With the Sukkot holiday starting this week, many Israelis will be slowing down and even taking a break from work. Not in the real estate business, though – at least not among those brokers and agents who cater to foreign buyers.
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Ever since the latest Gaza war ended this summer, property consultants and dealers report a sudden surge of interest among Jews abroad, primarily from Europe and Australia, in real estate investments in Israel.
The trend has less to do with speculation about where real estate prices in Israel are headed, industry professionals say, and more with a growing sense of insecurity and discomfort among Jews in these countries, following a spike in anti-Semitic incidents this summer. For many Diaspora Jews who traditionally vacation in Israel at this time of year, the upcoming Sukkot holiday is therefore likely to be exploited for property shopping.
“The phone here hasn’t stopped ringing since the end of the summer,” says Rebecca Wolman, a property consultant at Home to Home, a boutique agency run by three British immigrants that specializes in English-speaking investors. “Many of those we get calls from in England simply feel that they don’t have a future there anymore.”
Wolman estimates that the number of inquiries she’s received from British buyers since the end of the war has increased by “200 percent” compared with the same period last year. Most of these inquiries, she says, have been coming from Jews in London interested in purchasing a second home as they consider their options. The group includes individuals and families in all stages of life, she reports.
“What some of them are saying is that if we were thinking of aliyah before, now we’re convinced, and better sooner than later,” says Wolman. For those who can afford it, she says, Tel Aviv is her clients' first choice.
“Most of them come from London, so it’s easier for them to make the transition to another big cosmopolitan place,” she says. “The closer to the beach the better, and balconies are a must.”
Already 14 years in the field, Wolman describes the recent spike in interest in Israeli real estate as “unique” in its scope.
Bernard Raskin, a former South African who runs the RE/MAX Israel office, has observed a similar trend over the past month or so, particularly among French Jews, but also among British, German and Italian.
Based on his observations, the buyers today are different from those in the past. “It used to be that they would buy for a ‘just in case’ scenario,” he says. “Now, they’re buying because they definitely intend to come on aliyah. There’s no more ‘just in case.’”
Raskin says most of his buyers are relatively affluent and in the market for apartments in the 1.8-3 million shekel (roughly $500,000-$800,000) price range. Their preferred locations, he says, are Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Netanya and Bat Yam.
If in the past Europeans accounted for 8-10 percent of buyers at RE/MAX Israel, in recent months their share has grown to 20 percent. Inquires via the company’s website were up 30 percent compared with a year ago, he adds.
Responding to growing interest among Australian Jews in property investments in Israel, Anglo-Saxon – the country’s other top real estate agency – is about to launch a first-of-its-kind venture: a partnership with a local Australian real estate agency.
“They were the ones who approached us,” reports Anglo Saxon chief executive Adina Haham, “because of the many Jews there who are now interested in gaining a foothold in Israel."
In recent years, she notes, many French Jews have been spending their annual August holidays in Israel, taking advantage of the opportunity to purchase real estate. Many of them delayed their yearly vacation this year because of the war in Gaza and came instead in September, so that the usual apartment-buying season was delayed by a month. And if anything, rising anti-Semitism in France over the summer served to strengthen the trend.
After foreign investment in Israeli real estate rose steadily over 2011 and 2012, notes Haham, it dipped in 2013. “Now things are back on course,” she says.