"In a beautiful valley between vineyards and fields, stands a tower, five stories tall. Who lives in this tower?"
This opening sentence of Leah Goldberg's classic Hebrew children's story "Apartment for Rent" has become a reality of late. More and more apartments in high-density housing complexes in rural and agricultural communities are on the market, giving frustrated city-dwellers an opportunity to realize their dream of living closer to nature.
Although some people choose a new home in the expansion neighborhoods of kibbutz or moshav agricultural communities, these have drawbacks that make it difficult for many families to integrate. Sometimes the prices are too high, and there are screenings by acceptance committees before a house can be purchased.
Anyone who is not interested in or unable to join such communities, or does not have the money to realize the dream of a house with a garden and a red-tiled roof, surrounded by green fields, can now consider the condominiums under construction and being marketed in a few moshavim and rural towns throughout the country.
To attract buyers, developers are trying to design buildings that are somewhat reminiscent of the rustic surroundings.
"The apartment buildings in Karkur are trimmed with red roofing tiles between the stories, symbolizing the dream of living in a moshav," says Dorit Sadan, marketing vice president of Shikun Ovdim, which is currently building 480 housing units in Moshav Talmei Menashe, near Moshav Nir Zvi and Rishon Letzion.
"We avoided the box shape and instead built terraced apartments with huge balconies so that even people who live up in an apartment can enjoy the outdoors, the fresh air and greenery. The complex also has spacious public spaces," says Avi Maor, a partner and marketing vice president for HMG Israel, Hanan Maor Developing, which is also building an apartment complex in Talmei Menashe.
"From a marketing point of view," says Maor, "we have focused on the unique location, in a moshav, and have featured the book 'Apartment for Rent' on billboards and on our Web site to emphasize the specialness of the project."
Maor notes that the main street running through the neighborhood will be named after Goldberg, whose book has become a marketing icon and a real estate phenomenon.
Similar to the expansions granted to the kibbutzim, many rural communities returned agricultural lands to the Israel Lands Administration for money. The ILA then marketed parcels of those lands to developers, who are now building large residential neighborhoods inside moshav boundaries.
"The state decided that between the cities in the center of the country there should be rural development areas with maximum land use," says Maor. "In the future no more permits will be granted for such high-density projects, so those already approved will be the only ones."
The pioneering kibbutz to bring rural life to the city was Ramat Rahel, next to Jerusalem, where some 1,000 housing units were built in the 1990s. At that time there was an urgent need for additional housing in Jerusalem due to the huge waves of immigrants from the former Soviet Union. The rural residential complexes currently being built are mainly in the greater central region, within an hour of Tel Aviv. In Moshav Ahisamah, near Lod, for example, 2,500 housing units are being built, with another 1,326 in nearby Moshav Matzliach, and 876 apartments are under construction in Talmei Menashe.
"The idea is to enable young couples to live in a moshav," explains Sadan. "For many, this is the first apartment they are buying. They cannot afford a fully detached house in a moshav, but they want the rural living experience. Thus we are expanding the population that can realize the moshav dream. The apartments we are building are spacious and larger than what's available for the same price in Ramat Gan, for example."
Even so, a four-room apartment in the Talmei Menashe complex starts at NIS 860,000 - a bit more than $200,000. Five-room apartments start at NIS 940,000. "A house costs a lot more," says Sadan. "We recently sold a house there for $480,000."
Shikun Ovdim is selling the complex in stages, and is in no hurry, because the value of the land has climbed by 60 percent. "When we bought the land," recalls Sadan, "its price reflected a cost of $25,000 per apartment. Today that figure has risen to $40,000."
Sources at Shikun Ovdim believe this price will rise even more.
Most of the apartments built in the rural neighborhoods have four or five rooms, keeping with the needs of the potential buyers interested in living there. A skyline of tall buildings is not something one expects to see in rural communities, but the developers and marketers say the moshavim are actually encouraging the high-density construction.
"The complex in Kfar Yona strengthens the village, bringing in good quality people who pay local taxes and rejuvenate the community," says sales agent Tomer Ohev-Zion.