Know Thy Neighbor

It pays to get the scoop on your prospective neighbors before you buy an apartment.

A resident of Bat Yam, a woman with five small children, searched long and hard for an apartment for sale near the city center. She eventually found what looked like a real bargain: a large apartment in a good neighborhood at a particularly attractive price. The woman wasted no time, signed a memorandum of understanding with the apartment's owners and completed the purchase immediately thereafter. A short while after moving in, however, she discovered that her downstairs neighbor was a violent bully who terrified the whole neighborhood. From that moment on she attempted to sell the apartment, but succeeded in doing so only a few years later.

A resident of a building in Ramat Gan who tried to sell his apartment, heaped praises on the apartment's good points, but "forgot" to mention to potential buyers that the upstairs neighbor worked on renovating his apartment absolutely every Friday afternoon, making quite a racket. The seller, of course, found a buyer within a short time and at a good price, too.

A bad neighbor can turn life in an apartment building into a real nightmare, with no connection to the quality of the apartment itself, or to the location. Insufferable noise from the apartment across the way, smells or bothersome animals, or even annoying neighbors can be a source of bitter conflicts between neighbors that often go as far as the courts. It is generally assumed that when a person buys an apartment he can choose the quality of construction, the proximity to public institutions, the best value for money and more, but one thing he cannot check is who his neighbors are.

Well, not exactly.

"The neighbors are a thing that can be checked before buying an apartment," says Bedek Bayit CEO Tzahi Bardugo. "There are many different ways to do this, some of them quite simple."

Bardugo offers the example of a couple that wanted to buy an apartment in Rishon Letzion.

"I conducted a check for the couple and discovered that two floors above the apartment in question lived a family one of whose son's was a snake enthusiast. When we told the couple this, they decided not to buy the apartment."

How to check things out

Bedek Bayit is a company that specializes in providing comprehensive information on properties and residential neighborhoods, including an investigation before a purchase, and which is available to apartment buyers throughout Israel. Bardugo says that most of his clients are buying secondhand apartments, which constitute the bulk of residential apartment sales. Between 5 and 10 percent of buyers who approach the company for a background check on an apartment before they purchase decide not to buy after receiving Bedek Bayit's report, while another 60 percent or so use the information provided by Bedek Bayit as a bargaining tool in negotiations with the seller.

Bardugo says there are several ways to check out the neighbors in a particular building. To obtain important information on the surroundings in general and the building in particular, it is worth talking briefly to a local real estate agent - but not the one involved in the apartment transaction. The local agent knows the nature of the population in the relevant area, and may even have handled other apartments in the building in question. Anyone interested in an apartment can also present himself as a seller in a nearby building and consult with the agent regarding the problems that are worth concealing from potential buyers.

Another possibility, says Bardugo, is to check how many of the apartments in the building are rented. One way of doing this is to examine the mailboxes. A building that has a lot of rental tenants is more likely to have problems. Usually such tenants care little about the quality of life, good neighborliness or the building's general upkeep. A building in which many of the apartments are rented can also be expected to have a high turnover of tenants.

"A chat with the residents' committee can never do any harm," adds Bardugo. It is usually easy to make contact with a residents' committee (va'ad bayit) representative, who will be happy to update potential tenants regarding the building. Among the points that should be queried are the payment ethic among the building's residents, the committee's plans for the future, any plans that were rejected and why - these can also attest to the nature of the building's residents.

Some other tips from Bardugo: It's a good idea to wait at the building's main entrance and try to engage the residents in conversation. It is worth trying to find out why the seller is moving, whether he was happy with the neighbors in the building and the neighborhood, if anyone in the building plays music or has pets, if there are any special complaints, and the opinion of the residents' committee and its functioning. It's also good to try to get an idea of the socioeconomic character of the building - if there are many children, elderly, singles, professionals, etc. - and try to determine the general nature of the building's population: Is it homogeneous for the perspective of the age, ethnic background, religious observance, professions, family status, level of education and so on.

Ask around next doorInformation on the sources of any unexpected noise can often be obtained by chatting with residents of the neighboring building. One can also find out how close the building is to an ambulance or fire station and main roads, how heavy the morning and evening traffic is in the neighborhood, and at what time the dumpsters are emptied. It is important to find out who the upstairs and downstairs neighbors are, as well as the neighbors on the same floor. As for the upstairs apartment, one should check if there are any problems with leaking or noise, and how many young children there are. Leaking from the ceiling of the apartment below indicates problems with the pipes that run along the floor of the potential apartment. When all the potential problems are clarified in advance, dealing with them in the future is easier.

Additional information is available from a few sources that almost always have a connection to an apartment building: the maintenance and management company, the cleaner, gardener, security guard and mailman. It is worth asking them how well the building is run, if there are any problematic residents, and if they know of any future plans for the building.

Another question is whether any of the apartments in the building are being used for private businesses such as medical clinics, law offices or real estate agency offices. This can be checked by looking at the mailboxes and asking the residents. Such apartments could constitute a nonstop nuisance, both from the noise they generate and the wear and tear on the building.

In conclusion, Bardugo says that a glowing presentation and the description of an apartment as perfect and wonderful should always raise suspicions. Ask the seller to talk about at least one drawback he thinks his apartment has. What will his reaction be?

Residents' fees average NIS 98 a monthAverage monthly residents' committee fees have risen over the past decade by a rate similar to that of the consumer price index - 88 percent. Today average monthly residents' committee fees are NIS 98. The highest average monthly residents' committee fees are in the central region (NIS 121), while the lowest are in the northern region (NIS 79). These figures were compiled in a special study conducted by the Brandman Market Research, which interviewed 503 people in a representative sample of the adult Hebrew-speaking population.

The study found that 87 percent of apartment buildings have residents' committees that collect monthly fees. Eleven percent of the buildings had no committee and no fees, and in 2 percent of the buildings the committee manages to run the building without charging fees.

A total of 704,400 households throughout Israel pay some NIS 830 million in residents' committee fees annually. These fees cover the following maintenance expenses: cleaning the common areas (in 81 percent of the buildings), gardening (67 percent), elevator maintenance (40 percent), renovations and investments in the common areas (33 percent), gas (15 percent), communal water heating (11 percent), miscellaneous (16 percent) and pool maintenance (2 percent).