Ready to Buy Real Estate in Israel?
Some Tips to Help You Find Your Perfect Home
Part One: A Brief Overview of Israeli Housing
Nothing can be more exciting than coming home to Israel. B”H, today it is easy, just contact Nefesh b’Nefesh, pack up and get on the plane. Okay, there are some small steps in between, but making Aliyah is nothing like it was in the past, when you had to travel by boat or camel, for months at a time, risking your health and life to arrive in the Holy Land. If you come on an Aliyah flight, you need only settle into your seat, go to sleep and wake up with your teudat zehut in your hand!
Before you make Aliyah you most likely will make a pilot trip to Israel to scope out communities, schools, economic opportunities and get a sense of how it is to live in the Land. The most important decision you will make is where to live. The answer depends upon a number of factors, but this article, the first in a series, iy”H, focuses on the Israeli real estate landscape. In future articles, we hope to give you a brief overview of Israeli cities and communities and important tips for making that very important real estate purchase. So, let’s begin.
Israel is small
All of Israel is only 21,946 square kilometers! This means that no place in Israel is far away. So, if you have friends or family in Yerushalayim, but you want to live in the north, no problem. Commuting is easy!
The country is divided basically into five areas: North, Center, Jerusalem, South and the Negev.
North: Northern Israel displays gorgeous, rugged terrain and diverse topography climbing up mountain peaks, swooping into valleys, and scaling the rocky coastline. Here you will find the regions of:
- Upper and Lower Galilee
- Northern coast
- Northern valleys (Jezreel, Hula, Beit She’an and Jordan)
- Zevulan Valley
- Haifa Bay
- Golan Heights
The major populations centers are in and around Haifa, Tiberias, Afula, Safed (Tzfat), Acco, Nahariya, Beit She’an, Hadera, Carmiel, Zichron Yaakov and Kiryat Shmona. The northernmost city in Israel is Metulla.
Center: Most Israeli’s live in the Center, which includes Shomron and the Coastal Plain. Here you will find the cities of: Tel Aviv/Yaffo, Petach Tikva, Bnei Brak, Ramat Gan, Netanya, Holon, Herzlia, Hod HaSharon, Ramat HaSharon, Kfar Saba, and Hadera.
The Jerusalem area includes of course our capital city of Jerusalem, plus also its surrounding cities of: Beit Shemesh, Ramat Beit Shemesh, Givat Ze’ev, Ma’aleh Adumim, Modi’in and Kyrat Arba.
South: The south region is home to the southern coastal cities of: Ashkelon, Ashdod, Rishon LeTzion, Gedera, Rohovot, Kiryat Gat, Nes Ziona, and Kiryat Malachi.
Negev: Lots of new residential, commercial and government developments are taking shape in the Negev, a stunning region of deserts, cliffs and seas. The Negev region is home to: Be’er Sheva, the largest city in the Negev, Ofakim, Arad, Yerucham, Netivot, Eilat and Mitzpe Ramon. Within this region is the Dead Sea and Red Sea.
While the majority of Israelis choose the Center or Jerusalem regions, many find the less populated, more affordable and more scenic peripheral areas to be more attractive. If you visit these regions today, you will see a tremendous amount of new growth as more and more communities begin to dot the landscape.
Are you city or country?
Within the urban centers, you can find new and resale homes to suit every need and budget. Unlike overseas, apartment-living is the norm here and the average apartment size is much smaller than what you are used to. The typical Israeli apartment is around 120 square meters. Apartments are described by the number of rooms, which includes the total number of bedrooms and the salon, or living room. The kitchen and bathrooms are not included in the total number of rooms. So, if you see an advertisement for a 4-room apartment, this means that it has three bedrooms plus the living room. Most apartments have balconies, called a mirpeset. Some are suitable for your succah. All apartments constructed after 1991 must have a safe room, called a mamad. Do not be surprised by the number of older apartment buildings that have no elevator—the famous “walk-up” is alive and well here. Israel receives a tremendous amount of sunlight and we have learned how to harness that energy to save on utility bills. Most apartment buildings have both solar (called dude shemesh) and boiler-heated water. Some older buildings offer only heating by electricity. Air conditioners are standard, called mazgan, and depending upon where you choose to live, you will find that in the summer it is pretty much impossible to live without one.
Residential buildings are governed by a va’ad ha’bayit, or residents’ management committee. There are some older buildings that do not have a va’ad, and the residents themselves accept responsibility for maintenance and cleaning. However, where there is a va’ad, usually the building is better maintained. Your va’ad fee will cover the cost of cleaning, maintenance of elevators, if they exist, and maintenance of the building and grounds. The newer the building, and the more elaborate the amenities, the higher the va’ad ha’bayit monthly fee.
Of course, a city may not be to your liking at all. No problem, Israel also offers a number of rural options: yishuv, moshav, and kibbutz. Each community offers a different kind of communal living experience, ample land, and variety of housing in peaceful and quiet settings. The communities are organized into regional councils that have oversight over education, cultural activities and healthcare. Many rural communities are located near to cities, giving you the best of both worlds.
Moshav: Moshavim began as agricultural communities, where residents earned their income through agricultural activities such as farming or ranching. All residents received land for their home and land for farming. Today the moshav has evolved into more of a bedroom community. Residents earn their livelihoods from a variety of sources, most recently, from tourism, successfully operating very popular zimmers. Very few moshavim are engaged in agricultural businesses. On the moshav, your home and the land upon which it sits belongs to you, but the land of the moshav belongs to the state. If you wish to live on a moshav, you must pass a rigorous interview process by the receiving committee, by the regional council and also pass a state-administered psychological test.
Yishuv: A yishuv is basically a bedroom community. The main focus it to maintain the country-like feel of the setting, with only single family homes, on large lots and the same educational and cultural services you would find in the city. You can purchase land and build your own home (there are community standards) or find many second hand homes of various sizes. There are no entrance requirements or interviews.
Kibbutz: Kibbutzim helped formed the foundation of our modern state of Israel. Today, though, not many kibbutzim still operate as they once did. In general, the kibbutz is a collective, meaning that all residents share in the work of the kibbutz and in the income. There is private and communal living. Kibbutz residents own the homes, public areas and the commerce of the kibbutz. Educational, healthcare and cultural services are provided by the kibbutz. Kibbutzim today primarily make their income from tourism related activities, very few are still engaged in agriculture or manufacturing. Also, due to an aging population and lessening of popularity, many kibbutzim have opened up their membership to include new residential areas that exist somewhat separate from the original kibbutz cooperative. Potential residents must pass an interview process and conform to the norms of the kibbutz, each one having their own character. Where the kibbutz has decided to sell land to developers for the purpose of new homes, these residents are not a part of the kibbutz cooperative and do not need to pass the acceptance committee.
Hopefully, this brief overview will give you some simple tools for deciding where to buy property in Israel. Future articles, iy”H, will discuss:
- purchasing land in Israel for building and the steps involved in building your own home in Israel
- types of property registration
- the process of purchasing real estate in Israel, from within the country and from abroad
- renting a home in Israel
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