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Rural communities with a rich historical heritage dot the Jezreel Valley, which is currently attracting mainly residents of Haifa and the surrounding Krayot suburbs. Prices in the valley are relatively low compared to other rural suburbs, and a large variety of properties can be found there. The region is a 75-minute drive from Tel Aviv, or two hours during rush hour. The planned extension of the Trans-Israel Highway should improve this, however.

99 years old

The communities of Alonei Abba and Beit Lehem Haglilit, for example, sit on the hills east of Kiryat Tivon. They trace their roots to the German Templers who lived in Israel from the late 19th century until their expulsion during World War II. Alonei Abba was founded as an agricultural settlement named Waldheim in 1907. After the expulsion of the Germans and the capture of the community during the 1948 War of Independence, it was resettled as a semi-cooperative moshav. At the beginning of the decade, economic difficulties led the moshav to sell its lands to a developer who built a neighborhood of duplexes.

Recently, half-dunam (1/8-acre) lots were tagged at $115,000, a figure considered very attractive. Buyers thronged to the site, and all the lots were sold very quickly. The new neighborhood is now being developed.

In the old section of Alonei Abba, on the other hand, the houses sit on full-dunam lots, but the buildings need to be renovated. As a result, the price differences between the various sections are not as great as one might expect. Properties in the old section fetch $300,000-$400,000, while five-year-old duplexes in the newer section sell for up to $300,000.

Beit Lehem Haglilit is the more upscale of the two communities due to its large concentration of Templer buildings. This moshav was founded in 1906 by members of the German colony in Haifa, and is replete with original stone buildings from that period. In recent years the moshav members recognized the buildings' great potential, and tourism is gradually outpacing agriculture as the moshav's main economic activity. Guesthouses, a dairy barn that offers family tours, an herb farm, restaurants and other tourism-oriented businesses have opened in the last few years. The real estate market has also perked up, as awareness of the unique nature of this place spreads.

"This awareness has led to increased demand for properties in the past decade," says real estate appraiser Avishay Ziv, "but the small supply has kept total sales low."

There are several different types of properties in Beit Lehem Haglilit. The most expensive are two- to four-dunam estates in the residential area, where the Templer buildings are. Agricultural land backs the residential neighborhood. Estates with regular houses are valued at between $750,000 and $1,000,000, while a Templer house on the property can increase its worth by tens of percentage points.

An empty lot in the expansion neighborhood is worth $150,000 to $200,000, while a built-up lot can fetch $350,000 to $500,000.

Zionist history

Nahalal and Kfar Yehoshua, located between Kiryat Tivon and Migdal Haemek, are a pair of moshavim with strong Zionist history. They are considered the aristocrats of the valley.

Nahalal, which lies east of Kfar Yehoshua, was founded in 1921 and is best-known for its unique, circular shape: The 80 or so wedge-shaped estates fan out of the community's center. The moshav is bounded by a peripheral road, and each estate measures about two dunams, backed by agricultural land.

Despite its historical significance, Nahalal is not in high demand among home buyers.

"Its history has not made this place any better for living in than other places," says a local realtor. "There are no special buildings, no vistas, and the climate in the heart of the valley is not always hospitable."

The estates range in value from $400,000 to $650,000.

Kfar Yehoshua is also not a high-demand location. It was founded in 1927 and named after its founder, Yehoshua Henkin. The moshav is laid out in the shape of an L, and it, like Beit Lehem Haglilit, has several types of properties: estates, priced similar to those in Nahalal, semi-detached houses in the expansion neighborhood valued at $250,000 to 350,000, and lots with older houses tagged at around $250,000.

Just residential

This part of the valley also has three non-agricultural communities, each built under different circumstances. North of Route 75 between Kiryat Tivon and Migdal Haemek, on the hill above Nahalal junction, is Tamrat, the first residential rural community in the Jezreel Valley. It was built about 25 years ago in response to the housing shortage facing the moshavims' second generation. Tamrat was settled by many couples from the surrounding moshavim and became a local symbol of prestige.

During the first stage of its establishment, land was distributed generously. The first residents received 1.1- to 1.3-dunam plots, which shrunk to 380 to 880 square meters as the community developed. The families that settled here built homes measuring 200 to 300 square meters (2,160 to 3,240 square feet).

Meir Pelles, of Re/max's Jezreel Valley office, says Tamrat's prestige and the slow marketing of land made it almost impossible for young couples to move in after a while, and the population there is now mostly middle-aged.

"The elementary school there closed three years ago for lack of pupils, and the number of preschools has declined," says Pelles.

Property prices in Tamrat range from $300,000 to $400,000, but very few homes are put up for sale.

Givat Ella is another rural residential community, founded in 1988 and expanded in 1990. It is located north of the Nahalal-Tamrat junction. The lots there measure 700 to 900 square meters and homes measure 200 to 270 square meters. Properties sell for $250,000 to $300,000.

The nearby rural residential community of Shimshit is close as the crow flies, but accessible only by Route 79 (the Shfaram-Nazareth road). Shimshit is the largest, youngest and most active of the communities in the area. It was founded six years ago with 110- to 300-square-meter homes on 300- to 500-square-meter lots. Prices currently range from $200,000 to $300,000, depending on the size. The most popular homes are 150 square meters, priced at $225,000 to $250,000.

Pelles and Ziv believe a great many people are not yet familiar with the Jezreel Valley. When this changes, property prices will surge, as happened at moshavim in the center of the country. The increases first affected less expensive properties, but this is mainly because few of the more expensive properties on the market are viewed by buyers who can afford them.

"Most of the newcomers are young people looking for properties in the $250,000 range," says Pelles. "Older, more established couples have not come here yet, so many of the higher priced properties may have to wait for years before they sell."

This could turn the Jezreel Valley into a big real estate opportunity, which could take off with the completion of segment 18 of the Trans-Israel Highway (from the Iron interchange to Elyakim, and from there to Yokneam). This will shorten the trip to Tel Aviv by as much as 40 minutes, making this area more attractive to residents of the central region.

"It probably will," says Pelles. "I would like to hope so. People have come here from Hod Hasharon and expressed an interest in properties in the valley. These were the 'right kind' of people, seeking to upgrade their housing, with budgets of $300,000 to $500,000, who view the conditions that will develop here after this area is connected to the Trans-Israel Highway as a good reason to buy their dream home."