Neighborhood watch: A wave of interest

Run by a foundation rather than an elected municipality, Caesarea’s housing prices have remained fairly steady.

Caesaria 521  (photo credit: Courtesy of Naot Shiran)
Caesaria 521
(photo credit: Courtesy of Naot Shiran)
The Land of Israel is saturated with history, but even here Caesarea, an ancient city inhabited anew, stands out.
Once a bustling port city, the gateway to Palestine, the city is today a garden town of single-family homes, an abode of the affluent on a par with Herzliya Pituah, Kfar Shmaryahu and Savyon.
Caesarea is very well preserved. The theater and what remains of the ancient harbor were built by King Herod, but the urban remains as well as the walls of the town were built in 1251, during the extended visit of Louis IX of France during the Crusades.
However, the strong walls and moat could not keep out the forces of the Egyptian sultan Baybars, who captured the town and expelled its European townspeople. The city lay in ruins till 1884 when a small fishing village was established on the site of the old Crusader castle.
The modern town of Caesarea is not built on the ruins of the old but rather on the outskirts of the northern suburbs of the old town. The story of the new Caesarea, which with the exception of its name has nothing in common with the Caesarea of Herod and King Louis, had its beginnings in 1952.
With the establishment of the State of Israel the French branch of the Rothschild family transferred most of its vast land holdings to the new state, with the exception of 8,500 acres (35,000 sq.m.) around what is now modern Caesarea. The Rothschilds did transfer this land to the state as well, but it was leased back for 200 years to a charitable organization called The Caesarea Edmond Benjamin de Rothschild Foundation, owned jointly by the State of Israel and the Rothschild Family.
The foundation owns and leases the land in Caesarea, and regulates the exterior architectural design of the houses. The foundation established the Caesarea Edmond Benjamin de Rothschild Development Corporation Ltd. (CDC) in 1952 to act as its operations arm. The company transfers all profits from the development of Caesarea to the foundation, which in turn contributes to organizations that advance higher education and culture across Israel.
Caesarea is very much a dormitory settlement, with many of its residents commuting to Tel Aviv and Haifa. On the outskirts of Caesarea, however, lies the 3.5 Caesarea Business Park. The park houses approximately 170 companies and employs about 5,500 people. Industry in the park varies from distribution to hi-tech sectors. The residential neighborhoods have a small shopping area with a kiosk, supermarket, optician and bank. There are a number of restaurants and cafes scattered across the town, with a number within the ancient port.
The first to lease land for residential purposes were members of the Rothschild family, who persuaded other affluent Jews from the Diaspora and some local wealthy businessmen to do likewise. In consequence, up to the late Sixties it was perceived as the abode of millionaires. But beginning in the Seventies the foundation started marketing plots of land to middle-class families at affordable prices, and the town took off, as it were.
Incidentally, Caesarea is the only town that does not have an elected city council. All the municipal tasks such as garbage collection, gardening, street maintenance, etc. are carried out by the foundation.
Meir Menachem, the joint CEO of the Naot Shiran real-estate agency, which specializes in very expensive properties, is very upbeat about Caesarea.
“It isn’t the most expensive town in Israel, but in my opinion it’s the best planned, the most beautiful and the most well kept. [It has] clean streets, green spaces, the seashore, and with excellent road connections to both the north and south of the country.
“Most people come to live in Caesarea because of the quality of life and its easy access to the hi-tech centers of south Haifa... and Herzliya, but Caesarea [also] has an industrial park right next door that offers job opportunities to residents.”
The real-estate scene in Caesarea is subdued. Demand is on the wane here, as it is in the rest of the country. Nevertheless there is demand of sorts, and the market is steady because it is regulated by the foundation.
The foundation only markets building plots when it believes the market is receptive, which helps prevent dramatic fluctuations in prices.
In Caesarea the value of real estate is determined by its distance from the sea; a 1,000 sq.m. plot next to the sea can cost NIS 4 million. While some believe that Caesarea offers a better quality of life than Herzliya Pituah, Kfar Shmaryahu and Savyon, it is relatively far from Tel Aviv. In consequence prices there are lower by about 50 percent.
Recent real estate transactions
• An-800 sq.m. single-family home on a 2,500-sq.m. plot was recently sold for $6.5 million. The property is opposite the sea. It has a large, well-tended tropical garden and a large swimming pool.
• A 500-sq.m. single-family home on a 1,000-sq.m. plot in the eastern part of town, as far from the sea as it’s possible to be in Caesarea, was sold for $3.2m. The property, built in the local Middle Eastern style with tall ceilings and large windows to help the air circulation, has a lovely garden and a swimming pool, and was sold fully furnished.