Saturday, November 11, 2017

The House Dilemma

Assalamualaikum and greetings dear Bits and Pieces readers!

I am now a part time lecturer teaching Foundation of Islamic Finance at a public university in Malaysia. It was not long before I realise that students, no matter how boring the topic may be, pay attention when the lecturer is passionate. One such occasion happened when I was arguing on the necessity of a house bought through mortgage.  

Source: Binyamin Mellish
No, it is not the purpose of this post to debate on whether Islamic home financing is truly Islamic. Instead, it is to point out some obvious realities of home financing that people dismiss simply because the realities are not attach to any financial nor economic jargon. It is my personal opinion that when  making decision to buy a house, one should also be aware of the realities and repercussions attached to that decision.

1. Does house equates to a home?
Pause and observe; do all house owners view their house as a home? Some view their house as a long term investment which is not wrong; but some also view their house as a burden. Burden in two senses; burden of debt and burden of not having a real home. A real home is where we view our house as a sanctuary from the elements; both realistically and metaphorically. To describe the latter, most people are working long hours just to pay off the house. This causes fatigue and instead of feeling happy to spend time with their family when they get home from work, they would feel disgruntled. Hence a house that should by default be a home, becomes a mere symbol of financial security. I used the strikethroughs on purpose.  

2. Does house ownership equals to fulfillment of basic need?
Most tolerate the long working hours and family time because they argue that owning a house is a basic human need. House provides shelter and protection for their families, after all.
The fact of the matter is, other choice of housing like renting and mobile homes also give similar protection too. In relation to this, developed countries of Europe chose to rent instead of buying which could be mind boggling for people coming from less developed countries. Taking some points from the link, potential house owners should consider other costs attached to owning a house such as insurance and upkeep before making their final decision.

3. Does a house on a mortgage is truly our house?
It is always wise to be aware of the fact that the house we own is not really our house; at least not until we finish paying the monthly installments that often take up decades. I repeat, in underline and bold, decades. Until then, the house that we see as a financial security, is actually a mirage.
How so?
Consider these risks; losing our job, savings and investments dried up, major health issues (assuming no health insurance was taken), economic crisis etc. Wouldn't this affect our ability to pay the monthly installments? And when we can't pay, the bank will seize our house. Notice the strike through.
I had a conversation with my husband regarding this which I would like to add as a side note. Imagine that we face a religious, morale, and/or principle clash at work. But because of the need to pay down debt, we would easily step on our principles instead of quitting the job. It is as though we become slave to our employers due to debt which had enslaved us in the first place. It's as though we are worshiping two gods without us even realising.

4. Is living within our means and in moderation are backward concepts in this modern era?
This question reminds me of this book, "Voltaire's Bastards: The Dictatorship of Reason in the West"  which I am still reading. John Ralston Saul, the author of this book, strongly critiques the technocrats that ivy league universities are producing. According to the author in page 22, technocrat is "the man who understands the organization, makes use of the technology and controls access to the information, which is a compendium of "facts"". The education they receive, according to him, emphasized more on technical jargons instead of analysing real problems. Even when the problems were address, the solutions were often superficial.
Corresponding to this, it is to my believe that living within our means and in moderation are not backward concepts at all. Instead, they are two simple yet wise principles grounded to reality. Hence, one should not feel dejected when (s)he is being accused by the community as idiots for not taking a mortgage. You are merely considering your physical and mental capacity to shoulder debt.

I would like to end this post with a clarification. I am not criticising those who have taken mortgage. I am merely pointing out the fact that acquiring a mortgage is not necessarily an indicator of financial security. At least, that is what I believe. What do YOU believe?