Jerusalem Real Estate - Serial Tourist's Guide

December 2009 - Copyright by Morris Rosenthal - - contact info

The Serial Tourist's Guide to Jerusalem

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Copyright 2009 by Morris Rosenthal

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Find and Rent an Apartment or Room in Jerusalem

I'm just starting my first update in 3 years. Apartment prices have shot up along with the general housing bubble in Israel which will break one of these days. In the meantime, you can increase the prices on this page by around 50%, and that's in just three years! I found a really nice mid-term rental (two months) this year through a property manager, ie, a professional manager who handles rentals of an individuals furnished aparetment while they are out of Israel.

There are so many sources for finding apartment and room rentals in Jerusalem that it's a little hard to choose a starting point, so I'll begin with the best resource for them all. Flathunting, the free Internet mailing list for rentals and roommates in Jerusalem and Tel-Aviv, can be found at http://groups.yahoo.com/group/flathunting/. Since, they've moved to Yahoo! Groups, you don't have to subscribe, you can just go there and read the posts. If you prefer e-mails, I suggest subscribing in "daily digest" mode so you get one long e-mail a day rather than 30 short ones. One drawback with the flathunting list is it's heavily populated by agents and home owners who advertise the same unit, day after day after day. It make the archive very tough to read since so many of the posts are repeats. Another unfortunate fact, based on my experience of the last month, is that only about a quarter of e-mails you send direct the the poster will get answered. They all want to talk to you on the phone, either because they think e-mail is a wast of time or because they want to talk you into something.

Your basic roommate deal in Jerusalem, covering anything from a few summer months to the whole year, runs from $250 to $400 per month, plus a share in the utilities. There are two other expenses that may or may not be part of the deal, namely the Vad Bayit (the building maintenance or condo fee) and the Arnona (city tax). If you are renting an apartment for yourself or for a group of people and these fees are being charged, ask to see the bills from the previous year. If you are entering an apartment as an additional roommate, your roommates can tell you what the actual costs will be. Taken together, utilities, Vad Bayit and Arnona probably average between $50 and $100 a month, excluding phone and cable. If you're into TV, basic cable runs about dollar a day, as does satellite. Most of the ads in Flathunting and other roommate lists will specify whether or not the apartment is "religious." Abbreviations like SS (Shomer Shabbos - keeps the Sabbath in the Orthodox sense) and SK (Shomer Kasruth - keeps kosher kitchen) are common. Gender is almost always specified. The bus routes using the stop nearest to the apartment are also usually mentioned.

Solo apartments, efficiencies, 1 bedrooms, or even individual rooms rented to strangers with shared kitchens or bathrooms, start as low as $20 a night for short term and $350 a month for long term in funky neighborhoods. Prices may range as high as $60 a night in the high season for central locations, or $120 a night for family size apartments sleeping six. Tourist rental efficiencies in good neighborhoods start closer to $700/month these days, but include everything. Real estate offices in Jerusalem usually list rentals right in their window, so you can get a pretty good idea about prices in a neighborhood just by walking around for a day.

Prices are on the rise as tourists are returning. Tourist apartments are often considered Bed and Breakfasts, except you get a kitchen instead of a breakfast, and there is an excellent listing of these at http://www.bnb.co.il (be prepared to negotiate). Luxury apartments are equipped with central heat, while the bottom of the range come with electric heaters. Heat is a mater of taste. Being from New England, I've passed entire winters in Jerusalem without turning on the heat. There are huge numbers of basement apartments in Jerusalem, so if you don't want to live in a basement, make sure you tell whoever you're negotiating with, because it can be difficult to tell from pictures what floor an apartment is on. Nicer apartments are equipped with a mirpesset (balcony). Noise can be a hassle, whatever floor you're on, particularly honking horns in the street. A "quiet" neighborhood is worth a premium if noise gets on your nerves.

Real estate prices in Jerusalem are entirely "upside-down" in the traditional sense. Since Israeli's place a high value on ownership and renting has never been considered a long term option for residents, apartments command a much higher resale prices than their rental value would justify. The number of foreigners who buy Jerusalem real estate for the sake of an investment or a vacation spot also skews the values badly. For example, a $500,000 luxury apartment will rent for around $1000 a month, and that's under the old Israeli mortgage system which is nothing like the zero-interest, nothing down mortgages that have created a real estate bubble in America.

Students coming for a term of study, whether at a religious institute or University, should have an easy time finding apartment shares or takeovers from students of the same institution. E-mail has become the predominant way of arranging such deals, and most institutions in Jerusalem feature a bulletin board in a common room where staff will post e-mailed apartment requests that you send them. There are also apartment and roommate lists that you can buy from agencies once you arrive, but frankly, the free flathunting list should make all of those obsolete. Be warned that there are landlords whose idea of a good joke is taking advantage of Americans, figuring that we are all filthy rich anyway. When it comes to large unfurnished apartments, unless you are renting for a term of years, I'd leave the Israeli market to the Israelis (even if you speak Hebrew) and stick with the numerous absentee landlords from Western countries.

If you are coming to Jerusalem on a super tight budget, don't want roommates, and aren't associated with any learning programs, you'll probably want to start off in a hostel or a pension (rooming house). Hostels in Israel are the same as most places, which means a lot of partying kids and weirdos who think they are Biblical prophets - well, maybe that's unique to Jerusalem. If you're willing to live out of a bag and put up with yelling at night and questionable bedding, hostels start under $10 a night in the Old City. However, for a little more you can upgrade to a rooming house where you can lock your door and nobody will steal your beer or eat all your humous. Another resource is the AACI, Association of Americans and Canadians in Israel, which has some apartment listings both online and on a bulletin board, and where you can post a "situation wanted" ad for a couple bucks.

The three essential service without which life itself is impossible for the majority of serial tourists are phone, Internet, and laundry. Every apartment needs to have at least one phone line if you plan on connecting to the Internet. High speed connections such as cable modems and DSL are relatively rare, especially for short-timers. The standard monthly charge for a phone in Jerusalem is relatively cheap, around $20 a month, but there is no such thing as "unlimited local calls" as in the US. Phone calls are charged according to distance and time of day, with business hours being the peak period. Late at night you can call up the Internet and remain on the phone for an hour for a single unit (a couple cents), the same call would cost several dollars in the middle of the day. Cellular phones, often called "Pelle-phones" after the first brand name provider (like Kleenex), are in evidence everywhere in Israel, which has one of the highest cell phone adoption rates in the world.

There are a number of choices for Internet providers, but to save headaches, I'd keep the basic choice down to three. First of all, AOL now has a modem pool in Jerusalem, so if you already use AOL in the US, all you need to do is dial the local number and pay a little more on your monthly bill. The granddaddy of Internet providers in Israel is Netvision, whose deals range from $15 per month for unlimited use (but don't forget the phone time charges) to about $2 per month (some people claim free) for a couple hours of use, enough to check e-mail. When I'm not in Israel, I set my Netvision account to $1 per day, charged only if you use it that day, which effectively keeps the account active for free while I'm gone. The interesting hybrid provider is Bezeqnet, the phone company. In a deal that strikes me as somewhat monopolistic, they charge around $30 per month for unlimited access, but the phone call is free! I've never signed up with them so check out the details before signing on the dotted line. Technical support and sales personnel at these companies all speak English, if your Hebrew isn't up to par.

Unless your apartment comes with a washing machine (you can always hang clothes to dry in Israel), you'll need to take care of your laundry outside the house. There are two types of laundries in Jerusalem: the old fashioned bring your clothes in and pay a fortune, and the modern coin-ops (a recent innovation) where you also pay a fortune. Coin operated laundromats in Jerusalem generally cost 15 IS (about $3.50) to wash and about $1.50 to dry, or $5.00 to do a load of laundry. The full service laundries charge more, and often give back heavy items of clothing, like blue jeans, somewhat damp. Soap powder is also pretty steep, like $4 or $5 for a 3 pound sack of detergent at the supermarket. The coin-op Laundromats are typically very small, averaging three washing machines and two dryers, so it pays to keep an eye out for their free times and schedule your life accordingly. If you go to a laundromat and the machines have finished their cycle, don't hesitate to take people's stuff out and dump it on the counter, they may have gone to Tel Aviv for the day.

This guide is in progress, and I welcome your comments, questions and suggestions.

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