Thursday, May 2, 2013

House versus Condominium

Should one purchase a house or a condominium? The answer might be obvious to most people: all things being equal, a house would be the ideal form of residence because of the several perceived benefits it offers, including (but not limited to):

  • Large growth in equity
  • Room for the children
  • Room to entertain guests
  • Pride of ownership
  • Opportunity to pursue decoration/landscaping/gardening
  • Privacy
  • Social status
  • Control over property
Other people, however, share a different perspective. They evaluate the value of a residence in terms of a different criterion: functionality. By functionality, I mean, it's ability to support one's life purpose. On the basis of functionality, a condo seems to come out as the winner, as it offers several benefits:
  1. It saves time. Little time is required on maintenance (e.g., mowing the lawn, shovelling the snow). Amenities (e.g., grocery stores, libraries, schools, masjids) are often walking distance. Public transit is close and runs frequently, given the dense population, and highways are often close by. Work is often close by.
  2. It saves money. Condos often include free swimming pool and fitness facilities. The convenient access to public transit and close proximity of amenities means less use of a vehicle, which means less gasoline and vehicle maintenance costs. Underground parking also reduces the wear-and-tear of vehicles, which also reduces vehicle maintenance costs.
  3. It reduces stress. There's no worry about bills, since utilities are often included in the maintenance fees. There's no worry about maintenance of the condo's facilities, since the condo management is responsible for them. There's no worry about catching a buses/trains on time, since public transit runs frequently. There's no stress over long, tiresome commutes since work and schools are often close by.
  4. It supports Islamic values. Since masjids/musallahs are more likely to be close by, it is convenient to pray in congregation, and participate in Islamic programs/classes. The less room in condos means less accumulation of worldly possessions, thereby supporting the minimalist lifestyle exemplified by the Prophet . The shared condo's facilities allows greater interaction with neighbours, especially Muslim neighbours, thereby allowing relationships to develop.
  5. It supports a social life, which is valued in Islam. The Prophet said, "The believer is one who is sociable [with others], and there is no good in one who is not sociable [with others] nor in one who is not met sociably [by them] (Mustadrak, Bayhaqī, Shuʿab al-Iman)." Interacting with neighbours, assisting one another, and sharing resources is convenient since everyone is living under the same roof, so to speak. 
These observations are generalizations. Some houses may offer some of the functionalities mentioned above, while some condominiums may lack some of the aforementioned functionalities. Condos also come with some disadvantages, including: reduced privacy, less space, sound problems, lack of barbecue facilities, and wait times for elevators.

Renting versus buying

One debate that is related to the issue of buying a house or a condo is whether one should rent or buy. Purchasing any property, whether a condo or a house, has its privileges as has been mentioned above. However, home ownership also assumes responsibilities of maintenance. Therefore, while owning a home may be cheaper (if the home is not being financed), it may also consume one's time and/or money, and add stress with the maintenance involved. 

The Prophet's Home

Functionality was an important feature of the Prophet's homes . In Madinah, the Prophet had built an apartment for each wife, which were all next to his masjid, indicating that proximity was important to him, not just for easy access to the masjid, but also for others to have easy access to him. The apartments were built of a simple structure, as is indicated by the hadith, "Rooms reserved for the Prophet's household were built of stones and adobe bricks with ceilings of palm leaves." (Bukhari) His apartments were so small that his prayer spot would be right next to the family bed, as is mentioned by Maymuna, the wife of the Prophet , who said, "My bed was beside the praying place (Musalla) of the Prophet and sometimes his garment fell on me while I used to lie in my bed." (Bukhari) The small, modest apartments allowed him to be approachable to the poor (who comprised the majority of his followers), and set an example for his ummah for zuhd (abstinence) and simplicity. The bed on which the Prophet slept was made of leather and filled with palm fibre (Shama-il ut-Tirmidhi). According to scholars, his bed was purposely coarse and uncomfortable to prevent him from missing his night worship due to excessive sleeping.

The Ultimate Consideration

The functionality of a home can ultimately be evaluated by asking one's self: does it help me prepare for my real, permanent home, in the hereafter? In other words:
  • Does it allow me to easily get to the masjid to perform congregational prayers, or is it the type of home that the Prophet would have burned down because it prevents me from attending congregational prayers? 
  • Is my home filled with so many worldly possessions that it pulls me down to the ground, or is it a home that allows me to elevate to Allah?
  • Does my home distract me from Allah and His Prophet with all the responsibilities/stresses associated with it, or does it support my focus on Allah and His Prophet
  • Does my home allow me and my family to interact with other like-minded Muslims to support one another and to draw closer to Allah and His Prophet
  • Is my home financed in harmony with Islamic principles, or is it financed through an interest-bearing mortgage, such that I make myself at war with Allah?
The Prophet's focus on his permanent home in the next world, in exchange for a modest home in this world is evident in the following hadith:

Umar ibn al-Khattab narrated, "I visited Allah's Messenger (may peace be upon him), and he was lying on a mat. I sat down and he drew up his lower garment over him and he had nothing (else) over him, and that the mat had left its marks on his sides. I looked with my eyes in the storeroom of Allah's Messenger (may peace be upon him). I found only a handful of barley equal to one sa' and an equal quantity of the leaves of Mimosa Flava placed in the nook of the cell, and a semi-tanned leather bag hanging (in one side), and I was moved to tears (on seeing this extremely austere living of the Prophet ), and he said: Ibn Khattab, what wakes you weep? I said: Apostle of Allah, why should I not shed tears? This mat has left its marks on your sides and I do not see in your storeroom (except these few things) that I have seen; Caesar and Chosroes are leading their lives in plenty whereas you are Allah's Messenger. His chosen one, and that is your store! He said: Ibn Khattab, aren't you satisfied that for us (there should be the prosperity) of the Hereafter, and for them (there should be the prosperity of) this world? I said: Yes. (Muslim)

اللهم صلي علی محمد

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