Local real estate businessman helps Iraqi refugees make East County home

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Life can often take unexpected turns in the midst of war. El Cajon businessman Fadi Matti could attest to that from his own life. And Matti has built a successful East County real estate business, specializing in relocation assistance to Iraqi refugees in the U.S. whose lives, like his own, have been unsettled by conflict and violence in the Middle East.

Life can often take unexpected turns in the midst of war. El Cajon businessman Fadi Matti could attest to that from his own life. And Matti has built a successful East County real estate business, specializing in relocation assistance to Iraqi refugees in the U.S. whose lives, like his own, have been unsettled by conflict and violence in the Middle East.

In San Diego County, new neighbors from Iraq form the largest segment by national origin of immigrants to this area. Last year, over 1,100 former citizens of Iraq became San Diego County residents. Numbers for the early months of this year indicate that newly resettled Iraqis here may outpace last year’s new arrivals.

Fadi Matti has been there to help. During 2016, he closed 15 deals in El Cajon on residential dwellings.

“There are definitely a lot more coming in for 2017,” Matti stated. “There is higher movement this year.”

Matti himself moved to El Cajon with his young family in 2013, to be nearer his other family members who had emigrated from Iraq. Matti lives with his wife, Amanda, and their two daughters.

An Assyrian Christian who studied English at Baghdad University, Matti served as a field translator of Arabic for the U.S. Army and Marine Corps, deploying on combat missions in Fallujah during the 2003-2004. In 2005, Fadi and Amanda met in Baghdad, where he was assigned to work establishing the Iraqi National Intelligence Service and she served as a Navy intelligence analyst on deployment with the INIS.

Fadi and Amanda lived in Ohio after his arrival on a fiancé visa for them to marry, and Ohio is where he acquired a real estate license in 2010. He earned his California real estate license in November 2013. 

“I gained a lot of experience in Ohio,” Matti said. “I worked on 40 to 43 homes each year.”

Matti explained what his business is about. “The refugees from Iraq respond to a familiar name. Buying a house is simple in the Middle East. The parties sit down and make a purchase agreement and the buyer pays and it’s done. Here, a lot of people find the process frustrating and overwhelming. The steps are more complicated, with a loan for the purchase, inspection, appraisal, and then the final deal.”

According to Matti, the real estate market for home sales has been “doing okay” in Baghdad. Refugees leaving Iraq station funds from selling their Iraq homes in Jordan or the UAE, and that money is used for buying a new house in the U.S.

An average transaction takes 30 days. Matti said that he works 29 of those 30 days, often speaking with a home purchaser two or three times daily.

Matti noted that he turned away three or four deals last year because he was too busy at the time. He further said that he is considering hiring one or two more Arabic speakers to help, because his business appears to be on the verge of expanding beyond his capacity while working alone.

Matti’s business has subtleties involved. There is a strain of fatalism for refugees from a war zone, unlike for native-born Americans. “Before 2003, people in Iraq would grieve for years over a lost loved one,” Matti stated. “Things changed. The people I work with have lost people and things that are more important to them than money. I explain the contract to them, why it is important to sign all the documents. The rules, contracts, and civilization are different from the chaos they have escaped. I tell them this is so their best interests are protected.”

Another factor is educational. “The Iraqis I work with are definitely open to home ownership,” he continued. “Especially once I put the figures before them side by side. Rents are increasing around here. I educate them to answer the question about the need to buy a house. They can gain 10 percent equity annually and have something they own.”

Once a month, Matti invites a lender to a “group consultation” for information to educate potential buyers about home buying and the loan process. January’s class attracted six attendees. 

Even deeper factors are sentimental and psychological. “Many people are at first of the mindset, hopefully one day we can go back to Iraq. They feel like they are strangers here. What I find most satisfying is helping them settle here. When a family has their own home here, they feel like they can put down roots for their kids and grandkids. They begin to see that they can succeed here. They think this country is my home now.”

Matti concluded, “I can see the smile on their faces when I hand them the house keys. I can see it in their eyes. They have a home. They think now I can start a new life.”

Fadi Matti’s Big Block Realty office is located at 1150 Broadway, Suite 235, in El Cajon. More information on his business is available online at ElCajonHomeSource.com or at FadiMatti.com.

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