For the first time in the history of the State of Israel, Jews from around the world are unable to enter the country as a result of the Coronavirus. This article discusses the possibility of buying a home in Israel when the borders are closed to non-Israelis.
As of March 18, 2020, in an attempt to curb the spread of Coronavirus, the Government of Israel sealed its borders to all foreigners. Now, with the numbers of infected people increasing rapidly, there seems no end in sight to the closure. Meanwhile, Jewish communities, the world over, have been devasted by the pandemic, health-wise, financially, socially, and religiously. Aliyah organizations are recording all-time high levels of interest in Aliyah and preparing for a massive wave of immigration, while real estate companies are claiming to be inundated with inquiries from people overseas interested in buying a home in Israel.
But the big question remains: how can one buy a home in Israel when the borders are closed to non-Israelis?
In order to answer this question, let’s look at what happened prior to Corona: A prospective new immigrant, investor, or holiday-home buyer would make a trip to Israel, likely make a vacation out of it, find a reputable real estate agent, see a number of properties, and decide which one they wanted to purchase. With the help of an attorney, a mortgage broker, and possibly an engineer, architect, and designer, the deal would be quickly closed and they would become the proud owners of a new home in Israel.
With no flights to Israel for (the vast majority of) foreigners in the foreseeable future, this is not an easy feat today. But indeed there are alternative ways to search, select, and purchase a home without leaving your living room.
The five stages of remotely purchasing a property are outlined below:
- Define your goals and parameters
- Build your team
- Select a home
- Do the due diligence
- Close the deal
1. Define your goals and parameters
You first need to think carefully about where in Israel you want to buy a home and what type of property you are looking for. Do you want a beach-side home? Do you like city life? Would you prefer an apartment? A private villa? A new home or a pre-owned property? What is your preferred neighborhood? Somewhere in Tel Aviv? Jerusalem? Herzliya? The North? The South? What is your budget? How much can you put down? How big a home do you need? How many bedrooms and bathrooms would you like? Storage requirements and outdoor spaces? and anything else you’d wish for in your home in Israel…
2. Build your team
Next, for buying a home in Israel remotely you will need an excellent team of experienced professionals with boots on the ground. These people will be representing you and you need to know that you can trust them, wholeheartedly. It is best to find reputable and trustworthy professionals via recommendations from family, friends, or other reliable sources.
i) The real estate agent
Make sure you understand how real estate agents in Israel work. Ensure that the agent you work with is licensed in Israel and check out their online presence to get a sense of their level of professionalism. If you don’t speak Hebrew, look for someone who is Anglo and/or speaks fluent English. Communication is the name of the game!
ii) The real estate attorney
It is highly recommended that you hire a lawyer in Israel who specializes in Israel real estate. Most work for a percentage of the sale so there is no need to pay them upfront.
iii) Other professionals
If you need assistance in financing, inspections, design, renovation, or anything else, you want to build a team of people that will represent you with integrity and with whom you can communicate in your own language. This team may comprise a mortgage broker, engineer, architect, designer, and/or a contractor.
3. Select a home
The biggest problem is that you cannot physically view any homes for sale in Israel. This includes those essential intangibles such as “feeling the energy” and connecting to the house, as well as more physical attributes such as seeing the natural lighting and checking the water pressure.
Communication with your agent is key. Give him/her a laundry list of all your needs, preferences, and parameters, and let him/her do the search on your behalf.
The agent should send you a list of potential properties including specifications, address, photographs, plans, and other visuals for each property. Once you get the list, it is recommended to use Google Maps to locate the exact buildings and see what schools, supermarkets, cafés, and synagogues are in the vicinity, how close you are to the beach, and how wide the streets are. You may even be able to see what the street and buildings look like using Google Street View.
Once you have carefully chosen which properties have the most potential, have your agent set up a virtual tour – one watch by day and one watch by night. Make sure your tour includes looking at every detail including bathrooms, hallways, and outdoor spaces.
Now that you have been impressed by the virtual tour and you interested in a specific property, be sure to send a friend or family member, or an objective real estate professional, to be your eyes on the ground.
4. Do the due diligence
Before you make that all-important purchase, contact your lawyer to physically visit the property, and make all the necessary legal clarifications regarding the deed and the legal status of the property.
Prior to making a bid, discuss a pricing strategy with your agent, and then make your best offer. If your bid is accepted, you should now verify the physical state of the property by bringing an engineer to check the construction, water, and electrical systems. Once you get the green light from the engineer then all systems go for the closing.
5. Close the deal
The most important thing at this stage of purchasing a property in Israel is to give power of attorney to your lawyer, or to a family member to complete the transaction on your behalf.
These documents should be drafted and prepared by your lawyer for you to sign, and then get your signatures verified either in the closest Israeli consulate to where you currently reside or get them Notarized and Apostilled. Your lawyer should instruct you on how to take care of this.
Once you’ve signed and verified all the documents, send them to your lawyer in Israel to continue with the purchase process in Israel.
Of course, you’ll need to transfer funds to Israel. Some funds should be available in Israel even before the signing, as you’ll usually have to pay at least 15%-20% at the signing. The rest can be transferred according to the payment schedule negotiated. This can be done by either using a reputable foreign currency transfer agent or through a bank.
Once all funds have been paid, you will take possession of the property and you are now the proud owner of a home in Israel – Mazal Tov!!
We hope this guide is helpful in remotely buying a property in Israel. As a matter of fact, many real estate agents are claiming that more houses have been sold online in the last 4 months, than in the entire 5 years prior to that. As people lose confidence in alternative investment options, buying a property in Israel is looking more attractive than ever.
Yair Givati of Haim Givati & Co. Law contributed to this article.
The writer is a real estate broker and the owner of Jackie Bitensky Real Estate, Jerusalem. She was elected to the Board of Directors of the Jerusalem Chamber of Real Estate Agents and has been Treasurer since 2016. She can be reached by email at [email protected].