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How a Syrian refugee family with no prospects became entrepreneurs after moving to California

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BERKELEY, Calif.—With 30 days’ notice, the Rawas family were plucked from their temporary home in Jordan, where they’d fled the Syrian civil war, and resettled in Oakland, Calif.

As refugees, they knew no one, had no job prospects and didn’t speak a word of English.

From left, Rawaa Kasedah, daughter Batool Rawoas and husband Mohammed Aref Rawas, at their kiosk on the campus of the University of California, Berkeley.
From left, Rawaa Kasedah, daughter Batool Rawoas and husband Mohammed Aref Rawas, at their kiosk on the campus of the University of California, Berkeley.  (Anda Chu / Bay Area News Group)

Three years later, Mohammed Aref Rawas, Rawaa Kasedah and their four children are running a budding catering business that serves authentic Syrian food such as smoked basmati rice, falafel and fattoush salad. They’ve hired their first employee. Their clients include big tech companies. And the days when starting over seemed impossible are far behind them.

They are among a large population of refugees who, after fleeing a homeland overrun by violence and political turmoil, started a business, integrating quickly into the economy and life of a new country. The family’s entrepreneurial approach is common among immigrants, studies show.

An estimated 11 per cent of all Syrian immigrants in the U.S. labour force are business owners — nearly four times the rate of U.S.-born business owners, according to a study by the New York-based Fiscal Policy Institute and the Center for American Progress. A significant part of that success has been the ability to master the English language, the report said.

Meanwhile, a 2016 study by the institute that followed Bosnian, Burmese, Hmong and Somali refugees found that they, too, moved up the occupational ladder and started businesses after settling in the U.S. Thirty-one out of every 1,000 Bosnian refugees in the labour force are business owners, as are 26 out of 1,000 Burmese, 22 out of 1,000 Hmong, and 15 out of 1,000 Somalis, the study found.

“There’s a hunger for dignified work,” said Thane Kreiner, executive director of the Miller Center for Social Entrepreneurship at Santa Clara University.

Kreiner launched an accelerator program known as Social Entrepreneurship at the Margins, which assists businesses and organizations around the world that are run by refugees, migrants or victims of human trafficking.

The Rawas family started Old Damascus Fare last year. Rawas had owned a successful clothing factory in Syria, where he oversaw about 50 employees. The family lived comfortably in a suburb in their native Damascus.

But increasing gunfire, kidnappings and the presence of military groups forced them to leave, and their temporary escape to Jordan in 2012 lasted until they immigrated to the U.S. in 2015.

More than 500,000 Syrians have died and nearly 6 million have fled during a civil war that began seven years ago with an uprising against President Bashar al-Assad.

After the Rawas family settled into the Bay Area, new friends and acquaintances in the Arab community asked Kasedah to cater birthday parties and other events. Soon they were catering events for area tech companies, including Facebook and LinkedIn.

“We got to the point where we realized it’s not only about food,” said Batool Rawoas, one of the couple’s daughters. “We are making new friends, we are hearing about new opportunities. It’s a way to share our culture with the people here.”

The family admit they’re still struggling. Their expenses regularly exceed their income, and they’re overwhelmed by the painstaking details of operating a business.

“The main challenge for any refugee family is navigating how to survive in the Bay Area because it’s so expensive,” said Rawoas, who is attending community college and hopes to transfer to a four-year university to study psychology and public health.

“We lived in Syria, we were from the middle class and we had a very comfortable life. We owned our own house, our own land,” she said. “But we’re hoping, in the future, this will be a good thing to support us financially.”

Because refugees like the Rawas often have to reinvent their lives, that makes them resilient entrepreneurs, said David Miliband, a former British foreign secretary and CEO of the International Rescue Committee, which resettled the family three years ago.

“In a way, being a refugee, having to flee for your life, having to figure out who to trust, having to figure out new ways of survival … there could hardly be a more effective job-training program,” he said.

“Those qualities of co-operation, determination, courage, trust are important for any entrepreneur.”

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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‘Don’t give up’: Ottawa Valley realtors share statistics, tips for homebuyers in ‘extreme’ sellers market

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The real estate market in the Ottawa Valley can be summed up this way: people from far and wide are in a buying frenzy, but there’s hardly anything to buy at the “store,” and the limited inventory is overpriced.

This “stampede” — as one realtor described it — will affect rural towns as residents grapple with finding affordable housing and agonize over their inability to purchase homes in their price range.

“We are seeing a lack of inventory in all price ranges,” said Laura Keller, a real estate agent from Carleton Place. HomeYou’ve been selected.Only $1.49/week for your first 4 months.Special offer just for you. Unlimited access.

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10 Tips For First-Time Home Buyers

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Buying a home for the first time is exciting and a commitment to the future. It’s often challenging, too, and the process requires a lot of steps, many of which can be tricky to navigate as a first-time home buyer.

What are some things you should keep in mind as a first-time home buyer?

First-Time Home Buyer Tips

Here are 10 tips to keep in mind as you begin your journey toward homeownership.

1. Have Your Finances in Order

It’s wise to begin saving as early as possible once you’ve made the decision to purchase a house. You’ll need to consider the down payment, closing costs (which often range from 2% to 5% of the down payment), as well as move-in expenses.

You also need to understand the other costs of homeownership, such as mortgage insurance. property taxes, utilities, homeowner’s insurance, and more.

2. How Much Can You Afford?

Knowing how much you can realistically afford in a home is another important financial consideration. Look for the home of your dreams that fits your budget.

One way to avoid future financial stress is to set a price range for your home that fits your budget, and then staying within that range. Going through the preapproval process will help you understand what price range is realistic for your budget.

3. Make Sure Your Credit is Good

Another thing to keep in mind as a first-time home buyer is your credit score because it determines whether you qualify for a mortgage and affects the interest rate that lenders offer. 

You can check your credit score from the three credit bureaus – Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion.

This is another good reason for getting preapproved before you start your search. Learn more about the preapproval process and your credit score.

4. Choose The Right Real Estate Agent

A good real estate agent guides you through the process every step of the way. He or she will help you find a home that fits your needs, help you through the financial processes, and help ease any first-time buyer anxiety you may have.

Interview several agents and request references.

5. Research Mortgage Options

A variety of mortgages are available, including conventional mortgages – which are guaranteed by the government – FHA loans, USDA loans, and VA loans (for veterans).

You’ll also have options regarding the mortgage term. A 30-year fixed-rate mortgage is popular among many homebuyers and has an interest rate that doesn’t change over the course of the loan. A 15-year loan usually has a lower interest rate but monthly payments are larger.

6. Talk to Multiple Lenders

It’s worth your time to talk to several lenders and banks before you accept a mortgage offer. The more you shop around, the better deal you’re liable to get – and it may save you thousands of dollars.

7. Get Preapproved First

Getting a mortgage preapproval (in the form of a letter) before you begin hunting for homes is something else to put on your checklist. A lender’s preapproval letter states exactly how much loan money you can get.

Learn more about the preapproval process and how preapproval provides you with a significant competitive advantage in our article How Preapproval Gives You Home Buying Power.

8. Pick the Right House and Neighborhood

Make sure to weigh the pros and cons of the different types of homes based on your budget, lifestyle, etc. Would a condominium or townhome fit your needs better than a house? What type of neighborhood appeals to you?

9. List Your Needs and Must-Haves

The home you purchase should have as many of the features you prefer as possible. List your needs in order of priority; some things may be non-negotiable to you personally.

10. Hire an Inspector

Hiring an inspector is another crucial step in the home buying process. An inspector will tell you about existing or potential problems with the home, and also what’s in good order. You can learn more about home inspections and how to find a home inspector through the American Society of Home Inspectors website.

Buying a home for the first time is a challenge, but it’s one you can handle with the right planning and preparation.

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A Simplified Guide for Toronto First-Time Home Buyers

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Toronto is the largest city in Canada, the fourth largest city in North America, which makes it an exciting place to live in.

But as with other major cities, finding the perfect place to move to can get tricky. If you’re planning on buying a home for the first time in this city, it is indeed a big decision and there are things you should know in advance.

Don’t worry, this guide will help explain the basics of what you as a buyer should know when you decide to buy a home. It will make you feel like a true expert during the buying process.

Decide what type of home you are looking for

There is no right answer to what makes a good home. It all depends on your preferences and needs as the resident. It is, therefore, a good idea to determine as early as possible which features of a home are important to you. If you are buying a home and moving in with someone, it can be a good idea for both of you to make a list and compare.

Toronto is a city that offers different styles of living accommodations and its neighborhoods are quite versatile and diverse, same as the people living there who come from all parts of the world.

The most common forms of housing and real estate opportunities in this city include bungalows, two-storey houses, split-level homes, and the very popular Toronto condos. Due to the high property values, the city boasts of construction of many condominiums as they are a more cost-efficient choice and provide a plethora of benefits.

When you decide on the type of home you want to buy, it is good to do some research and learn the biggest differences between them.

What to think of when choosing homes in Toronto

There are certain things you need to consider when choosing your home in this city. 

Being close to the things you need to visit every day makes life a lot easier. Pay attention to the proximity to shops, preschools, schools, and your job. In addition, access to good public transportation is crucial. Being able to move around the city easily and the opportunity to commute is important to many.

Know that having a balcony can significantly increase the value of your home and improve your well-being. Being able to move easily in the area is something that many people underestimate, but can be very convenient, and this is why you should see if there are good cycles and walking paths. 

And finally, make sure that the house is well designed which is a quality that does not disappear with the age of the house or with renovations. 

Set your budget

Before you start the search for your new home, you must know how expensive of a home you can buy. It is preferable to know in what price range to look for. The budget is usually decided based on your mortgage and how large are the monthly costs you can handle.

A mortgage is always about a balance between risk and income for the bank. The higher the risk for the bank to lend to a particular home, the more expensive the mortgage will be. When it comes to the bank’s reasoning when applying for a loan, it is in principle always a question of whether you as a borrower will be able to repay the mortgage.

The bank also takes into account your financial history. If you are a person who has managed your finances well, the chance increases that you will get your mortgage approved. If, on the other hand, you have a bad reputation with banks, it is weighed in as an aggravating circumstance.

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