David Brent

Building a New Home in Israel

Israelis complain about real estate prices in Israel. There are two reasons for this. First, real estate in Israel is expensive. Second, Israelis like to complain.

It wasn’t easy establishing the State of Israel. It wasn’t easy building the State of Israel. It isn’t easy today. But it is possible. Dreams don’t come cheap. I am only paying in shekels. Jews before me paid in a different currency. My grandparents didn’t have a Jewish state to come to around the turn of the 20th century when they had to run away from Progroms and anti-semitism in the Eastern Europe. My grandparents came to the USA. In the USA, anti-semitism was much better. People hated Jews but didn’t want to kill them. Lech l’cha — go away from the land you were born in – this is the first commandment given to the Jewish people.  This is what our ancestors did and what we continue to do today. Baruch Hashem, the Jewish State of Israel exists and I have a place to go to – not simply to escape from.

Lech l’cha. I have reached my destination. Now it is time to build a home. I am an Israeli now, so I want to complain.

In December of 2012, my wife and I signed a contract on a new apartment near the top of Mount Carmel in Haifa. The view from the apartment is amazing. The neighborhood is quiet and friendly and centrally located. The price was outrageous. The contractor assured us that the apartment would be complete by February. Finished means something completely different in Israel than it means in the USA. A finished apartment in Israel is a shell. No cabinet work. No light fixtures. No appliances. No kitchen. No utilities. The apartment is finished when the Israeli government inspector gives the contractor something similar to what we call in the USA a certificate of occupancy. In the USA, it means that the apartment is suitable for occupancy for human beings. In Israel, it means the apartment is suitable for occupancy for camels. I understand that camels can live for weeks without fresh water.

I want to say a few words about our contractor. He is seriously a great guy. He helped us along every step of the path to building our home. He took us for a tour of his home and showed us some great ideas. He advised us in choosing cabinets and sinks and floor tiles. He answered every frantic phone call we made when we were completely confused about what needed to do no matter what time of the day we called. My wife would think nothing of calling him at 9 pm to ask him what size television he thought would be good for our bedroom. I know what size television I want in my bedroom. But according to my wife, “I don’t understand from designing”. Our contractor knows everything. Maybe she secretly plans on watching TV with him in bed at night.

etty and yossi
My Wife and My Contractor

Still, the apartment wasn’t “finished” in February. Not in March, April or May. We received the keys and signed government documents in early June. Luckily, we were under no pressure. We had time. But going month to month thinking that you are moving in a couple of weeks starts to take a toll.

In the meantime, my wife and I went furniture and appliance shopping. My wife is Israeli, and when it comes to buying things in Israel, she instructs me to keep my mouth shut. I have no idea how things work here. In the USA, the price is the price. You can’t walk into Sears and tell the salesperson that you want to pay $1500 for a refrigerator that is listed at $1999 and start haggling. The salesperson doesn’t own the store. He can’t change the price. In the USA, in order to get the best price, you go to the store, figure out what you want, and then go to the internet and buy it on Amazon or Ebay

In Israel, the salesperson doesn’t own the store either. He only acts like he does. After my wife finally decides what she wants, she sits down with the salesperson and starts the buying procedure. The first step in the procedure is getting to know each other. We share our complete family histories. We discuss our religious and political philosophies. We give advice on romantic relationships. No subject is taboo. Only after this extensive interview, can we discuss price. Discussing price goes like this:

  1. My wife asks “How much does this cost?” even though she has already seen the price tag. When the salesperson answers, my wife feigns shock and says, “So much? How can it cost so much?”
  2. My wife starts the interrogation. “What are the materials used?” “Where was it made?” “How long have you been in business?” “Can you explain where you were the night of August 12, 2011 and is there somebody who can confirm your alibi?”
  3. Finally price comes up. My wife offers to pay half of the listed price. The salesperson acts insulted. The salesperson offers a 10% discount. My wife asks what price would the salesperson give for his mother? When we finally arrive at a price, it usually also involves the salesperson coming over with his family for Shabbat dinner.

With keys to the apartment in hand and furniture and appliances on order, we started planning our moving day for three weeks in the future – which translates to a week ago. Needless to say, nothing went according to plan. For now, I am getting accustomed to living without utilities and other small items like a kitchen sink and a bed. It is like camping. And I have my view.

View from my new apartment
View from my New Apartment

I am building a home in my homeland. After my ancestors have wandered for generations, I have arrived. It is such a beautiful land. As my prime minister says, truly flowing with milk and honey and now natural gas. How I wish my grandparents were alive to see how far we Jews have come.

About the Author
David Brent is a NASA engineer with a master's and bachelor's from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology turned candy entrepreneur. He made aliya in the spring of 2013. David commutes between Israel, where his heart is, and Florida, where his business is.