In sharp contrast to conventional wisdom, Israel's wealthiest prime minister is not one of the has-beens. It's not Ehud Barak who makes millions consulting and running the lecture circuit and who built a luxury home in Kfar Shmariyahu. Nor is it former prime minister, Finance Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, a close associate of some of the world's wealthiest Jews and who has advised several local technology companies.
Actually, it is the present premier, Ariel Sharon - the farmer from Kfar Malal - who is the wealthiest prime minister to serve Israel ever. According to an appraisal ordered by Haaretz, Sharon's primary asset, Sycamore Ranch, is now worth $11.3 million or a cool NIS 50 million. The value of the farm has risen virtually miraculously since the early 1970s, when he paid only $500,000 for it.
Sharon didn't make his fortune just from buying the farm, and it isn't his only property. The rest of his famous properties - the estate in Kfar Malal and the home in Jerusalem's Old City - are both worth more now that Sharon is prime minister. In business jargon that is called "goodwill". People will always pay more for the home where the prime minister used to live.
Sharon's ranch is not merely a ranch. It's an icon. It symbolizes Sharon the warrior, farmer and man of the land. The pair - Sharon and the farm - are almost completely identified with each other. Not for naught, the Palestinians are trying to build a rocket that can "reach the farm" and not for naught, Sharon's associates, who meet at the farm every Friday to talk strategy for the coming week, are known as the "farm forum".
The appraisal was conducted by property assessor Guy Oz, based on zoning plans from 1989, on which Sharon's late wife, Lily Sharon signed off as developer. Lily Sharon signed the plan in the name of a company called Sheep Plants for Israel. Oz also used aerial photographs, comparisons to the values of similar properties in the area and discussions with real estate sector players.
An appraisal is not exact science. The price of a special property of this sort can only really be determined when it is actually sold. Our appraiser did not have access to all the documentation on the ranch, so he assumed Sharon has a long-term lease on the land. Also, some of the land is mortgaged to Sharon family creditors, including companies owned by businessman Eliezer Fishman, so some of the proceeds of any sale of the ranch would not go to the Sharons. They would also be likely to pay a substantial tax payment, were they to sell up.
The estate includes three houses. Ariel Sharon's home was built on the foundations of the old farmhouse and includes a 14-meter water tower. Son Gilad Sharon's home is especially large and was built at a large investment. The third, smaller, house used to be home to the farm's foreman.
The farm includes 4,000 dunams, most of it zoned for agriculture. Oz valued the farmland at $2,000 per dunam, putting its value at $7.8 million. It also includes 13.7 dunams zoned residential and valued at $1 million. Building permits for the three homes were each up to 500 square meters, three stories, including large porches and swimming pools. There are also a number of agricultural structures and infrastructure such as a security system.
Oz estimates a potential buyer would pay a 20-100 percent premium for the goodwill. Apparently, saying "I live where the prime minister used to live" is worth a lot of money.
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