The Transformation of the Moshav: From Chicken Coops to Mansions

Well-heeled Israelis looking for quality of life have rushed to rural communities in recent years, pushing prices even higher.

Emil Salman

Once upon a time, “moshav” meant a cooperative farming community featuring humble homes, chicken coops and cow sheds. Nothing epitomizes the change Israeli society has undergone in recent decades so much as the moshav of today, which is more likely to be home to gorgeous mansions and four-wheel-drive jeeps than farmers and turkeys.

Actually, the process of the rich noticing the formerly humble moshavim and moving to them began in the 1980s. The pioneers of the trend were the moshavim of the Sharon region such as Batzra, Bnei Zion and Rishpon. During the 1990s the moshavim of Givat Hen, Ramot Hashavim and Udim joined too.

When buying property in a moshav, one generally buys a “nahala” – an estate consisting of two parts: up to 3 dunams (3/4 acre) slated for one (or two) houses, and farmland of about 10 dunams.

Now an un-invested estate of land (including the housing and farmland area) in older moshavim like Batzra and Bnei Zion will set you back around 13 to 14 million shekels (say around $4 million); a highly invested property will cost 20-30 million shekels.

A property in Moshav Beit Zayit in the Jerusalem Hills, or Haniel in Emek Hefer, will cost anywhere from 7 million to 12 million shekels.

Why are the well-heeled hoofing it to the hills? One reason is that feeling of privacy, of space around one’s home, which is a rarity in densely-populated Israel.

That’s the real attraction, says land assessor Amit Megido: buying a moshav property is the only way Israelis can realize the fantasy of owning an American-style ranch. Megido, who owns the family-run company Garden, Field & Farm, points out that for the slightly less well-to-do but still not-suffering-even-slightly there’s a cheaper option, of buying a large home in the “moshav expansions” – areas where moshavim have been permitted to convert farmland into housing on smaller lots.

“Once a moshav has improved in prestige, families from the middle-upper class start to arrive. This is a population of people who have money but can’t go crazy,” says Megido. “They can’t live the dream in full, but they do want to be part of these places. So they buy half a dunam of land for 4-5 million shekels (around $1-1.25 million).

It bears saying that there are very few land transactions in moshavim, first of all because there’s almost no supply.

All these farmlands actually belong to the state. People can’t buy them: They get long-term leases from the state. In 2011, the Israel Lands Administration resolved not to lease out any more of these home/farmland plots in central Israel, because they weren’t being used for agriculture anyway and were a highly wasteful form of dwellings in a very densely populated area. In essence, it “canceled” the existence of unleased farmstead plots – but did allow moshavim to expand. That means however many such home/farmland plots there are between Hadera and Gedera, is how many there will be.

Nor are moshav residents eager to sell. They’d rather hang on and wait for even better prices. “Negotiations can take years,” says Megido.

Even after a deal is agreed on, the actual transaction takes ages because it involves the official owner of the land – the Israel Lands Administration. Tax on the deals can reach a large proportion of its value, too. And finally, once the plot has been bought, building on it can take millions more.

Israel Pasternak of the Israeli Building Center, who has advised thousands of families on building their homes, says the fanciest of all are in moshavim. In the cities land is scarce, plots are small and one home is built on the ruins of another, he says. In a moshav, instead of building on half a dunam, the lot for the land is 2-3 dunams, which is plenty of space for “accessories” like a big garden or a pool. “Some buyers hire top-ranking architects and import special building materials from abroad,” he observes.

These new “luxury” moshavim are all over Israel, from the northern Negev to the western Galilee. The closer to the center they are, the higher the prices, but there are other parameters in pricing, such as the view, or community.

Between the landmarks of the north-south highways 4 and 6, luxury moshavim have been evolving in recent decades, notably Mishmeret, Herut and Ein Vered. At Mishmeret, the price of a farmstead plot can run 7.5 and 8 million shekels; at Herut and Ein Vered the prices will be around 7 million. Houses built on half a dunam in the extensions of those moshavim range from 3.5 to 5 million, depending on the size of the property and its condition.

Ein Vered is home to Amir Shinar, VP of Waze, who made tens of millions of dollars when the navigation startup was sold to Google. Another dweller is publicist and businessman Moshe Gaon, son of Benny Gaon (chairman of Gaon Holdings), and his brother Yoav Gaon, CEO of Imaginarium Israel. The CEO of Electra Consumer Products, Zeev Kalimi, recently purchased a farm in Moshav Herut.

Slightly northwards, in the area of Hefer Valley (from the coast north of Netanya to Highway 6), are a number of other classy moshavim, notably Haniel and Beit Halevi. In both, a home/farmland plot will cost 7-10 million, though since it’s all but impossible to find anything for sale there, those prices are debatable. Among the residents of Haniel is advocate Ory Slonim.

Another moshav where prices have soared is Gan Yoshiya, at which, according to Megido, a home/farm plot recently sold for 6.5 million shekels. Gan Yoshiya is an example of the quality of community life that produces luxury. “This is an old, high-quality moshav in which farmers still live, and descendants of the founders, along with new young families. It has gained a reputation of a socially strong moshav, and it attracts people and prices are rising.” There are some farms for sale there for 6-8 million, he says.

Switzerland in the Jerusalem Hills

The Jerusalem Hills also sport a number of moshavim. Unlike the ones in the coastal Sharon district, where the land is flat, the Jerusalem Hills moshavim have the added perk of a view, which naturally costs more. Beit Zayit, considered the classiest of the lot, has a view of a dam with an artificial lake. You’d almost think you’re in Switzerland. The moshav is home to a number of leading business people, including Orna and Isaac Levy who own the international jewelry brand Yvel, hotelier Reuven Ella and a lot more.

Aroma of cow dung: Priceless

In Beit Zayit, buying a plot enables one to build two houses as well as two cabins on an area of 3.3 dunams, says Barbara Heller of Anglo-Saxon Mevasseret Zion. There too, though, there’s practically nothing for sale. “The last deal was several years ago, for 11 million shekels,” she says. “Today prices in the moshav are 12-13 million.” The better the view of the “lake,” the higher the price, she says, adding that deals for houses built on lots of 500-800 meters are more frequent – they go for 5-6 million shekels.

Also around Jerusalem are Beit Neqofa, Even Sapir, Ora, Aminadav and Neve Ilan, where a plot will cost around 6 million shekels. A house on a smaller plot will cost around 3.5-5 million.

South of Rishon Letzion, in the area of the inner plain (“shfela”), one finds Neta’im and Gan Sorek. These are smaller. Gan Sorek has 37 farmsteads and Neta’im has 40-plus. Deals are rare and run between 7-9 million shekels.

There are luxury moshavim further from the center, too. For instance, Nahalal, Beit Lehem Haglilit (Bethlehem of Galilee) or Beit She’arim. Farmsteads there can cost around 7 million shekels.

“In recent years a new kind of luxury moshav has been created in the periphery, where the prestige is based on the quality population,” says Megido. “Sometimes the well-heeled want to live next door to a 10th-generation Israeli farmer, not a high-tech entrepreneur or businessman like themselves.”

The Jezreel Valley has places where a plot will cost more than in the center, and they’re not necessarily materially luxurious. “Some people want the authentic rural quality, without sidewalks by the streets, with potholes in the road and with the aroma of cow dung in the air. When you get that together with the pioneering ethos in a place like Nahalal, the price goes up.”

Another area where prices have been shooting up is the Hof Hacarmel coastal region, meaning around Zichron Yaakov. Farmsteads there run between 8-10 million shekels. Half-dunam lots sell for more than 3 million and similar lots on which houses already stand cost 5 million.

Buying in Ein Ayala or Bat Shlomo will cost a little less – 6.5-7 million shekels for a farmstead and half that for a house on a smaller plot. Yet again, deals are hard to come by.

Nearby is Amikam, home to the present construction minister Yoav Galant; the scandal concerning his mansion did not affect pricing, however.

There are also a luxury moshavim in the western Galilee, along the northern part of the coast, from Acre to the border with Lebanon. Among them are Liman, where Eitan Wertheimer owns a farm, Bustan Hagalil and Ben Ami, which recently became home to “dieting priestess,” Heli Maman. Some of these communities enjoy a sea view, and farm prices run at about 5 million.