Israeli Dream of Owning Stand-alone Home Is Semi-detached From Reality

Owning a stand-alone home is becoming increasingly untenable as land reserves shrivel. The best solution for many is buying a garden apartment.

Detached homes are synonymous with quality of life. Apartments in the center of older cities were small and crowded, byproducts of the shortages and austerity that ushered in Israel's statehood. Detached houses were like the American dream: spacious homes with each child having his or her own bedroom, a yard with a dog and room for the children to run wild.

The dream hasn't disappeared. Detached homes are still in demand but the means have dwindled. "Purchasing power is ultimately the deciding factor," says Eran Barak, marketing manager for real estate developer Amram Avraham. "A detached home is the dream of many people but isn't always within reach. Apartments are therefore more sought after because land costs for detached homes are higher and construction costs are also higher, although marginally. This dream is very expensive. Most people prefer detached homes but after reviewing their purchasing power and financial means settle for an apartment or garden apartment."

Amram Avraham is building two projects totaling 780 units, one in Hadera and the other in Pardes Hannah, that include only 12 single-family homes. "Construction of detached housing is diminishing," says Barak. "Single-family homes are a differentiated product that attract a more limited clientele, generally upgraders who've accumulated a bit more money and larger families. Anyone who does want to fulfill the dream of owning a detached home can do so in the furthest outlying suburbs of Tel Aviv. We are a selling a two-story 160-square-meter house with a 130-square-meter yard, including a 22-square-meter pool for NIS 1.86 million. That's the price of a four-room apartment in the 'green' section of Kfar Sava."

In other words, the way to attain a detached home at a reasonable price is by moving a few dozen kilometers away from the center.

The story of detached housing is one of land values. "Wherever land is expensive and scarce, there is always a preference to build high-rises or at high density," says Ofra Hadad, vice president at developer Euro-Israel. "The Israel Lands Administration and the Interior Ministry prefer making the most of the land and maximizing the number of housing units that can be built. Since there isn't enough land, it won't be released for single-family homes that serve much fewer buyers. And there’s another consideration: The more apartments are built, the higher the revenues for the state from selling the land."

Single-family homes haven't disappeared where land reserves are available, and detached homes are more common in the outlying regions and the furthest reaching suburbs of Tel Aviv in localities that are only beginning to develop, says Hadad. "It's far, but compensating for this is a spacious home with a garden where you can barbecue as opposed to high-rises where there's already a traffic jam when leaving the parking lot," she says.

Euro-Israel has some 400 units under construction, including 24 single-family homes in Netivot, 24 in Pisgat Ze'ev and another 50 or so in Modi'in. The ones in Modi'in with 170 square meters of living space on a 250-square-meter plot and underground parking carry a NIS 3 million asking price. A similar house in Netivot on a 300-square-meter plot, but with level parking and no basement, goes for half that amount.

Garden apartments – the next best thing

Buyers long for a piece of land, and when detached housing isn't available the next best thing is a garden apartment. "In apartment complexes the first units sold are the garden apartments which are slightly more prestigious and sometimes priced higher than standard penthouses," says Hadad.

A yard is preferable to a balcony because the children can use it and there are more possibilities for entertaining guests, she explains, but noting that having people living above is a drawback.

Looking back in time, we see that single-family homes have always been built in the outskirts – even though the outskirts of yore are today's prime real estate. Neveh Tzedek in the heart of Tel Aviv, for example, was the first pioneering neighborhood extending from Jaffa, and for their courage the valiant settlers received spacious villas with courtyards. Tel Aviv's Tzameret neighborhood of detached houses between Kikar Hamedina and Pinkas Street is now a central part of the city but was once referred to as "the sand dunes" due to its desolate surroundings.

Suburbanization beginning in the 1960s brought young families to the outer ring of cities surrounding Tel Aviv, at the time considered the end of the world. Houses in Ra'anana, for example, came with a Fiat in order to lure buyers into settling in what was deemed a backwater.

The previous generation didn't mind driving each morning to Tel Aviv on a one-lane road in a car without air conditioning. Perhaps families were more willing to compromise then, or the desire to own a piece of land outweighed the sacrifice of urban living. But while families in the 1970s and 1980s fled to the suburbs, today they're being drawn back to the city – which also caters to the needs of singles and senior citizens.

"When you ask young couples what they'd want if there were no limits to their budget, they say a single-family home," says architect Gil Shenhav of Canaan Shenhav Architects. "That's the heartfelt desire of people living in an apartment. But in recent years this outlook has changed - Anyone who's already lived in a detached home knows it also has its drawbacks. In the past the very rich would move to private homes but nowadays they're moving into high-rise towers. Perhaps they just make up the top strata, but they signal the broader trend."

Shenhav points out the advantages of high-rise living. "It's easier to break into a house than an apartment on the 25th floor," he says. "Every tower in Ramat Gan and Petah Tikva has an ocean view, while in Herzliya Pituah the sea can only be seen from the mansions on Galei Techelet Street. There is nobody to perform maintenance on a house like in a building."

Shenhav says the soaring price of land for single homes has brought garden apartments into vogue. "Even 40-story towers are being designed with garden units," he claims. "It's a challenge designing privacy for garden apartments when dozens of apartments lay overhead, but it's possible."

Single-family homes still have their place, but mostly in outlying areas, in Shenhav's opinion. He explains that building 100 houses on a quarter dunam requires 62 dunams (some 15 acres), including public spaces, roads and greenery, whereas 10 dunams of land sufficiently serve the same number of units in a 25-story high-rise.

"I don't think it's necessary to have just high-rises or just detached homes," says Shenhav. "The market needs to provide the variety and solutions. I'm against uniformity and standardization. A good city needs to consist of a variety of housing forms: houses, garden apartments, garden and penthouse buildings, five- to 10-story buildings and skyscrapers too. A good city is heterogeneous and is populated by all sorts of people: singles, families, youngsters and the elderly. A neighborhood with only young families isn't as good because it ages in unison and empties out in unison."

Eyal Toueg