. It was scary for my wife and me, and we actually understood English. For these people, it’s got to be intense, maybe overwhelming.
Owning your own home is the American dream. Yeah.
Welcome to America.