Post-Corona homes: Bigger balconies, gardens, and workspaces

Balconies at almost any cost, shared work-spaces for neighbors, a return to the “half-room” which can be used as a work area, ventilation systems that are epidemic-appropriate and much more flexible planning: A look at how buildings are beginning to change as a result of Corona.

The balcony, which many people have traditionally chosen to close off to get a few more meters, and which was never really practical in a warm country like Israel — is making a comeback as a result of Corona. Evidence for this is that real estate developers are now willing to go to all extents to include a balcony in every apartment.

“In projects that are currently in the planning stages, we will take areas from the apartment itself in order to create a more spacious balcony” notes Uri Fleischmann, Vice President Marketing & Sales of Meshulam Levinstein Group. “We will increase the size of the balcony by three to five square meters at the expense of the salon. This is our way of creating a better and more appropriate product. A spacious balcony provides added value and this will be highlighted in the marketing process. If in the past, 12 square meters was sufficient for a balcony, today we understand that the balcony is the starting point of the apartment. With an additional 3 square meters, it will be possible to pull out a table or create a space for the kids ride-on toys.” 

Yaffa Sadan, Vice President of Marketing & Sales of Yossi Avrahami Group talks of a similar trend. “We have three projects in their planning stages in Haifa, with about 1,000 apartments in total. We have asked the planners to enlarge the balconies even at the expense of the size of the apartment.”

Gil Gurvitz, Marketing & Sales Manager of Azorim, says that the company has already begun to increase balconies in a process that will affect dozens of projects in the near future. “Expanding balconies is the most common request of our customers, that can be up to 50 percent of their current size. At the moment, we are increasing balconies at the expense of the main living areas in buildings that are presently in the planning stages, prior to obtaining building permits. This will be done in dozens of buildings.”

Another solution to the need for ventilation and sunlight is to create a shared garden on the roof of the shops on the ground floor for the residents of the building. “In an urban renewal project on Ha’Shvatim Street in Bat Yam where four towers with 700 apartments are going to be built, we will build a garden on the roof of the commercial area.” Every two buildings will have a shared garden of 600 square meters. This is an area which was not exploited in the original plan but which now we are planning to invest a lot of money into. In other projects in which it will be possible, we will take a little space from the garden apartments to create a communal garden for all of the residents” says Gurvitz.

Research conducted for Calcalist on the Yad2 website reported an increase in demand for apartments and houses with access to open air and gardens. In April, there were 123,150 searches for apartments with balconies, compared to the month of March where there were 91,527 searches. A half a year ago, in October 2019, there were 78,481 searches for apartments with a balcony — representing an increase of 64%.

At the same time, during April 2020, 205,000 surfers were interested in garden apartments, an increase of about 10% compared to the monthly average of about 187,000 in December 2019 until February 2020. The number of those interested in private homes has jumped about 20%, from an average of 456,000 interested in December, January and February to 545,000 in April.

Leaving the apartment to work in an office in the lobby of the building

Y.H. Dimri Group has also recently considered planning changes to suit the new climate that Corona has brought. “As a result of the Corona crisis, we are examining all residential projects that are currently on the table in the planning stages, for the enlargement of balconies and the creation of shared work spaces inside the building – all at the expense of other areas in the building” says Amir Cohen, Director of Marketing. “The intention is to take space from the lobby and turn it into a shared workspace. This will be a very bright area, with communication infrastructures and the possibility of multiple work positions. This change is possible in the lobby of towers because they are always very spacious. In the past, this area was reserved for an exercise room, a children’s play area or a lounge. The lockdown and the need to work from home has created the necessity for a workspace. We are applying this now to projects in Bat Yam, Givat Shmuel, Petach Tikva and Ashdod.

The Meshulam Levinstein Group has identified a similar need and are working to establish shared work-space in a residential building project. “In the Migdal Hatzok project in Netanya, we took an area that was originally designated as a common area for the residents and decided to change it into a working space. This way, residents can work in a relaxed manner without the household distractions. It will have eight workstations and will operate on a first-come, first-served basis”, says Ori Fleischmann.

David Kempo, Chairman of the Association of Architects and City Builders, believes that these planning changes are not a momentary phenomenon or the result of a temporary trend that will soon change, but are the seeds of profound changes in urban planning: “In the near future we will see developers and planners designating open areas in buildings, which will constitute  common workspaces for the residents. You will pay rent to the Vaad Bayit, and you might even be able to buy an office unit in the building. Some of the occupants will buy units and some will not, just like a builder sells you a parking space. At the same time, you can create offices that can also have a hotel unit. These ideas have been circulating for some time in the academic halls of architects, and today, a new reality is forcing us to bring them to life”.

The return of the “half-room”

Azorim has decided to offer a different solution to working from home by restoring the half-room to their apartments. “In the past, the half-room was very appealing. It was born out of a planning constraint and it was acceptable to sell a 4.5 or 5.5 room apartment; however, in recent years, we stopped offering it because there was no demand”, says Gurvitz. “Today, the demand is back. A half-room is an 8 square meter-sized room that is a suitable working space. People will understand this and be willing to pay money for it.”

According to Gurvitz, the idea of creating shared workspaces, especially in the Tel Aviv area, was floating even before the corona crisis; however, it was specifically in the wake of the crisis that the idea was scrapped. “We are afraid to build such spaces because according to our analysis, people prefer to work in their own homes or in the office alongside people they know.” We identified the same issue in commercial real estate. We think that people will be afraid to work in a common closed space. But we are still considering the matter”.

In addition, there will be urban changes. Kempo reports “The suburb will become a satellite of the city. Not a bedroom community, but a secondary urban center. In the age of epidemics and technological advancements, remote work is encouraged. It will create an amazing lifestyle. You will be able to wake up in the house and walk into your workspace at home. You will have saved two hours on the roads, and you will have had time to sit down with the kids before they go to school or do some exercise. You will be able to sit in front of the computer, take a lunch break at home, and finish your work at 10 p.m.”

Guy Kaplan, district planner for the Construction Planning District Committee, estimates that urban changes will be coordinated with trends that began prior to the Corona era: “The planning in recent years is consistent with the trends we have seen with greater intensity during the time of Corona. We want to see fewer closed shopping malls, and more buzzing streets characterized by a mixture of uses – residential, workplaces, and the possibility of going down to the shopping areas.

Flexible and multi-use towers

Aloni Hetz, a property development and management company of mainly office towers, estimates that the virus and the health concerns for tenants can bring about change in building planning — and not just because of the preference for sitting in private rooms over a crowd in work spaces. In their report for the first quarter of 2020, parent company Amut stated that it should now be required to adjust the ventilation, control, and monitoring systems in office buildings due to the Corona era. Since many towers do not even have windows that can be opened or aired, this will not be a simple challenge and it is possible that the Regular will introduce new rules and regulations.

The greatest challenge in the next few years, experts and engineers assume, will be to  adapt construction and planning to the reality of uncertainty. First and foremost, the understanding that there may not be future demand for so many office towers — because of the economic downturn, the transition to more work from home, and the technological advancements, and so on — and therefore it is highly recommended to plan them in advance with the possibility of a change in their zoning.

Project Management company, Waxman Govrin, recently formulated a document detailing the planning needs for the establishment of a “flexible office building” which  can be easily converted to residential use. “We tried to find the launch points between offices and residences. We said that if we are going to plan offices today it is a good idea to consider factors that will enable a relatively simple conversion to residential usage.” says Yigal Govrin. He said that a flexible design will make the project more expensive but will save costs that may emerge in the future. “If we have to live with this story of isolation and social remoteness for a long time, the name of the game is flexibility.”

Architect Yoav Uman, owner and partner at the Tito-Uman office, has already talked about the inclusion of living rooms in office buildings: “You can separate spaces in the office and make them into areas for relaxation or sleeping. It is possible to draw a common space for this purpose.”

Translated by BuyItInIsrael with permission from Calcalist. The original article can be found here.

The contents of this article are designed to provide the reader with general information and not to serve as legal or other professional advice for a particular transaction. Readers are advised to obtain advice from qualified professionals prior to entering into any transaction.

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