Neighborhood Watch: Filling a void

Demand for housing in Mitzpe Ramon is mostly investor-related.

Mitzpe Ramon (photo credit: Courtesy)
Mitzpe Ramon
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Mitzpe Ramon is a small hilltop desert town located astride one of the two roads leading to Eilat. From an altitude of 860 meters, it overlooks Machtesh Ramon.
It is a small and pleasant “development town,” but whereas that label often has a negative connotation for other towns, it connotes charm for Mitzpe Ramon. The town enjoys a dry, cool climate: dry because of the desert, and relatively cool because of its high altitude. In high summer, it can be very hot while the sun is out, but at sunset it becomes quite cool.
The town has its beginnings in 1951. It started life as a camp for the workers building the road to Eilat. In the early ’60s, the government started settling new immigrants there, mainly from North Africa and Romania. It was – and has remained – one of the most distant and isolated towns in the country, and that is also part of its charm.
But calling it isolated is misleading; its isolation is only relative, as it is an hour’s drive from Beersheba and a three-hour drive from Eilat – perhaps a long way in Israeli terms, but less so for those hailing from the US, Australia, Canada or South Africa.
Today Mitzpe Ramon has a population of nearly 7,000, including the original residents and families of military personnel serving in the region. The municipality is keen on attracting new immigrants from English-speaking countries, as well as young professional families.
“Mitzpe Ramon is an amazing place to live, and it is especially so for families with children,” Mayor Flora Shoshan tells Metro. “We have one of the best educational systems in the Negev, a very high quality of life. It is a town that is developing fast, especially its tourist industry, and consequently there are many exciting business opportunities for newcomers. And last but not least, it is a very warm, welcoming community.”
Tourism is one of the reasons the municipality wants to attract English-speakers. This small town’s seven hotels – with more planned in the future – need English-speaking employees in substantial numbers. Tourism has become the economic mainstay of the town, which is a tourist attraction in its own right.
Mitzpe Ramon and the surrounding area have approximately 2,500 beds in hotels, hostels and inns. The Beresheet (Hebrew for Genesis) hotel, considered one of the most luxurious in the country, is located in Mitzpe Ramon.
The demand for housing that the tourist trade has generated has heavily influenced the real-estate market there. Many of the dwellings are rented to people working in the tourism industry, and to the military. Consequently demand for housing today is mostly investor related.
People buy an apartment or a semidetached house and rent it out. Mitzpe Ramon is perceived as a vacation town, and this has created demand from middle-aged couples, who buy semidetached houses, renovate and redecorate them and use them as holiday homes. There is also demand among those who want to retire, because the town is small and safe. It radiates peace and quiet, and it has an excellent climate with clean, healthy mountain air.
Many are “discovering” Mitzpe Ramon as a possible location for inexpensive vacation homes, since with the rising standard of living, a second home is no longer considered the height of luxury.
But the real-estate market there has its limitations. It is small, and there have been no new building projects in the last 30 years. The only properties on the market come up when the owners die or move to another place.
Demand is usually higher than supply. Those who want to sell their property and ask reasonable prices have no problem finding buyers.
Everything in Mitzpe Ramon was built by the Construction and Housing Ministry or the Defense Ministry – with the exception of the single-family homes constructed under the government’s Bnei Beit’cha program – and the former dwellings fall into four categories.
The first are the homes that the government built in the ’60s to accommodate the first settlers. These consist of single-story blocks with apartments in a row, each with a small patch of garden. The original dwellings were only 45 square meters, but many owners have enlarged the original structures.
The second type are called patio-type dwellings, since they have small enclosed, paved yards. These are also built in a row, some with a second floor.
The third type are semidetached dwellings with a built-up area of 60 sq.m. on a 250-sq.m. plot. Though they were originally single-story structures, people can add a second floor.
The last category is 80-sq.m. apartments. Over a 30-year period, the Defense Ministry built a number of three-story apartment blocks to house the families of servicemen serving in the area. They are now being sold off, one of the reasons being that officers these days expect better quality and larger residences.
Besides these types of dwellings, there are the Bnei Beit’cha homes, whereby the government sells land to private owners via the Israel Lands Authority on condition that they build homes for domestic use.
Prices in Mitzpe Ramon are low by local standards. An apartment in the old row blocks can cost from NIS 280,000 to NIS 320,000, depending on the state of the apartment and the amount of work needed to make it habitable. The patio dwellings sell for NIS 450,000 on average, and the semidetached houses sell for an average of NIS 500,000.