Buying a home in Israel is quite an adventure. It took us several scouting trips discovering what you do and don’t get for your money and a “close call” before committing to a property. We went in with the attitude that we were investing in our collective family soul, not considering our home as an investment property.
We needed to decide what we were looking for. We knew we wanted to live in Jerusalem and had a general idea as to which neighborhood. Our intention was this was going to be a second home, not a holiday, twice a year or rental property. These are important distinctions, and you need to build/furnish accordingly.
Our Wish List
- Live near friends
- New construction
- Low/mid-rise building
- Three bedrooms (Four-room apartment)
- One level
- Indoor parking
- Penthouse/large terrace
Several years before buying our current home we hired a highly recommended realtor. We were considering buying “on paper,” pre-construction. This realtor, we discovered, was not well-versed in buying pre-construction. After a bit of drama and frustration we walked away (that is another post).
The next time, we tried two realtors, giving each one our list. We viewed old, recently remodeled and new construction apartments, all in range of our desired neighborhood. One realtor was American born and the other was Israeli. We found the American aggressive. At the end of the day she seemed annoyed we did not like anything and suggested we buy one of the apartments. We could always flip it in a few years, (huh)? The Israeli had a laid back attitude (concierge quality) and did not rush us to buy. We are still friends to this day and he manages our home.
Does size matter? Living in the most spiritual city in the world is expensive. We needed to downscale our square footage expectations. Square foot/meter prices in Jerusalem are similar to Manhattan. If you want to live in Mamilla or Crown David, the real estate prices are in line with Park Avenue. Our Chicago area home is three times the size of our Jerusalem home, but equal in value. After spending time in our Jerusalem home, we realized how much less we actually need. Our apartment came with an unusually large garden (extremely rare in Jerusalem). We spend as much time as possible in our magic garden.
Old or new? It was incredibly helpful to see a variety of homes. We concluded that we did not want to buy an old home and renovate (the process is fraught with hazards), or buy something newly renovated (questionable quality of workmanship). Older buildings typically do not have elevators or parking and the lobbies are run down. If you remodel your apartment you are surrounded by older units, some of which will be renovated, some never. If/when the other units get renovated, you are subject to construction debris, dumpsters and noise for years. Raising money from the neighbors in an attempt to add an elevator or beautify a lobby renovation is nearly impossible.
New construction has challenges as well. Never buy “on paper” pre-construction. On paper is enticing: developers sell units deeply discounted to get cash upfront. Sometimes builders go out of business during construction or do not give you what was promised. It typically takes five years to finish a building from the “on paper” stage, and requires patience.
Buying when the building is underway or newly finished is ideal. We bought the unfinished shell of our unit as the developer was completing our complex. He wanted to finish it himself, but we took the keys and said, “No thank you.” We wanted to pick our team, “attempting to have control” over the buildout of our home. Our neighbor did not oversee her unit and walked in to find the kitchen was not what she ordered.
Our apartment is in a mid-rise building. When we bought, there were height restrictions on new buildings. Ours was built into a hillside facing a valley. From the street side there are four stories; from the valley, eight (clever shenanigan/loophole). Now there are areas zoned for high-rises along Derech Hebron for example, with multiple high-rise buildings sprouting up.
Tip… Israel is Seinfeld (Seinfeld was launched 30 years ago this week!). A sense of humor is helpful if you want to enjoy the process and your home.
Never assume anything!