For more people, buying a home is becoming an act of faith.
Not because of the turmoil in the mortgage market. But rather the increasing diversity of the population and the effort to meet their spiritual needs.
"On the North Shore, a sizable portion of our population is Asian," said Haley Hwang of Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage in Glenview and a corporate diversity trainer. "Many of the Asians are Indians, and Indians can be Hindu or Muslim. And there is a huge Jewish population."
"These [different religious] practices create a different kind of buying evaluation," added Jackie Williams, who owns Sterling Realtors in Middletown, Conn.
Some buyers will pay more for a front door that faces a certain direction to bring good fortune or for a second kitchen for kosher food preparation, she said.
"Religious consumers will spend more than non-religious consumers to make sure they have what they need," Williams said. "Or they won't buy the house."
Rabbi Yosef Carmel, who heads Jerusalem's Eretz Hemdah Institute, a rabbinical seminary, outlines features that make a home Orthodox: a large kitchen with two sinks and dual appliances for the separate preparation of meat and dairy; dining room for serving extended family and guests, perhaps with a sink for ritual hand-washing before eating bread; and timers for lights, appliances and air conditioning.
With those things in mind, Concord Homes in 2001 built Parkside Estates in West Rogers Park, which has a large Jewish population. The 42 single-family homes, designed with dual kitchen appliances, sold out in about a week, says Jeff Benach, then Concord's sales manager and now Lexington Homes' executive vice president.
"Buyers wanted upscale homes but wanted to stay right there because their temples are central to their worlds," he said.
That's why there is a hotel and 100 condominiums and town homes within walking distance of two synagogues in Aventura, Fla., City Place, a mixed-use community.
Orthodox Jews do not operate machinery, including cars, buttons and switches, on days of religious observance. On holy days, one elevator in the condo tower will move up and down automatically, stopping on each floor. Sales begin in October.
"It is very important to the Orthodox people to live close to their synagogue," said Yizhak Toledano of Sky Development. "Aventura is a very hot market right now, and there is not a lot of inventory for resale. The houses in the neighborhood tend to be older,"and have to be retrofitted to make them Orthodox-friendly.
The same is true for members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. In the Dallas suburb of McKinney, young marrieds Caroline and David Calkins recently chose their first home for several religious reasons: Congregations are divided geographically, and they want to be in the same one as her family. Church leaders advocate living within financial means, so theirs is modest and affordable.
"We're commanded to keep a year's supply of food and necessities in case of emergencies, like a job transition or a storm catastrophe or helping someone else," said Caroline Calkins. "That requires a lot of extra storage space."
Islamic teachings require prayer five times daily with the petitioner facing Saudi Arabia, home to Mecca, said Amjad Salhani of RE/Max At Home in Rolling Meadows.
"You have to wash up first," he said. "You wash your hands and face and feet. It's nice to have a special washing area with a sink that is lower, especially for older folks who can't lift their feet very high."
Muslim women who cover their hair may prefer kitchens with doors so they won't be seen by male visitors while cooking without wearing a hijab.
Many Hindus follow zodiac-based vastu shastra, similar to the Chinese practice of feng shui, which encourages the flow of energy forces.
"We believe in astrology, so people buy homes depending on their astrological chart and the time of the birth," said T.R. Viswanathan of RE/Max Destiny in Elk Grove Village.
The most desirable homes face east, he said, because morning sun radiates energy and light, or north, because it is believed to invite prosperity. The southwest corner is the preferred location for the master bedroom, and the northeast corner for prayer and meditation.
Hindu buyers often move into new subdivisions so they can choose lots and floor plans, he said.
Real estate closings are scheduled according to the charts to determine the best days to launch new endeavors, he said.
One of Viswanathan's clients, Ramesh Krishnan, first considered price and then energy flow when he bought his Aurora home in 2003. The front door faces north and the space between neighboring homes is generous.
"You want to make sure that energy is not is blocked," he said. Before groundbreaking or after moving in many Hindus offer blessings or conduct housewarming ceremonies. Krishnan invited friends and family for prayers and feasting. Milk was boiled until it overflowed to signify prosperity.
The importance of living in proximity to a parochial school has lessened for some Catholics but there still are ties to various parishes, said Rev. Terence Keehan, pastor of St. Matthias and Transfiguration of Our Lord in Lincoln Square.
"Many of our parents don't live in the neighborhood, but they might work in the neighborhood," he said. "But I get people all the time who move here and want to send their children to our school [St. Matthias Transfiguration] and join our parish."
Regardless of physical proximity to the parish, Catholics will bless their new homes. Williams, the Realtor, and her family, Cape Verdean, R.I., natives, sprinkle table salt over the threshold and recite a prayer that welcomes Christ and asks to be kept safe, happy and healthy.
"We have had this tradition for over 200 years," she said. "We wouldn't think of occupying a home without salting it first."
Such desires have led a handful of developers and builders to include non-denominational Christian churches in their site plans. At West Ridge Village in Elgin, for example, the West Ridge Community Church, plus coffeehouse and community center, anchor the 100 Lennar-built town homes.
"The philosophy is to go beyond just building a physical structure and trying to create a sense of community for people," said Darren Sloniger, the church's co-pastor and a principal for Marquette Cos., which developed West Ridge. "You can only go so far with planning and architecture. A church that provides programs and facilitates groups takes that to the next level."
Young worshipers often prefer non-denominational churches because they tend to be less formal, said Bruno Bottarelli, a Marquette partner.
"We want to answer their spiritual needs by supporting a church with a younger, more hip vibe," he said.
Tyra Lewis belonged a traditional church in Chicago when she moved to West Ridge this spring to be closer to family. When she checked out the neighborhood church she was "blown away," she said, by the guitar music, sofa seating and free coffee. Now she's a regular.
"I also feel safer knowing the church is so close," she said. "People are praying for the land and the homeowners."
"It definitely swings both ways," said Sloniger, who leads services in blue jeans. "Some of our members have bought there and people have come to church after buying there."