The World's Quietest Neighbors

What would you pay for an apartment with a graveyard view?

"I still have plenty of time before I go there," is what most people when they discover that the gorgeous balcony of the apartment they're cruising to be overlooks a graveyard. But urban sprawl means that cemeteries, once located far from residential areas, have become a common sight from residential windows and balconies.

How do the buyers, not to mention the owners, of such properties regard the view? How can builders sell homes like that? Does the market factor in the view of a graveyard as a drawback which would justify a reduced price?

That's a yes to the last question.

In the words of the home-price guide editor Levi Yitzhak, "There are people who wouldn't move to live near a graveyard even if you gave them the flat for free. On the other hand, there are those who are completely untroubled by a graveyard and see it as a quiet place. But there are a lot more of the first group. A graveyard in any case is viewed as an irritant that decreases the value of a flat, in proportion to how close the property is to it and how active the graveyard is, Yitzhak said.

"Contractors marketing new developments in areas near a graveyard usually sell the apartments at a substantial discount," Yitzhak continued. "Of course they won't give any information on the extent of the discount and make an effort to completely obscure this proximity because they know how much it will affect the value of the apartments. The architects also attempt to obscure the cemetery, and situate the buildings and windows so that the view overlooking the graves will be minimal. They generally build a big wall and plant dense undergrowth and do whatever possible to avoid living cheek by jowl with the dead. But to make it disappear altogether isn't possible, and the price of apartments adjacent to the cemetery is 15% to 17% below other apartments in the building," Yitzhak explained.

The children ask questions

"Despite the taint attached to living across the street from a graveyard, these apartments have the advantage that no one will ever build in front of them," comments Erez Cohen, chairman of the Real Estate Appraisers Association in Israel. Anywhere else you live in the danger of a skyscraper going up across the street, he says.

Cohen estimates that the gap in prices between buildings in the front row overlooking a graveyard and apartments that do not face the graveyard can be 10%.

Yael Feldman bought an apartment in the Em Hamoshavot neighborhood in Petach Tikva from Gindi Holdings after she was offered a substantial bonus on an apartment on Rafael Eitan Street with a view of the adjacent cemetery: "They offered me a four-room apartment on the seventh floor, facing the graveyard, or on the first floor, not facing the graveyard, for NIS 950,000. Usually the difference between the first floor and the seventh is around NIS 100,000. I prefer living on the first floor. I am glad I didn't buy across from the graveyard, because when you buy it on paper you don't realize how close it is," Feldman said.

Ofer Revivo, manager of the Tal Real Estate agency in Em Hamoshavot, selling an apartment overlooking a cemetery is no simple task and can take much longer than the average sale.

"The companies deliberately hold their sales conferences not in the area, and far from the graveyard," Revivo said. "To this day we haven't sold all the apartments that face the graveyard in the development on Rafael Eitan Street, which is already occupied. The main disadvantage of these apartments is that nearly every buyer has a deceased relative, and their children look at the graveyard and ask questions," he says.

Festivities into the night

"Take, for instance, the cemetery in Givatayim," Levi says. "The city is built for the most part around the high-class graveyard of Nahalat Yitzhak. Funerals hardly ever take place in there because it's been full for ages. Nevertheless, the grave of one rabbi there has become popular in recent years, and today the neighbors have trouble sleeping through the noise of the festivities. As a result, prices of apartments on Enzo Sereni and Halamed Heh streets nearby are much affected by proximity to the graveyard," Levis said.

Dr. Rani Reuveni, who immigrated to Israel from the United States two years ago, lives on nearby Taiber street, in an apartment he inherited from his grandparents. The balcony faces the cemetery, but Reuveni says that most of the time he has no complaints.

"I like living in this apartment. It is quiet and kind of pastoral here. My grandfather and grandmother lived here, as did my parents, and it never bothered any of us. When I get up in the morning I hear the birds chirping, and that's wonderful," Reuveni says.

During memorial services or the rare funeral - every few years, someone who has purchased a plot in advance is buried at Nahalat Yitzhak - prayers and weeping may be heard. "I actually like listening to the prayers because I come from the United States and for me it's kind of special and new," Reuveni says.

But not everyone is drawn to the pastoral atmosphere of the cemetery. According to Zeev Weiner, the Re/Max Premium franchisee for Givatayim, the Reuveni family has approached contractors to discuss possibilities for the building, which has only two tenants at present, but they all rejected the idea because of the proximity to the cemetery.

"Every builder who saw the graveyard said that he didn't think the project would be economically viable. The average property on the street you could sell in two weeks to two months, while a property overlooking a cemetery can stay on the market six months or more," Reuveni said.

According to Weiner, the cemetery has a significant impact on the real estate market for the street. "Sales figures from the tax authorities indicate that in the past two years, on the even-numbered side of the street, which doesn't face the graveyard, nearly 30 properties were sold at an average price of NIS 16,000 to NIS 18,000 per square meter. On the odd-numbered side of the street, which 'enjoys' the view of the graveyard, there was not even one sale in the last two years. Two years ago, when there were sales in the street, the price fluctuated around NIS 12,000 per square meter. In 2005, the owners of a property at 33 Taiber St., knowing they wouldn't be able to get the maximum value from selling the property for residential purposes, sold it for use as a synagogue," Weiner said.

Haifa: The sea trumps the cemetery

Another cemetery neighbor is Dana, who is in the process of selling her apartment on Shlomtzion Hamalka Street in Haifa's Carmelia neighborhood. "When we came to see the apartment I didn't know it overlooked a graveyard. If I had known I wouldn't have come at all, and that's why I am happy I didn't know - I would have missed out on this apartment. People who rule it out in advance are liable to miss out on an apartment that might actually suit them. Anyone who comes into my home and walks over to the balcony doesn't leave it for ten minutes, because of the breathtaking view of the sea. The graveyard is quite far away and isn't terribly obtrusive," Dana says.

"People who are bothered by it simply won't come, that's why I tell them in advance about the graveyard," says Re/Max Citi Haifa franchisee Shlomi Avihu. "It's mainly an emotional matter. People with a religious sensibility or who have lost someone close tend to be more repelled. But there are people who aren't bothered by a graveyard and they enjoy both the below-market price and the unobstructed view."

They'll never build across from my home

Rishonim Street in Kfar Sava was built across from the Nordau cemetery a decade ago. The Rishonim neighborhood is considered one of the most desirable addresses for young families in the town. Shlomit puts it this way: "We live in a fifth and sixth floor duplex on Rishonim Street. I always said I wouldn't live near a graveyard but for some reason, a year and a half after my father passed away I felt that this way I would be closer to him. All that revulsion from a graveyard is beyond me these days," Shlomit says.

"Actually, because there is a graveyard we have the benefit of wonderful air quality and an unobstructed view, and we know they'll never build in front of our house. We have a lot of parties on our balcony and if we don't tell people the balcony is across from a graveyard they never know it at all. I know people are always looking for apartments to buy in this neighborhood."

According to Shlomi Reuven, a real estate consultant with Re/Max One in Kfar Sava, there are several streets overlooking Nordau cemetery such as Rishonim, Ruppin and Ha'reut. "Ninety percent of older people find a graveyard disturbing, and when they get to the building they don't even go up to see the apartment. But with young people, the graveyard only bothers about 10% of them." Reuven notes that the difference in price between an apartment facing the grave markers and one that does not is about NIS 100,000 on average.

Avishai Shani purchased out of receivership a three-room apartment on the first floor of an old building on Trumpeldor Street in Tel Aviv in 2004. It faces the cemetery on the street, which like the one in Nahalat Yitzhak is largely active.

Shani says that when he first went to see the apartment he didn't even notice the graveyard. And rightly so. When it comes to Tel Aviv, an unobstructed view, even of a graveyard, beats that of a high-rise.

"The cemetery on Trumpeldor Street has all sorts of famous people buried in it, and it actually has a section for the country's best and brightest. Shoshana Damari is buried there and lately they buried Luba Eliav there too. Today it doesn't bother me one little bit," says Avishai.