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By Rhonda Spivak,posted July 3, 2011

Several years ago, when my husband and I  bought property in Israel, we encountered more than a few real estate agents and collected many rather humourous "ONLY IN ISRAEL STORIES" which all have one theme: If you are looking to invest in or buy  property in Israel, do not trust anything your real estate agent tells you, and verify everything yourself.  You can never be too careful.

In searching for our  apartment,  my husband and I used not one, not two, not three, but at least ten real estate agents, because we learned that while  virtually all  Israeli real estate agents misled us  about the property they were trying to sell , they were all  happy to tell us about the hidden defects of the properties their competitors had listed. Let me share with you a few experiences:


One of our first encounters with a real estate agent was with Jeffrey [not his real name], a smooth talking  jovial Israeli “chap” who was originally from England.  He showed us a condominium which he told us was exclusively listed with him, which meant that only he could show us the apartment, and we could buy it only through him. 

It turned out that my children, ages 6 and 7 at the time, ran out on the balcony and brushed their hands on its blue wall tile, and all of a sudden hundreds of little tiles began falling off the wall (to my children’s delight and to Jeffrey’s horror). 

Jeffrey then had to fess up to us that the condominium owners of that building were suing the tile contractor for defective work, which was an immediate turn-off. [As an aside ,five years later as I passed that building the titles were still continuing to fall off, never having been fixed]

Two days  after we saw the apartment with Jeffrey , a different agent from another real estate company, a tall swanky Israeli, named Shimon, took us back to the same building which we recognized and tried to take us up to the very same condominium.  My husband said, “Wait a minute, we just saw this apartment two days ago and were told it was exclusively listed with Jeffrey.”

Shimon knew Jeffrey and insisted, “He doesn’t have any exclusive listing.” Shimonr then quoted us the price for the same apartment which was $50,000 U.S. dollars less than the price Jeffrey had given us!

Our jovial Jeffrey had clearly tried to swindle us out of $50,000 dollars in less than an hours work. [Nice try, Jeffrey.]


Our experience with Jeffrey opened our eyes to the fact that in Israel, unlike in Canada, there is no written “fact sheet” that real estate agents give to prospective purchasers that lists price, dimensions of the property, type of listing, etc.

This means that real estate agents have lots of opportunity to outright distort relevant facts without anyone easily being able to catch them in these distortions.

In the case of new condominium projects there is a sheet given to the prospective purchaser that contains the separate dimensions of the rooms, but almost never gives the total overall dimensions for the condominium.

On one occasion, my husband and I  asked a contractor, who repeatedly told us that the interior of his condominium was 175 square metres,  to show us how he arrived at that calculation.  We calculated the total of all of the room dimensions to be 140 not 175 square metres, and chuckled with each other as the contractor pulled out his calculator and was unable to reach more than 133 square metres.


Another real estate agent,  Sonya [not her real name], tried to sell us a condominium on the 14th floor, which appeared as if it was going to have a beautiful view of the sea. The construction for that building and neighboring buildings was underway.

We asked Sonya how high the surrounding buildings were going to be.  She answered quickly, “twelve floors high”, thereby making it seem that if we bought on the fourteenth floor we’d be able to get a panoramic view over the top of the buildings around us.

Shortly, after Sonya left, we drove back to the construction site and asked one of the workers of the next door building how high it was going to be. “Sixteen floors,” he answered. “Are you sure?,” I asked again.  “Of course, I’m sure.” His friend came over and nodded his head in agreement.  Contrary to what Sonya told us, if we bought on the 14th floor, our view would have been completely obstructed by the neighbouring higher apartment.


In Israel,  the golden rule “Love thy neighbor as thyself”, usually means that a person knows as much about his neighbour’s property as he does about his own. Absolutely everyone has something to say about his neighbour’s property, and you can learn very valuable information this way.  All you have to do is knock on the doors of the neighbours when the real estate agent isn’t around. One neighbour in a building we were considering told us that the building had been repeatedly broken into over the last year, something that our  real estate agent Jonny would never have mentioned.

If a given neighbour doesn’t know a piece of information, they can usually refer you to the building’s self-appointed busybody who will be only too happy to help you (and remember there is no such thing in Israel as a building without a building busybody). It is also extremely common in Israel for everyone to ask their neighborus how much they paid for their property, and by talking to people you can usually find out how much the most recent condominiums in the same building were sold for.

If you can’t find someone who knows all of the comparable prices, ask the building janitor!

In fact our very first day in our new apartment after we bought it, the building  janitor knocked on the door.  He introduced himself and then asked, “How much did you pay for this apartment? I replied, "Why, is someone interested in buying an apartment in this building?  “No,” he answered. “Not at all”, he said, "I just wanted to know." So I decided to tell him. “Too much,” he said.


Israel is a very NOISY society, [ I am reminded of an article in an Israeli newspaper where recently a couple in  Holon outside Tel-Aviv was arrested after neighbours complained they were too loud while having sex.] You couldn’t make that one up, could you? 

It’s a good idea to notice where your potential condominium/home is located in reference to major highways, parking lots, commercial centers, etc, and it is worth checking out plans for future traffic developments in the area.

One second floor apartment with a beautiful view looked like a real find until my husband looked down from the balco

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Rhonda Spivak, Editor

Publisher: Spivak's Jewish Review Ltd.

Opinions expressed in letters to the editor or articles by contributing writers are not necessarily endorsed by Winnipeg Jewish Review.