Before she could buy
a house, Mehreen Raza had to learn all about the process
With a sweeping
view of downtown Toronto from the top floor balcony of her new
house, Mehreen Raza marvels at being the first person in her
family to own a home.
father rents, so this is really exciting," says Raza, who
moved in two months ago.
Raza (no relation
to the writer) had always dreamed of having her own house, not
realizing the amount of "education, homework and hard work
that would go into this undertaking," she says.
In her home
country of Pakistan, young couples usually live with family
until they've saved the entire price of a house. Their parents
may help out but mortgage loans are unheard of.
started to learn a whole new terminology: mortgage, equity,
closing- it was all new to me," explains Raza, who turns 32
A newcomer to
Toronto in September 2000, she had never planned to settle in
Canada. "It was somewhat by default because I hadn't really
intended on making my life here."
"In 1994, I
had completed my LL.B. (Bachelor of Law), was working with an
NGO (a non-profit community organization) of my choice and was
happily married to my best friend, Zaheer."
Raza and her
husband, an airline executive, were saving to eventually buy a
house. In 1996 the couple had a son who died of congenital heart
failure a month after he was born.
shattered and thought this is the worst tragedy that can happen
to a woman but I was wrong." Three months later they were
in a car crash in which her husband, who was only 30 at the
time, died in her arms. Raza sustained only minor injuries.
the end of my dreams. I was 27 years old, a widow and had two
choices," she explains pragmatically. "I could either
have gone back to my parents' home or lived the life of a
grieving widow- neither of which appealed to my independent
decided to leave Pakistan for just long enough to clear my mind
and decide what I really want to do."
A British Council
scholarship to The School of Oriental and African Studies in
England helped make up her mind and, in 1998, she left for
"My idea was
to get my post-graduate degree and see if I could go back to
settle in Pakistan. But in London, my friends discouraged me
from returning and helped me apply for Canadian
didn't know anyone here, Canada was seen as an
immigrant-friendly country and her friends thought she'd feel
After getting her
degree, her papers were processed and she arrived in Toronto in
September 2000. "It all happened so quickly, I had no time
to think or plan. I was completely lost and scared, because I
knew no one.
"It was the
film festival weekend and impossible to find a hotel so I stayed
at a bed and breakfast downtown, and later moved in with some
relatives of my husband who were referred to me. I had no idea
that finding a job and renting a place would be so hard."
advice and guidance from St. Stephen's HRDC (government-run
employment centre) at Bathurst and St. Clair, I found a
part-time job. Simultaneously I was looking for accommodation,
but no one wanted to rent to a new immigrant with no credit
Raza commuted 75
minutes every day from her home downtown to her part-time job as
an administrative assistant in Scarborough.
"It was a
rough time mentally, physically and financially; but I was
learning to persevere and determined to survive despite the
odds, because I actually liked Canada and could see a future
later, after Raza got a full-time job as Toronto regional
project director for Pro Bono Law, Ontario- working on a project
set up by the Law Society of Upper Canada and community
organizations- she began searching for housing in earnest.
rental was a basement apartment in the St. Clair area, which was
familiar, and the landlady was a lawyer who knew me from the Law
settled into a job, I started thinking about my own home, a
dream from my married days, but a banker friend advised me to
first build my credit history and learn about home buying in
Canada- 'a different scenario from back home,' he said."
Post Sept. 11,
when interest rates fell and the market outlook changed, Raza
felt she was ready to buy. She met with Sushanta Sen, a banker
with Royal Bank "who helped educate me about the process of
buying a home.
the same background, he understood how naïve I was and
explained everything from interest rates to income tax."
She decided to
look downtown because it was familiar and close to work but was
unsure what to buy.
my budget but the condo fees were too high."
decided on a house "because I was used to wide open spaces
and liked the idea of the independence. I started my search and
on the first day I looked at five or six properties, but to my
horror, the homes that fit my budget were old and ugly and the
ones I liked, I couldn't afford!"
The last house
she saw that day was hidden on a one-way street in the heart of
call it my dream house, but it had character and was different
so I guess it was a bit of love at first sight. The owners had
upgraded it with hardwood floor and new light fixtures, but (the
required down payment) was over my budget." Built on three
levels, the semi-detached house was about 10 years old and
spread over 1,400 square feet with a back patio, basement,
garage, fireplace, two bedrooms on the second floor and a master
bedroom on the top floor with a balcony overlooking the city.
"What a view
in the morning!" says Raza who had already envisioned
having her morning coffee on the balcony. She immediately called
her banker friend, told him she wanted the house and asked what
to do next.
A few days later
she was back. "It was a strange scenario, my real estate
agent sat inside and tried to negotiate with the owners while I
sat in the car and negotiated with the bank. I could only afford
to put 5 per cent down while they wanted 10 per cent. So I
decided to take a gamble and agreed on the 10 per cent.
morning I called the bank and they agreed to give me a line of
credit to cover the extra 5 per cent.
"It was a
huge risk and my first big decision all alone so I paced up and
down that night. At 3 a.m. I called my parents in Pakistan and
told them what I had done- they were so excited."
possession of her home last March 15 and looks upon this as a
first step toward a permanent life in Canada. "This is the
best place in the world and I love it."
And she can't
wait to celebrate her acquisition with her mother and brother
who are visiting from Pakistan this month.
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