Trans-Israel Boost

The highway is starting to affect property prices in its environs, but in many cases, the importance attributed to the road's existence is excessive.

A couple from Ra'anana wanted a ground-floor apartment, but the city was too pricey for them. Instead, they chose a $250,000 house in Mazkeret Batya, due to its proximity to Highway 6, which means a short commute to Ra'anana. To what degree does this couple represent a new trend in real estate?

Haaretz has found evidence that the highway is starting to affect property prices in its environs, but in many cases, the importance attributed to the road's existence is excessive.

A road means access. Israel is small, yet many places remain remote, mainly towns east of the coast and in the far north and south. Highway 5, which runs from the Glilot Junction on the coast to Ariel, made Rosh Ha'ayin more accessible; the Ayalon Highway improved access to Tel Aviv from Rishon Letzion in the south and Herzliya in the north.

Dramatic increase in demand

Highway 6 improved access to many places, but in a limited fashion, between north and south. It did nothing to improve the entry to Tel Aviv, for instance. (See chart below: Highway 6 is in blue. Red-dotted routes are new access roads, yellow-red dotted routes are planned access roads. Gray represents existing roads.)

But is the highway helping boost property values along its route? The answer to that question depends on the town - and on contractors. Some think it matters, others do not.

Kfar Yona, east of Netanya, began to flourish when the highway arose. Some say that is because of its proximity to the Nitzanei Oz intersection. Is that true?

"That's one explanation," nodded Eli Bitan, marketing manager for Peretz Boneh Hanegev, which is building a project in the town. "A lot of buyers live in the Sharon, work in Ra'anana and use the highway. We also direct them to reach our project from the Trans-Israel Highway" - Highway 6 - "to show them how easy it is." Employees with company cars usually foist the cost onto employers, as Highway 6 is a toll road, Israel's only one.

Heftziba marketing manager Udi Harari agreed: "Kfar Yona is a classic example of a town in which demand rose dramatically upon being connected to Highway 6."

But agent Ya'akov Bilu of Amital Assets disagreed completely: "Most of the new buyers in Kfar Yona come from the Sharon, but they get no benefit from proximity to the Trans-Israel Highway because it actually lengthens their road to work. The only ones benefiting are those who work in Jerusalem and the south. Anybody who has to cross Highway 5 en route to work via the Kassem Junction runs into the same old traffic jams, and he has to pay for the pleasure, too."

Highway or separation fence?

What triggered the boom in Kfar Yona, then? Bilu knows: "It has nothing to do with the Trans-Israel Highway. It's the low prices and a new neighborhood of the Army Association, which increased awareness of the town. People from the Sharon look for cheap housing with gardens and find Kfar Yona."

Not far from Kfar Yona is the community settlement of Bat Hefer, which is right by the highway. At the time, its residents fiercely opposed construction of the highway, citing the damage it would do them.

The route was slightly changed, but Bilu said that there is a noise nuisance.

"Prices here did not drop because of the highway, except during the public protest, when demand did drop," he related. "Again, few people here use the highway. Out of ten cars stopping at the traffic light leading to the Trans-Israel Highway, nine turn to Beit Lid and only one gets onto the highway. That attests that demand for housing in Bat Hefer has nothing to do with the Trans-Israel Highway."

Alfei Menashe, a settlement in the territories, is east of Qalqilyah and connects to the Trans-Israel Highway via Highway 55. Housing Ministry data shows that from January to September 2003, not one new apartment was sold there. From October to December 2003, 24 were sold.

Ran Ben-Avraham of Z.M.H. Hammerman, which is building the Amirei Nof project in Alfei Menashe, attributed the sales to the highway's construction - and to completion of the separation fence in the area. Both factors together suddenly created real demand.

Which had more effect, the road or the fence, which was built because of the intifada, which deterred many from living in the territories? Ben-Avraham does not know, but he believes the road was crucial.

His company began building the Amirei Nof project only after Highway 6 was in place, which in itself attests to the road's importance, he noted. Until it was there, Alfei Menashe was cut off from the rest of Israel. But suddenly, it was right next to a major artery.

Rosh Ha'ayin also suddenly flourished in recent years, but agent Dov Vitelson of DVM shrugged off any relationship to the Trans-Israel Highway. The road "mainly improves access from north to south," he said. "Rosh Ha'ayin is in the center, and that geographic location is the source of the interest, not the road. I don't think demand for housing increased because of the highway."

Why are builders so much more ardent about the highway than agents? "The highway affected the contractors more than the market," shrugged one agent. "Companies have been buying land in remote areas and building there, and their entire marketing is based on the Trans-Israel Highway.

After all that, you can't expect them to say that its influence isn't great. One of the guiding principles for buying a house in Israel is proximity to work. In my opinion, the Trans-Israel Highway didn't change that."

Any contractor can dream of selling apartments 60 kilometers from the job, connected by a highway. Lots of luck, he concluded.