Who's Buying Israel's Expensive New Apartments?

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Dr. Rina Degani. 'The older generation wants to be where the action is.'
Dr. Rina Degani. 'The older generation wants to be where the action is.'Credit: Ofer Vaknin

Until a year ago, Irit and Udi Greenfeld lived in the town of Tel Mond in the Sharon region, in a 270-square meter, three-story private home with a pool. In August 2020, they sold the house and moved to nearby Pardesiya, to a four-room (converted from five-room) penthouse apartment. The couple – who both recently turned 60 and have three children and seven grandchildren – say that every day they are thankful that they made the move.

“One reason we took this step was to not be dependent on so many things,” says Irit, explaining that the move has given them freedom. “We don’t have to worry about gardening or other things you have to take care of when you have a big house. Now we can just close the door behind us and travel abroad for a week,” she says. “The size of this apartment is more than adequate for a couple. Before, we always had to clean and maintain the pool and plan around that. It was a very nouveau-riche addition that we quickly realized was not for us. And now we’re at an age where if we forget our reading glasses or phone on another floor, or we want to make a cup of tea, we don’t want to have to bother going up and down the steps. Now I have an apartment that is all on one floor and I can get anywhere in it with my eyes closed.”

Udi is a retired military man who switched to the private sector, and Irit is a former physical education teacher and Pilates instructor who decided to close her business and retire due to the coronavirus pandemic. They bought a penthouse apartment in the new Almogim Basharon project in Pardesiya, which is east of Netanya. Their youngest daughter, who recently finished the army and moved to Madrid, but came back because of the pandemic, lives with them. The layout includes a large living room and a master bedroom suite with his and hers built-in closets. “The bedroom is very spacious, and it has a top-quality Pilates corner. After I sold all the equipment from the studio, I bought myself new equipment and I work out every day. In the room I have a workout area and a sleeping area,” Irit says. The penthouse also has a 30-square-meter terrace, where the couple planted flowers and herbs. “We didn’t completely give up the gardening. I love plants and am very attached to the earth,” she adds.

The considerations that went into choosing the apartment also included the couple’s desire for space. “We love to cook and to host, we lived in big houses almost our whole lives. Our kids live nearby so they and the grandkids don’t need a place to sleep when they come over. There’s a huge park right next to us where we take the grandkids. We can keep them busy outside the house instead of inside. The only thing we miss is having storage space for our camping stuff. We love to take a tent to Lake Kinneret and we’re very organized with all the equipment, so now we store it at our son’s house in the moshav.”

Back to the city

Udi and Irit are not alone. Many empty-nesters in their sixties or thereabouts are deciding to move to a home that is better suited to their needs. A study by the Geocartography Institute of the home-purchasing habits of Israeli Jews (not including the ultra-Orthodox) in the 55-75 age range found that people within this demographic buy 24,000 apartments annually. In the past, this population generally invested its time and capital in helping younger members of the family purchase an apartment, and remained in their old home or downsized to a smaller apartment. But in the past decade, things have shifted. Now, people in this age group are more often aiming to move to a larger or better equipped apartment. Twenty two percent of the people interviewed for the study said they were searching for a more expensive apartment than their current home.

This group is also less daunted by the costs of owning a more upscale apartment – 18 percent of respondents 55 and up were prepared to pay thousands of shekels a month in fees for things like security, a gym, a residents’ club and a pool. The study found that this group was prepared to pay three million shekels on average for an apartment, with 14 percent looking for homes that cost more than that. The respondents cited location as the most important factor in choosing an apartment.

Dr. Rina Degani, who conducted the study, says that while in the past, an older couple whose children had left home usually moved to a smaller apartment, now the thinking is different – the older generation wants to be where the action is, so they are buying large apartments in attractive areas with 24/7 entertainment and activity options.

“The trend of returning to the city began about a decade ago,” says Degani. “At first, young people want to live in Tel Aviv, but when they need a larger apartment they leave the city and move to the suburbs where they can buy a bigger place. Some years later, when the kids grow up and leave home and the parents are in their fifties or older, having a house or a big apartment in the suburbs doesn’t have the same value anymore – the couple doesn’t need it anymore so they move back to the city.”

Such people are often referred to as “downsizers,” but Degani says the term is not that apt. “Yes, they used to have six rooms and now they’ll have four, but they’re not buying one-bedroom apartments – those are still for the young couples. Older adults have more money and they are buying bigger apartments.”

Yehoshua and Rina Klieger also found themselves with a house that was too big for their needs. They have three children and nine grandchildren, and for the past 35 years they’ve lived in a large house with a yard in Rishon Letzion. “The villa is too big for us. It has seven bedrooms – and we’re both over 70 now,” says Yehoshua, who runs a lighting business. “We can’t maintain the house anymore. We raised our children and grandchildren here but they’re all grown up now. We’re done with this chapter.”

The couple bought an apartment in the new Brizzo project in the Sha’ar Hayam neighborhood of Bat Yam. It has five rooms that they plan to convert to four, along with a balcony. The building will provide maintenance services, a guard at the entrance and a spa. The project is currently under construction, and the couple plan to move in three years.

One big factor in their choice of the new apartment was the proximity to the sea. “We wanted to stay close to the sea, and the new place is even closer [to the sea] than where we live now. It’s just a few hundred meters from the beach. The plans that we were shown for the apartment itself and for the common spaces were very high quality, and we felt that we’d found what we wanted. It will be the first time in 37 years that we’ll be living in an apartment building, after living in houses all this time. It’s going to be a very big change, and I hope it’s the right choice. Naturally, we’ll have much less to worry about in terms of maintenance and so on, and that’s what we’re looking for at this stage – a place to live that doesn’t require any effort from us, so we can just enjoy life.”

‘We’ll miss nature’

The study found that people in their fifties and up attach more importance to location than do younger people and the population as a whole. Eighty-one percent of this group cited location as the most important factor, compared to 73 percent among the general population. The move from the suburbs to the cities, as Degani notes, brings a change from a rural landscape to an urban one. “Instead of being in the country, you have a view of the sea or you overlook the city and see its beauty from above,” she says.

Yossi Gavri, 59, and Lilach Gavri, 52, are trading their green surroundings for an urban landscape and the sea. The couple, both retired police officers, currently live in Mevasseret Zion in a three-story house with seven rooms and a yard. They bought a penthouse apartment in the Briza project in the Afridar section of Ashkelon. Their daughter, who is now in the army, will also move with them to the new place. “We each have three children” from previous marriages, explains Lilach, “so we have six children and two grandchildren all together.”

“We’re both originally from Ashkelon so for us it’s like closing a circle,” she continues. “My parents still live there and my brother is there too, and we have good friends there – all of Yossi’s friends from high school who’ve stayed in touch all the years. Our needs have changed – work is no longer a factor, so for us, being near friends is more important. It’s something we each came to realize separately, and when we talked about it, we felt that it was the right step. We were traveling to Ashkelon a lot to be with friends, and we wanted to be able to be with them more spontaneously. But the more dramatic factor in the decision was the sea. The penthouse is just 200-300 meters from the sea. We go downstairs and we’re at the beach. That settled it for us.”

The building has a gym and an elegant lobby and will be ready for occupancy in 2024. The penthouse, though quite spacious, will have four rooms and a terrace overlooking the sea. “We’re not really downsizing because the spaces in the apartment are larger,” says Lilach. “The master bedroom suite is very big, and so are the living room and terrace. We want to be able to host the whole family and have everyone together and the apartment is big enough for that. It’s the right transition for us from a place with a lot of rooms when you have kids, to a place that’s more suitable for two people.”

Despite the proximity to the sea, which was a key factor in their choice, the Gavris admit they will miss the landscapes of Mevasseret Zion. “When you live in Mevasseret, you have the most beautiful views all around and the weather is wonderful – it’s pleasant and not humid,” says Lilach. “We live amid nature and we will miss that; we won’t see all this greenery. We’re moving to a new place. We’ve never lived in a high-rise before and our children who grew up here won’t have as much of a connection to the new place, so we are also a little nervous about moving and about the change of atmosphere.”

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