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I usually shy away from the popular debate about whether or not Tel Aviv can be compared to New York. I love Tel Aviv for what it is, for better and for worse: a warm, lively, Middle Eastern city.
This week though, I found myself thinking Tel Aviv is becoming like New York, at least in terms of shortage of good rental apartments. It happened when I ran into an acquaintance on the street, and she mentioned that her neighbor just bought a new apartment. "Is her old flat available?" I instinctively asked. And wham, there it was: The third or fourth or hundredth time this month that I asked about apartments.
The real estate situation in Tel Aviv has gotten so out of hand that I barely go an hour without asking someone about apartments. It reminds me of an old Bernadette Peters film named Slaves of New York (don't attempt to watch it unless you're very young), and of many episodes in the more recent television series Sex & the City (watch it, especially if you like shoes). Both portray a grim picture of how desperate New Yorkers can get regarding apartments. Having now reached previously unfathomed levels of despair in my own apartment hunt, I wonder if the Tel Aviv real-estate market is becoming as problematic as that of New York.
My apartment fiasco began when we left our well-situated but tiny third-floor-no-elevator-no-parking apartment in Tel Aviv, and signed a lease to rent a huge 4-room flat elsewhere in the city. The new apartment featured an elevator and private parking space, and cost $980 per month. It seemed like a huge sum of money at that time, but can barely get you two rooms in a third-floor-no-elevator-no-parking apartment in central or north Tel Aviv these days.
My plan was to use the two-year rental period to figure out where we want to settle down by the time our son graduates from kindergarten. He's done an incredible job growing up. I, on the other hand, am still torn between several conflicting desires: I want to live close to the gorgeous Yarkon Park, to enable my son to grow up in a close community/neighborhood setting, to escape the city mess and yet not be sentenced to eternal peaceful boredom outside the city.
As the newspaper headlines scream out that Tel Aviv real estate prices are nearly double those outside Tel Aviv, I am a bit embarrassed to be discussing any of this. The most reasonable solution, as friends and relatives are quick to point out, is to step outside the city. But avid Tel Avivians will be the first to admit there's something addictive about the city. True, since I married I rarely visit the theater or go out for coffee past 7 pm - but I love knowing that I could do those things, if only I wanted. Like many things in modern life, living in Tel Aviv is more about having the options than it is about realizing them.
The furthest I'll get from Tel Aviv this time around is probably the outskirts of the city. I'm either on an incredibly slow route leaving the city, or maybe I'm one of those people who just can't move too far away. Only time will tell, though prices and mind-sets do have a strong cumulative effect. Meanwhile, I'll continue to frantically comb the scores of relevant Internet sites, and get annoyed with real-estate agents who pretend to be offering apartments with no brokerage fee. I'll also continue to phone those same real estate agents, and in a compulsive self-destructive manner ask them to tell me about the latest apartment I just missed by one day. I'll lament over every lost apartment, and wonder whether I'll ever find a good one, close to the school I selected. I'll second-guess my latest pick of a neighborhood, and wonder whether I should reconsider last week's choice. I'll keep in mind there were no available apartments in that neighborhood, either.
And if you ask me about Tel Aviv, New York and apartments this week, I'm likely to recommend that you watch some relevant episodes of Sex & the City.
Please let me know if it's as funny as I recall, and please please, by all means do let me know if you hear of a good apartment for rent in Tel Aviv. Desperate times call for desperate measures, and I'll consider sharing some wonderful ideas about how to search for an apartment in Tel Aviv. In this roller-coaster of apartment hunting, it's important to keep some optimism between bouts of despair, and a sense of humor wherever possible.