Chicago Tribune: Mosque raises hopes for real estate boom

For more than a decade, Mohammed Alqadhi watched the Mosque Foundation transform a slice of Bridgeview into a thriving Muslim enclave as families in search of an Islamic place to pray bought up the modest homes around the green-domed house of worship.

On Thursday, a dome was placed atop a similar mosque that’s set to open in the spring in Orland Park, and Alqadhi, a Yemeni immigrant and entrepreneur, is keeping an eye out for property nearby. He already has bought a vacant store with plans to open a Middle Eastern grocery.

“Everything that happened in Bridgeview will happen here,” Alqadhi predicted. “People will want to be near the mosque. Housing prices will go up. They’ll need a convenience store.”

That rosy prediction runs counter to some reactions when Muslim leaders applied two years ago for a permit to build a mosque and school on 104th Avenue. Then, residents worried about traffic congestion and noise, fretted over who was funding the facility and feared housing prices would plummet.

Although the evidence from Bridgeview is largely anecdotal, home prices near the mosque appear to have risen higher than elsewhere in the south suburb. It’s been happening since the mosque was built in the 1980s but particularly in the last decade.

A split-level home on Beloit Avenue near the mosque sold for $295,000 in 2003, said real estate agent Suleiman Abdel Wahab. A similar split-level far from the mosque on 77th Street sold the same year for $231,000, he found.

Other spot checks found similar pricing around the mosque: A five-bedroom on Beloit sold for $127,000 in 2003, while a five-bedroom away from the mosque sold for $107,000, he said. In 2005, four five-bedroom homes on Beloit went for an average of $162,000, while four same-size homes farther away sold for an average of $142,000.

“It’s really astronomical, the prices around the mosque,” Abdel Wahab said. “There is a big demand.”

The rise in housing prices is all the more surprising considering the physical nature of the neighborhood around the mosque. Families came despite highway noise, nearby train tracks and the 18-wheelers parked in an adjacent industrial zone, buying up ranches and bungalows until most every home had a Muslim owner.

The area was transformed into a Middle Eastern mantiqa–a tight-knit community–where headscarves and hijabs are common sights. Middle Eastern groceries and restaurants soon followed, and as the area changed, housing demand soared.

Some houses doubled in price. Mohammed Sahloul, the Mosque Foundation’s president, sold his home near the mosque for almost twice what he paid for it seven years ago, he said. Other owners reported similar profits.

“It wasn’t a bad investment, both financially and in [building] the neighborhood,” Sahloul said.

William Schuller, one of the few non-Muslims still in the area, said Muslims buyers have knocked on his door. “When you want to sell,” they told him, “let me know.”

A house on his street was recently on the market for only two days before it sold, he said. Schuller hasn’t decided to sell yet–he’s job-hunting first–but he expects to practically name his price when he does.

“I didn’t really realize it was as good as it is,” he said. “I was thinking 50 percent [profit], but it looks like it might be close to 100 percent.”

Real estate agents said it is too soon to gauge whether the housing boom in Bridgeview might repeat itself in Orland Park. Dale Taylor, president of the Realtors Association of West/South Suburban Chicagoland, called Bridgeview’s experience an anomaly.

“In general, it doesn’t happen [that way],” Taylor said. “I think we’re dealing with some specific circumstances in specific places when we’re talking about the mosque.”

Other factors set Orland Park apart as well. Prices there already have risen a great deal, for reasons that have nothing to do with the new mosque. And Orland Park is ritzier than Bridgeview: Homes in Orland Park sold for an average of $345,000 in 2005, while in Bridgeview they averaged $232,500, according to data compiled by the Chicago Association of Realtors. Those prices are too high for many Muslim Americans, Muslims said.

And while the Bridgeview enclave around 93rd Street and Harlem Avenue is isolated by highways and industrial zones–surroundings that lend to the sense of community–the Orland Park mosque is across from a cemetery and next to a forest preserve.

Still, some real estate agents agreed demand will ultimately drive prices up in Orland Park. Already, the mosque’s founders have received calls from real estate agents representing Muslim clients asking for the mosque’s address, said co-founder Malik Ali.

“It’s something a lot of them consider,” said Kamal Salah, a real estate agent in Palos Hills, who said Muslim clients often ask about area mosques the way most clients ask about schools.

“People want to live near a mosque, especially the Muslim immigrant community,” saidYasser Tabbara, whose parents emigrated from Syria to Chicago decades ago. In America, his father would often calculate the distance he would have to walk to pray, Tabbara said.

“He would say, `Oh, this house is 3.6 miles from the nearest mosque,'” Tabbara said. “That’s a prevalent attitude.”

But for a boom in Orland Park, the mosque must be finished and enough families move nearby to form critical mass, real estate agents said.

“They need to see the beginning of a community first,” said Jack Mansour, a real estate agent. “That’s when people will come.”

———- Copyright © 2006, Chicago Tribune