Building blocs

With housing permits in Gush Etzion scarce, most transactions are for second-hand homes.

Efrat 521 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Efrat 521
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Gush Etzion (the Etzion Bloc) is one of the most famous names in modern Israeli history. The core of the bloc is made up of four agricultural settlements founded in the early 1940s on land purchased piecemeal between 1920 and 1930: Kfar Etzion, Massuot Yitzhak, Ein Tzurim and Revadim.
One of the most famous battles in the 1948 war was fought for control of the area. Israel lost, the settlements were destroyed and the area became part of the Kingdom of Jordan after the cease-fire agreement between the two states. Israel regained control of the area following the Six Day War.
In 1948, the bloc had a combined population of 400. Today, it’s a complex of over 20 settlements with a combined population of more than 25,000.
The central settlement is Efrat, a small town of nearly 10,000 inhabitants organized as a separate council. Council head Oded Revivi is very upbeat about his town.
“I’m very pleased to be giving this interview to The Jerusalem Post because we have a very large English-speaking element,” he says. “The ‘Anglos,’ originally residents of the US, the UK, Canada and Australia, and their descendents, make up nearly 40 percent of the population of Efrat and there is a constant stream of new immigrants from English-speaking countries. English-speaking immigrants quickly feel at home here.”
One of the major selling points of the bloc in general and Efrat in particular is the quality of life and the healthy climate. Cool, dry, clean mountain air, a rural setting and a very warm communal environment.
Efrat is also becoming a center for tele-medicine: American-trained and licensed doctors who practice medicine in the US, from Israel. These doctors take a course in X-ray analysis, and are then sent X-rays via the Internet from hospitals and clinics in the US. The results are sent back via e-mail. In this way, not only can US doctors continue to practice their profession after immigrating, but more importantly, they can continue to draw US-level salaries.
The bloc is today essentially an affluent, middleclass rural suburb of Jerusalem today, and as such has a robust rea-estate market. Demand is heavy and outstrips supply.
Supply is limited because legally the area is under military rule, and the authorities are very sparse with building permits. In consequence most of the real-estate transactions involve second-hand dwellings.
However, demand for housing in the bloc, while plentiful, is very specialized. The bloc is a very religious environment. Most of the communal settlements have an acceptance committee which will not accept secular residents. In Efrat, a town with no acceptance committee, secular families or individuals can buy real estate, but it is doubtful whether any secular person would feel comfortable living in a religious environment.
Most of the housing in the bloc consists of rural, single- family homes or semidetached dwellings with gardens, but the Mishhav construction company, which specializes in building for the religious public, is currently building one of the first apartment blocks in the area. The project consists of eight terraced blocks with seven apartments to a block, making 56 apartments in all. Large, 100- to 130-sq.m. apartments with small gardens and large terraces range in price from NIS 720,000 to NIS 800,000 – a bargain by Jerusalem standards. The project is in Karmei Tzur, the most southerly settlement in the bloc.
Sigalit Shertz, of the Anglo-Saxon real-estate agency in Efrat, says, “Demand for housing in the Gush in general and Efrat in particular is strong. This creates problems because there are very few housing starts. Most of the housing sold is ‘second hand’... The dwellings in the Gush are usually large. Religious families tend to be very large, and affluent parents want each child to have a room of their own if possible.”
In Efrat, a 100-sq.m. apartment can cost from NIS 1 million to NIS 1.25m., a semidetached dwelling of 200 sq.m. on a 350-sq.m. plot can cost from NIS 2.2m. to NIS 2.6m. while a large single-family home on a large plot can cost NIS 3m. and up.