Want to find an apartment in Israel? Good luck, pal

The never-ending search for an apartment in Israel: Here are the herculean tasks you’ll need to complete

 DEMONSTRATORS SET UP tents across from the Knesset, to protest soaring housing prices, earlier this year. One of the signs reads: ‘We all deserve a home.’ (photo credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)
DEMONSTRATORS SET UP tents across from the Knesset, to protest soaring housing prices, earlier this year. One of the signs reads: ‘We all deserve a home.’
(photo credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)

There are many wonderful reasons to want to come and live in Israel. On top of the more political motive of Zionism, the country is beautiful and filled with a rich history. As to the people as a society, everything takes some getting used to!

That being said, there are some definite pitfalls. One in particular that can ram into you like a ton of bricks is if you are in the unfortunate situation of needing to move between homes.

More specifically, it is something quite like hell on Earth to move from one rental apartment to another.

The price

There is, of course, the most basic issue of apartment prices. Tel Aviv has been blessed with some of the most outrageous home prices, not only in the country, but in the whole world. Sadly, a lot of the rest of the country has followed suit with some just-as-outrageous prices.

A relatively small two-bedroom apartment in Jerusalem can be put up for rent for as high as NIS 6,700. In Givatayim, over NIS 7,000. Even in Haifa, such an apartment can get up as high as NIS 5,000 – and that’s relatively peripheral.

 FINDING A GOOD apartment is even more difficult than finding that perfect etrog. (credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM) FINDING A GOOD apartment is even more difficult than finding that perfect etrog. (credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)

Indeed, the Facebook groups such as “Apartments in Jerusalem” and “Secret Apartments in Tel Aviv” which have become extremely popular for sharing apartments up for rent have taken on using a pig emoji in the comment section to mark a particular property owner as greedy over the prices.

The search

Often, landlords simply do not have the time to share the property and look for a renter. This results in one of two options: Either the previous tenant shares the property to help find the next renter or the property owner hires a realtor.

In the case of the former, the tenants will share to Yad2 (literally means hand-two, it’s an Israeli secondhand sales and rent website) or to the aforementioned Facebook groups. They will show dozens of people around, taking time out of their day to do the work of the landlord in a strange, socially accepted practice.

In the case of the latter, the landlord will hire a realtor to show the property. They are often more trusted and have an easier time finding more “stable” rental arrangements. However, once someone wants to sign on, the realtor then takes a fee of one month’s rent at a minimum as his paycheck for renting out the apartment.

This money comes, not out of the landlord’s pocket, but rather from that of the new tenant. Needless to say, this makes no sense. The tenant did not hire them and should, therefore, not be the person to pay the realtor.

The fight

But beyond that, there is a sense of absolute devastation and exhaustion surrounding the mere effort needed in order to find a halfway-decent home to begin with. While the rental market was relatively flexible during the pandemic, as many people veered towards letting their roots deepen in their homes so as to avoid financial instability, it has become sturdy and virtually unbreakable now.

It feels as though you are in constant competition with the people around you, all trying to get the home that suits them best or perhaps compromise over whatever they think they can realistically grasp first. While landlords can sometimes be kind and understanding – and yes, they do exist – many are aggressive and enjoy the competition, letting the potential tenants fight it out.

In one particular apartment that my husband and I saw, we were shown around by the tenants that were leaving the property. They were kind and answered all of our questions, and as we were leaving, they said, “We’ll add you to the list.”

“The list?” we asked.

“Yes,” they answered. “The owner of the apartment asked that we make a list of all the people who come to see the apartment and list them in order of who we think is best, alongside some objective information (married, kids, all that). You’re number two in our list.”

Needless to say we were horrified but like so many others, we were desperate, so we accepted our lowly status with hopeful understanding.

The contract

If you happen to be lucky enough to reach the point of negotiating an apartment contract with a landlord, you are then plagued with unreasonable contracts by unforgiving landlords. While many are kind and humane, some have become desperate due to the tense climate of the market and have therefore taken to creating one-sided rental contracts that look out solely for the landlord and do not give the renter even a shred of protection.

Just as an example, many rental contracts seen today insist that it is in the right of the landlord to decide of his or her own accord to demand the renter evacuate the premises if he or she finds that the tenant has strayed from the contract at any level with almost no prior warning at all. That means that a tiny scratch on a hardwood floor could land a single mother and her children on the street.

My husband and I have gotten incredibly lucky to have found a landlord who is one of the most honorable people we have ever met – so far, at least!

The move

But let’s say you’ve won the jackpot and you:

 • Found an apartment • For less than your soul is worth • With a halfway decent human as your landlord • Which you didn’t have to do battle till death in order to get the deal

In this case, it is now time to move. This means you now have the clock ticking backward to the moment in which — should you hire them — the movers arrive at your front stoop and pack up your entire life.

If there is one piece of advice I can impart to you, it is to invest in a moving crew that packs the boxes for you. For weeks on end, we packed everything away – though, I have to admit, I did quite enjoy color-coding the boxes and plugging them in numerically into an Excel spreadsheet. But I would have far preferred saving myself the time and effort and instead taking in a team that would go through the ordeal in my place.

Instead, our little family had the misfortune of having to pack everything up. As, naturally, we did not manage this, it was followed by an extremely difficult phase of packing and moving things on our own that we did not have time to pack in time for the movers. This took literal days of exhaustive and unforgiving work, leaving us both physically and emotionally drained.

Get used to it, kid

After this comes the little window of hope: the unpacking.

You start to see your new home come together. You can imagine that one day when it will feel like a home, and after that, when it will feel like your home. Sure, you argue here and there about where everything will go, but eventually, you can “zoom out” and suddenly see that the empty room with a bunch of objects strewn about suddenly makes sense; things finally fall into place.

Moving is not easy anywhere in the world. I think that it’s acceptable to believe that Israel has it a tad worse off. That being said, it’s a necessary evil and – if you’re lucky – a rewarding one.