We open a design magazine and revel in the photos of a designer home. How happy would we be if our own homes looked like the pictures? Real estate marketers have long understood the power of “what you see with your own eyes,” which is why model homes are designed to fire the imagination when it comes to a property for sale’s potential. But after the buyer has signed, they receive an empty shell and face the challenge of designing it, and the outcome is often far from the meticulous home they want.
Now, as part of a foreign trend, and along with the changes brought about by the coronavirus pandemic, real estate salespeople have begun to offer interior design along with the four walls. “The customer is invited to choose the model that suits them in terms of form and design, from a catalogue of models,” says Dana Oberson of Dana Oberson Architects, in explaining how the product works.
Oberson, along with architect David Leventhal and designer Michal Han, was hired to create a “magazine home” for buyers in the Azorim Ramat Gan Exchange project, which is being built on a lot that previously housed an Elite chocolate factory.
Leventhal says the idea is common abroad. One such example he cites is 56 Leonard Street, the joint project of Swiss architects Herzog and de Meuron and sculptor Anish Kapoor in New York.
“The designer thinks for the tenants about all the small details, the scenarios and situations of life inside the apartment. And these choices are made even before the building is built,” he says.
Oberson believes this marketing style has become essential.
“The greater the demand for housing, the more projects there are, and the more competition. Healthy competition in a dynamic real estate market means developers have to innovate, be cutting edge and precise,” she says.
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The Ramat Gan project has several apartments designed in different styles, with descriptions such as quiet and European, modern, young and lively and more. Buyers were given the choice of which to select. Leventhal says the system helps buyers organize their thinking.
“When people are shown several planning options, but what they see is the naked apartment, many become confused by the variety of options and choices. Here there are a number of stylized options and we tell the customer, ‘we’ve already created the complete look of your dream apartment; now all you have to do is to tell us who you are and choose the design that suits you,’” he says.
Leventhal’s designs are “restrained,” as he puts it. “It’s important to us to create a quiet and calm atmosphere because that’s what a home is supposed to offer us,” he says. Leventhal aims for design that seeks to preserve the homey atmosphere while incorporating the project’s surroundings. For example, the model apartments in Exchange Ramat Gan, next to the Ramat Gan Diamond Exchange, contain elements that reflect their urban environment. These include a kitchen that looks like a bar; a bathroom that resembles a spa or a restroom that looks like it could be in an exclusive club.
How does one preserve the unique quality of each apartment when hundreds of buyers have to choose from a limited number of designs? “The apartments differ in structure, and there isn’t much chance that on the same floor the design will be repeated,” says Han. “Besides, every buyer brings their own elements into the apartment and adds styling that speaks to them or has accompanied them over the years.”
Gil Gurevich, Marketing and Sales Manager at Azorim, says apartments in the project range from 40,000 to 45,000 shekels per square meter. Are the furnished apartments more expensive than unfurnished ones? It depends how you calculate it. “It’s cheaper,” says Han, “because it means a huge savings of the customer’s time, and the entire process is tension free.”
Han adds, “My process is error free [for the buyer], as opposed to individually designing and planning of an apartment, where the customer may go through multiple attempts to achieve the desired outcome, and that involves additional costs. The customer chooses in advance, and knows the cost down to the last shekel. When it comes to purchasing an apartment, that’s an advantage, because changes can be very expensive.”
This idea isn’t appropriate for every type of property. According to Oberson, “catalogue apartments are characteristic of projects with small apartments where everything is planned down to the last detail.”
Such apartments are also being offered in a project on Ibn Gvirol Street in Tel Aviv, which is being marketed by Carasso Real Estate. The project consists entirely of small furnished apartments.
Marketing Director Michal Glueck says that every apartment in the project comes with carpentry work that includes a kitchen, concealed doors, wardrobe closets, mirrors, beds, a desk and more. “We realized that in order to provide a compact and quality apartment that would really create a sense of space and make intelligent use of every square meter, we have to use unconventional planning tools, and to include carpentry work suited to each and every apartment in the project.”
Even if it’s not an entire project of designer apartments, often a model home can be purchased in projects where sales are almost completed, once it’s no longer needed as a sales tool. “There are customers who come to get an impression, fall in love with the apartment as is and decide to buy it, and of course we let them,” says Raheli Brizel, VP of Marketing for Ashdar, which is building the new Krinitzi project in Ramat Gan along with Zemach Hammerman and Azorim. “In other cases, mainly toward the end of the marketing of the project, we put all the model apartments up for sale with their entire contents,” she says.
“One of the main expenses in moving to a new apartment is the changes necessary in the property,” says Gidi Schmerling, VP of Marketing and Sales at Aura Investments. “For example, the division of the rooms, the arrangement of the bathrooms, making changes in the kitchen and so on. In the case of a model apartment that’s designed to optimize the space, it saves the buyer from making changes and incurring extra cost.”
Buying a model apartment has another economic advantage — the cost of furniture and design can be included in the mortgage.
Another factor spurring interest in model homes is the pandemic, according to Tali Shenfeld and Rakefet Goldfarb of the T + R Studio for architecture and design, who designed the garden apartment in the Krinitzki project.
“Since the coronavirus pandemic began, there have been problems with furniture and lighting imports and supply chains. It’s more difficult to plan a good design. For those reasons some people would prefer a ready-made designer apartment. You can always add a personal touch that makes the apartment belong to your family.”
At the Tnufa Ba’ir company of the Ram Aderet Group, they imagined the potential buyer when they designed and furnished a penthouse for sale in their Nissan Hacohen project in Tel Aviv’s Ramat Hahayal neighborhood.
“I believe that the buyers of this penthouse will be an older couple living in a private home,” says Tali Sharon, VP of Marketing and Sales.
“The children have already left home and the maintenance for such a house has become a burden. In effect they’re downsizing, but keeping a high standard of housing.”
The penthouse is 150 square meters, with balconies that add another 100 square meters (1,600 square feet), on the fourth and top floor in a new boutique building. The penthouse was designed by interior designer Dana Nimrod, who says that designing and accessorizing the home cost about 350,000 shekels ($105,000).
“It’s a great challenge to design a home that hasn’t been sold yet, because there’s no way of knowing who’s coming to live there. That’s why I included several design elements that will let anyone who moves in feel at home. It has urban elements such as metal furniture, but also warm and family-oriented elements such as colorful paintings, carpets, a wooden floor and more.”
The penthouse is on sale for 7.85 million shekels. “We discovered that 7.5 million shekels is a barrier above which we have to make special marketing efforts,” says Sharon. “During the coronavirus period quite a few buyers wanted to move to the center of the country and to be near the children. Buying a designed penthouse like this enables them to come with their suitcases as soon as possible.”
The penthouse on the 33rd floor of Briga Towers in Netanya was also sold prefurnished, as is, with foreign residents in mind. The 50-million-shekels penthouse was designed by architect Tehila Shelef. “I chose international brands, a language and design style that are state of the art, in other words, everything that’s ‘in’ today and suits the taste of foreign residents as well as Israeli customers.”
Shelef says the market for furnished apartments is well developed abroad. “It’s far more common to buy a furnished apartment, both in Europe and in the United States. It’s called staging. This market is so popular there that there are companies that offer furnished apartments based on different price points. In Israel this market has developed only in recent years, mainly for luxury homes,” she says.
Local demand was born out of demand by foreign residents who are familiar with the concept from their home countries, and began to seek it in Israel. “It stems from a reluctance to run from one supplier to another in Israel in order to choose furniture. They prefer to get the apartment furnished with international brands that they recognize. Another target audience is businesspeople in high-tech and finance. Young people who have become wealthy also like the concept of a fully designed apartment, because their taste isn’t sufficiently formed,” she says.