Buying real estate in the Jewish state
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Buying real estate in the Jewish state

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This is the future site of Eden Hills, a private community south of Beit Shemesh.

American Jews – including many in North Jersey – are buying homes in Israel despite the faltering economy, say real estate professionals who specialize in “Anglo” clients.

“Properties have come down a bit in value and people are looking for deals and opportunities,” said Daniel Blush, co-owner of Pollack Realty in Jerusalem. “They have not shied away from buying, because Israeli real estate is still a solid investment.”

Buyers include people planning to move to Israel, planning frequent stays in Israel, or planning to be absentee landlords.

In June, Blush traveled to locales such as Toronto, Brooklyn, Staten Island, Long Island, and Teaneck to meet with potential buyers. “There seems to be a big push from Teaneck of people coming to Israel,” he said. “Many of them are in the 50 plus age category, who have children living here already and want to live in Jerusalem affordably.”

The project he represented that most interested this group was the new Agnon 11 complex bordering the San Simon and Old Katamon neighborhoods, he said.

Two Englewood-area families, who did not wish to be identified because of privacy concerns, told The Jewish Standard about their new vacation apartments in upscale, heavily English-speaking Jerusalem neighborhoods.

“We are not making aliyah, but we have a lot of relatives there, and getting an apartment in Israel was in the back of our minds for a while,” said “Gloria.” “We wanted to be in Jerusalem, where we know people. We probably could do better elsewhere; in this particular neighborhood, prices were high.”

Gloria and her husband did not use an agent. While visiting Israel, they walked into the sales office of a new luxury complex, and bought on paper. With the help of a lawyer recommended by the builder, they closed a few months ago and will soon take another trip to choose fixtures and tiles.

“Like anywhere else, you have to shop around,” Gloria said. “You have to look at your details, and if you need to, get all your documents translated.”

Another couple searched the Internet for available apartments and e-mailed queries to real estate agents. They flew over to see the flat that their daughter, a Jerusalem resident, chose from the possibilities. They expect the purchase to be finalized in September.

“We didn’t want to buy something in a project still being built so as not to be in a waiting game,” said “Evelyn,” who added that the entire purchasing process was “amazingly easy.”

Evelyn and her husband worked with Gold Realty, one of several agencies that caters to Anglos both in language and in regions they represent. Advertising in English publications such as the Jerusalem Post and the Orthodox Union Israel Center’s weekly “Torah Tidbits,” such agencies often show properties in popular areas near Jerusalem as well, including Beit Shemesh, Efrat, Modi’in, and Ma’aleh Adumim.

“The first step is finding the right area based on the needs of the person,” Blush said. “Is it long-term? Do they need to move soon or can they wait for a better deal? Do they need an elevator? Do they want to live near a shul? From there, we e-mail and talk on the phone in more specifics. Then we suggest a lawyer and help with acquiring a mortgage and then they come here to see the property in person and meet the lawyer and builder or owner.”

Blush said that prices, technical specs, and floor plans are easily obtained over the Internet, and buyers don’t have to plan more than one trip. Closing a deal on an existing property can take under six weeks, depending on the lawyer’s timetable.

“I had a client who saw a house in Ma’aleh Adumim, sat right down with the owner, and wrote a [deposit] check for $5,000,” Blush said. “It took another month to finish the contract.”

Beyond Jerusalem

Former North Jersey residents have made their homes in many other parts of Israel, from Meitar near Beersheva in the south, to Rehovot and Yad Binyamin in the west, to Zichron Yaacov in the north, to Mitzpeh Yericho in the east.

Central Israel is the focus of FAIRE (First Israeli Real Estate) Fund, an Israeli-American residential housing initiative. Former Ambassador Zalman Shoval and real estate developer Shlomo Grofman recently teamed up to market a luxury Ra’anana apartment complex (www.sternhadar.com) built “in accordance with American design style” under the FAIRE program.

With the support of the Russell Berrie Foundation in Teaneck, Nefesh B’Nefesh launched “Go North” (www.gonorth.org.il) last December to encourage Anglo immigrants to consider the less densely populated Galilee and Golan areas.

“Go North will enable modern-day pioneers to fulfill their dreams by moving to a region of Israel that is less Westernized and needs the skills, talents, and energy they will bring,” said foundation president Angelica Berrie. The program provides significant financial grants and other forms of assistance geared to ease immigrant families’ professional, educational, and social transition into northern communities. Two families from Montclair are taking advantage of the program this summer.

Chana Kristal, the only English-speaking real-estate agent in Caesarea, said that mostly South African and British immigrants make up the growing Anglo population of this northern coastal city. She would welcome Americans to the mix.

Caesarea is a largely secular town known for its golf course and country club, but it has a new Orthodox synagogue and has started attracting fervently religious vacationers from England and Belgium. Holiday apartments start at $180,000, while duplex cottages and garden apartments run $400,000 to $500,000. Beachfront mansions can cost up to several million dollars.

“Land here costs $1 million per dunam [a quarter acre], $2 million near the sea,” said Kristal.

The non-profit organization Amana (www.amana.co.il) aids Americans interested in new housing mostly in Judea and Samaria (the west bank). Amana spokesman Alon Farbstein, who spoke at a housing fair in February 2007 at Teaneck’s Cong. Bnai Yeshurun, said its most popular project is in the Gush Etzion bloc of settlements south of Jerusalem. Units range from about $175,000 to $250,000.

The housing fair drew some 20 pro-Palestinian protesters and made national news.

The Land Authority

Almost all land in Israel is not actually sold, but rather leased for 49-year stretches from the government, in accordance with the biblical Jubilee system. However, the Bible is not the only reason for this arrangement.

“Israel won all its wars against the Arabs, but there was a certain fear that what they couldn’t do on the battlefield they could do by purchasing land,” said Jake Leibowitz, designer and builder of Eden Hills, an upcoming private community south of Beit Shemesh. “The Israel Land Authority was set up to prevent that possibility, but it’s a cumbersome bureaucracy.”

On Aug. 3, the Knesset approved a controversial land-reform package slated to privatize up to 800 square kilometers of zoned parcels for sale to Israeli citizens.

Leibowitz believes his 250-acre project marks the first time a private builder has actually purchased land from the ILA. It took him about seven years to do so, in the process losing some of his original depositors.

“The financial graveyard is littered with projects destroyed by the ILA,” said Leibowitz, a former residential builder in New York and New Jersey. “But we held out for this land in the heart of Israel.”

Leibowitz recently broke ground on the 452-unit environmentally “green” Eden Hills project, which is to include townhouse apartments, one-family townhouses, semi-attached private homes, and villas. More than 100 units have been spoken for, primarily by Orthodox Anglos seeking the kind of spacious suburban community they’re coming from.

Leibowitz said he views the drawn-out and costly process he’s endured as merely a challenge to meet, because “dwelling in this wonderful country is nothing less than a gift from God.”

“Sadly, too few of us remember that not long ago, so many of our people would have given anything and everything for the privilege to come home to Israel,” said Leibowitz, the son of Holocaust survivors.

“And today, when it takes so little to make the move, incredibly few do. So I figured, if the thing that kept certain people from making aliyah was a beautiful house in a lovely eco-community with like-minded neighbors, then I am happy to build it and presumably they will come.”

For information on buying a home in Israel, visit the Kehillot Tehilla Website (www.kehillottehilla.com, call Paysi Golomb, director, at +972-2-652-2612, or e-mail paysi@tehilla.com.

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