Adventures in Housing

How becoming a landlord broadened one renter’s horizons

Maria Hollenhorst Sep 13, 2021
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Dr. Zarrish Kahn and her husband in front of their new home in Iowa City, Iowa, in June. Courtesy of Zarrish Khan
Adventures in Housing

How becoming a landlord broadened one renter’s horizons

Maria Hollenhorst Sep 13, 2021
Dr. Zarrish Kahn and her husband in front of their new home in Iowa City, Iowa, in June. Courtesy of Zarrish Khan
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Zarrish Khan, a medical doctor in Iowa City, Iowa, always dreamed of being a homeowner. In Pakistan, where she grew up, getting a mortgage is harder than in the United States.

“I put a lot of weight in buying a primary home for my family as a culmination of my American dream,” she said.

Her cousin’s death in a motorcycle accident caused her to temporarily put that dream on hold, she explained on “Marketplace” in 2019. She put the money she’d saved for a down payment into an educational fund for her cousin’s daughter. 

“Once my cousin passed away … I think I started thinking more in terms of living in terms of experiences and not in terms of things,” she said. “Instead of looking at buying a primary home for ourselves, I started looking at doing real estate investment and buying rental homes,” she said. 

Khan said she wanted to invest in rental homes to diversify her sources of income and prepare for retirement, but also because she saw a need for better rental opportunities in her city. 

“It was not very long ago that I was a student myself,” she said. “I just wanted to be a better landlord than sometimes I’ve had experience dealing with.”

Khan recalled one instance of struggling to pay rent while she was a cardio-thoracic surgery fellow in New York City. “I remember looking at that very first paycheck, and I asked myself, ‘How am I going to eat?’” she said. 

Now that she has three rental properties of her own, Khan said she has more empathy for her past landlords. 

“I know how much hard work it takes and how costly it is to be a landlord,” she said. “But I really wish that you should never have to look at your paycheck and say, ‘How am I going to eat after I pay this rent’?”

One way Khan said she saves money for her tenants is by self-managing her properties instead of paying a property manager.

“It comes with some additional headaches, because I have to be prepared for that 3 a.m. ‘faucet’s leaking’ call, but if you’ve invested in your property upfront and you’ve ensured that it’s a well-maintained property, then you don’t get a lot of those calls,” she said. 

Khan said she did eventually buy a home for her family to live in.

“As happy as I am, I also feel that this is not everything that I was here for,” she said. “I think I have a broader horizon right now.”

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