Neighborhood Watch: Gentrified farmland

For those willing to pay for it, a house in the country is a dream that can come true.

Homestead 521 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Homestead 521
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Israel is a very small and crowded country. Furthermore, most of the population is concentrated in 40 percent of the country because 60% is desert, which is not very inviting for prospective residents. For that reason, land for real estate is scarce and expensive. And because it is expensive, plots are very small.
When you see an ad in the real-estate section of a local newspaper advertising a single-family home for sale with a large garden, do not expect to see a garden that is of a couple of acres but rather one that is 100 to 200 square meters.
In the central region of the country, the average plot for building a home is 300 square meters. In less crowded areas such as the Negev or the highlands of the Galilee, plots of 500 to 600 sq.m. are available, but that is about all.
For new immigrants coming from the US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand or South Africa, a large garden was just that – a plot of two acres and more. The size of private gardens in Israel is something of a shock for newcomers from English-speaking countries.
So what to do? One solution is to buy a homestead in an agricultural settlement.
By Australian or US criteria, they are not very large – five acres at the most – but it is a good way for a well-to-do family to acquire a large plot of land at a price that will not put them in debtor’s prison.
These plots were modest farms in moshavim when they were founded. In the early years of the state, the government gave families plots of up to five acres on which to grow crops.
Buying these farms for residential purposes started more than 25 years ago.
Up to then, no upper-middle-class family would have dreamt of buying a farm.
Moshavim were then populated by the original settlers or their offspring, the second or at times the third generation.
Originally about 4,000 sq.m. of the 5,000 allotted to each family was farmed collectively, while 1,000 sq.m. was reserved for raising crops or livestock for their own use.
Many Israelis have lived overseas for an extended period and have become accustomed to large living spaces. Upon returning to Israel, they want a standard of living similar to what they enjoyed overseas. Moshav life fits the bill.
Neot Shiran, which specializes in marketing exclusive homes and properties, began marketing homesteads about 20 years ago. Meir Menachem, the firm’s co-owner, explains how some moshavim in the greater Tel Aviv area have evolved from agricultural settlements to exclusive communities, featuring luxurious villas with swimming pools, tennis courts, vineyards and horse ranches.
“Buyers in moshavim,” he says, “are looking for space, quiet and tranquility. The typical buyer in this niche is looking to build his dream house in a country atmosphere, away from the noise and crowding of the city, and in a location where community life is still an important factor and the neighbors know and look out for each other.”
Farms usually consist of five to six of land. Two homes and sometimes even three can be built on half of the property.
Prices of farms depend on lot size, location within the moshav, what is built on the land and the proximity of the moshav to a major metropolitan area.
Alice Rubinfeld, Neot Shiran’s specialist in the moshav niche, says that prices of farms in the Sharon area range from NIS 7 million to NIS 28m. In highest demand and the most expensive are the moshavim closest to Tel Aviv.
These include Rishpon, Bnei Zion, Udim and Kfar Azar. Farms in Bnei Zion are particularly large, and prices there range from NIS 13m. to NIS 18m. for an empty property to NIS 25m. for a fully developed estate.
In the Netanya area, Kfar Netter and Beit Yehoshua are very popular with the entrepreneur and hi-tech crowd, as are Batzra and Sde Warburg in the Ra’anana- Kfar Saba area.
A number of farms were sold in these areas recently for prices ranging from NIS 7.8m. to NIS 10m. In Rishpon, farm owners are asking NIS 22m. and up.
However, in Kfar Azar, which is now practically a suburb of Ramat Gan, farms are available for NIS 9m., a relative bargain.
These prices may seem high, but the price of a quarter acre in the suburb of Savyon, famous for relatively spacious residences, can cost NIS 6m. That would amount to NIS 150m. for such a farm if it were available in Savyon.
A palatial residence in a homestead can cost the price of the land – NIS 15m. plus NIS 5m. for the house itself. This would amount to around $5m. Not cheap but affordable for an upper-middle-class family.
For that price, one gets a lot in return: one or two homes, a swimming pool, stables, tennis courts, vineyards, etc. It’s as high a standard of living as anywhere in the world. Add to that our magnificent Mediterranean weather, and who needs a villa in Tuscany or a summer home in the south of France when we have it here at a much more modest price?