Transcending trends

Market swings have little bearing on the Bnei Brak real-estate scene, where homes are always in demand.

A playground in Bnei Brak. (photo credit: BNEI BRAK MUNICIPALITY)
A playground in Bnei Brak.
Bnei Brak is considered one of the centers of the country’s haredi (ultra-Orthodox) community. While Jerusalem has a larger number of haredim, it is still a secular city with a large haredi minority; Bnei Brak, in contrast, has a dominant haredi majority and a small secular minority.
This minority is concentrated in Pardess Katz, the part of the city east of Jabotinsky Street more popularly known as the Tel Aviv-Petah Tikva highway. To a lesser extent, there are secular Israelis living at the southern edge of the city, next to Ramat Gan.
As such, Bnei Brak has a strongly religious atmosphere, and the makeup of its population heavily influences the real- estate scene.
At present it has nearly 180,000 inhabitants, over 85 percent of whom describe themselves as haredi. In Pardess Katz, 60% of the population is modern Orthodox and secular; the remaining 40% is haredi. Nonetheless, any property for sale in Pardess Katz these days tends to get snapped up instantly by haredi families.
Bnei Brak is believed to be in the same location as the biblical city of the same name. After the Arab conquest, the echoes of the ancient name remained in the village of Ibn Ibraq, which was four kilometers south of the modern city. The present Bnei Brak was founded in 1924 as an agricultural village by a group of Polish hassidim, headed by Yitzhak Gerstenkorn.
In those times, the Jewish authorities were keen on promoting agriculture, which was the reason the town’s founding fathers originally went for the agricultural option. But the original plot of land they purchased for that purpose was too small to provide a livelihood for the large hassidic families. As a result, they had to find other sources of income, and the settlement quickly developed urban characteristics.
From its establishment, the town was a pious one. The former rabbi of Kurow, Poland, Rabbi Arye Mordechai Rabinowicz, was brought over as its first rabbi, and its first building was the beit midrash (Torah study hall). Located in a shack, the beit midrash also served as a synagogue for communal prayers three times a day.
Bnei Brak has retained its religious character to this day, and its many haredi residents tend to have large families. As a result, it is the most densely populated city in the country, frequently bursting at the seams. For that reason, there is a constant drift to nearby areas that are relatively inexpensive, such as Pardess Katz or the Ramat Gan neighborhoods of Ramat Amidar and Neveh Yehoshua.
The price barrier effectively blocks the population drift to Ramat Yitzhak, a relatively expensive area of Ramat Gan that borders Bnei Brak.
As in all cities, the demography – i.e., the human element – is the determining factor in the real-estate scene. The population’s makeup and financial capacity influence the prices and quality of the local apartments. Consequently real-estate prices are moderate for a city in the Tel Aviv metropolitan area.
For the English-speaking haredi immigrant, Bnei Brak has many inviting qualities.
There is a large community of haredi families from the US and the UK, and the cultural and spiritual environment is excellent, with Torah study groups and a supportive social network. Furthermore, the town is home to many important rabbis, among them Haim Kanievsky, Aharon Leib Shteinman and Shmuel Halevi Wosner.
Although there is little land for real- estate development, the municipality is making strenuous efforts to develop projects with modern, spacious apartments suitable for families from the US who are used to such living conditions.
Shmuel Ashkenazi, a well-known real- estate broker with over 50 years of experience in Bnei Brak, says that the demand for real estate in the city “is constant; the decline in demand for properties in Israel as a whole since the beginning of the year was not felt in Bnei Brak, because it has a special appeal for the ultra- Orthodox. It is the seat of many hassidic courts and many large and famous yeshivot. It is also in the Tel Aviv metropolitan center, and this fact also has its advantages.”
In general, he notes, the country’s overall real-estate market has relatively little effect on demand in Bnei Brak. “For a family or a newlywed belonging to the ultra-Orthodox community, Bnei Brak is the preferred choice. These people need to reside in a religious environment, and this has an important bearing on the real- estate market.”
As such, he continues, “demand usually outstrips supply. Building land is strictly limited, and there are no highrise buildings, which make optimum use of the land available. The ultra-Orthodox do not use Shabbat elevators, so high-rise buildings are not practical.
Consequently there is practically no Pinui Binui – [the program of] tearing down old buildings and building modern high-rise buildings.”
In Bnei Brak, a three-room secondhand apartment can cost from NIS 1.2 million to NIS 1.4m., while a four-room apartment can cost from NIS 1.5m. to NIS 1.7m. A penthouse can cost well over NIS 2m.
In the neighborhoods of Pardess Katz and Kiryat Herzog, prices are 20% lower.
Although real-estate prices in Bnei Brak are much lower than in the surrounding towns, this does not mean there is demand from the general public.
Just as most haredi families prefer not to live in a secular neighborhood, secular families prefer not to live in a haredi neighborhood, whatever the prices.
Local developer Zion Peretz has this to say about Bnei Brak’s real estate scene: “Whoever is lucky enough to obtain building land in Bnei Brak is assured a steady market because demand is firm.
Haredi families want to live in Bnei Brak, and when their children get married and need accommodation, [they buy] in Bnei Brak if they can afford it. If not, they try their luck in Pardess Katz or Ramat Gan, and if not [there, then] in the haredi towns of Elad, Modi’in Illit or Beit Shemesh.”