Har Homa sales high despite criticism

Real estate agents suggest drop in sales seasonal, claim international criticism not a factor.

har homa 224.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
har homa 224.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
The renewed international condemnation of a plan to build more than 300 new homes in the southeastern Jerusalem neighborhood of Har Homa has had little or no impact on apartment sales, Israeli real estate agents said Thursday. "A small number of people did cancel [their planned purchases] because of the media noise but overall we did not feel a great change," said Reuven Levy of Homat Shmuel Realty. "We will have to see what will be in the future," he added. Other real estate agents suggested that the drop in sales was a seasonal one that had more to do with the winter than with the controversial building project. "Har Homa is very much a family neighborhood of people with kids so we always see a slower season in the winter," said real estate agent Jackie Bitensky, formerly of Anglo Saxon Realty. Bitensky noted that sales in the neighborhood, which was constructed in the 1990s despite similar international condemnation, typically peaked from Pessah to Rosh Hashana. Other realtors concurred that it was unclear if the recent drop in sales were a result of the controversy or was simply a seasonal trend. "We are seeing a drop in interest to buy in Har Homa and more owners wanting to sell, but it is unclear what the reason for this is," said Aharon Bass of Anglo Saxon Realty. Bass noted that the recent international controversy over the new building plans could impact people who were skeptical about moving in to begin with, but were unlikely to impact those keenly interested in buying a flat in the neighborhood, such as young couples looking for relatively affordable housing in Jerusalem. "There are good and strong reasons to buy in Har Homa," he said. A new two-bedroom flat in Har Homa starts at around $200,000, while a three-room apartment goes for about $240,000, prices that are considerably lower than in central Jerusalem neighborhoods. Still other real estate agents said that they did not feel any impact whatsoever on sales in the neighborhood, and that their business was booming. "I did not feel any change [by the recent news]," said real estate agent Laurent Boubli. "In contrast, the French-speaking public is buying more and more flats in the area." The criticism of the latest building plan, including a rare rebuke by US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Palestinian condemnation, comes as Israelis and Palestinian have resumed peace negotiations following last month's Annapolis conference, with the aim of reaching a final peace agreement by the end of next year. The east Jerusalem neighborhood overlooks Bethlehem and lies just inside the expanded city limits before Jerusalem's southern border with the West Bank. The neighborhood, which is viewed by some Israelis as a strategically placed buffer against the Palestinians and which city officials say was built on predominantly Jewish-owned land, is now home to 7,000 residents. The security situation has, in the past, effected sales in the sprawling neighborhood - which the city originally envisioned would one day be home to as many as 30,000 residents - with the price of real estate seeing volatile ups and downs over the last decade. After an exceptionally good period of marketing apartments in 1999 and 2000, sales nearly ground to a halt with the outbreak of Palestinian violence seven years ago, especially when the nearby southern Jerusalem neighborhood of Gilo came under repeated Palestinian gunfire. At the time, the violence dissuaded potential buyers from making their home in a neighborhood faced by Arab neighborhoods on its northern side, and by PA-ruled Bethlehem to the south. Bass said some potential buyers concerned about the proximity to Arab villages may now be more inclined to buy properties in more central parts of the neighborhood. In the meantime, last month's tender of 307 new flats has been fully marketed to several private building contractors, said Construction and Housing Ministry spokesman Kobi Bleich. A plan for an additional 200 apartments in the neighborhood has not been marketed for the time being, and was likely to be put on hold for a year or two, purely for marketing reasons, he said.