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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 balcony and realized it was located right over the parking lot of a 36 storey building.  When we expressed concern that we’d get constant traffic noise from the parking lot, the agent piped up:

 “ No, the building was built with 'special double glazura windows' that will keep out the noise once they are shut.” [p.s. As an aside any time an agent tells you something is special—chances are there is a problem.]

We asked the agent if we could test the effect of the special windows and she  said, “Sure”.  My husband went downstairs, got our car, and drove to the parking lot.  We closed all of the windows to the apartment. I got suspicious when I noticed that the three Belgian women who owned the apartment suddenly left without any explanation.  Sure enough, my husband honked the horn of our car from the parking lot, and the loud sound reverberated strongly throughout the apartment.  My then six year old son, looked at me in shock, pointed to the agent and said, “Mommy, she told us we wouldn’t hear anything.  How come she lied? ”

In a period of a few days we kept on hearing from a variety of agents that a given apartment was available “because the contractor had built it for his daughter, but she decided to live in another city.”  That line, we learned, in reality means the apartment is a real lemon. There almost never is a daughter. The line was used on us in regard to apartment that is on our street that hasn’t sold for over five years. The apartment was built right over some huge electric box that is probably dangerous—the "Danger High Voltage signs" seem to suggest that. A few years lafter we first saw the apartment which had still not sold--there were some vines that had been planted to cover the sign.

At another "penthouse" apartment which also had been built "for the contractor's daughter" who had mysteriously decided not to live in it our real estate agent was trying to sell us on the  "permanent view of the sea." Standing on the balcony of the apartment my husband spotted out of the corner of his eye a tractor way of in the distance.  We he asked the  real estate agent if there was going to be a new development there, and she answered no-it was nothing. Later we want back to the area and found out that that tractor was one of the first signs of an impending building developmnet of  no less than 100 new buildings that would completely and permanently have obstructed any sea view. Our rule of thumb is whenever you see a tractor, no matter how far off in the distance it seems to be, get scared.


Before making a purchase, it's a good idea to go down to the municipality and check if there are any new developments around the property you wish to buy. What looks like a quiet one way street could be scheduled to soon becoem a two way major thorough fare. An empty lot beside you will never stay empty for very long.

In our case, when I went to the municipality the clerk went into her computer and pulled up a detailed map of all of the buildings on the street on which  we were about to buy. The apartment we were considering buying was in building #19. The clerk looked on her map and pronounced that "building #19" didn't exist.[a problem that for the life of me I would never have anticipated]. I protested telling her that I had just come from there and building #19 does exist.  She looked at her map more carefully and said I was wrong--"it's not here." I answered that obviously there was a mistake  in her map. I offered to take her in a cab on her lunch hour to building #19 so she could see with her own eyes that it existed. This prompted her to call her supervisor Yossi and  together for several hours [until closing time] the two of them tried to find my non-exiting building. At the end of the day, I was told to "come back tommorrow" to see if  they had found it. That happened when I began to joke that there was an incentive for me to buy the apartment, since it was clear I'd never have to pay arnona (municipal tax) for a non-existing building.

When I returned the next day [after some difficulties because there were two municipal buildings marked 4A on the same street] they had found building19 ! 

By that time, we decided to buy the apartment--I was too exhausted to begin looking for another.



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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.