Ronit Dowek, CEO, Prosperity Real Estate
In recent decades, many Jews from across the globe are coming to Israel and buying property, while continuing to live abroad. Among the numerous catalysts for Diaspora Jewry to buy Israeli real-estate, particularly in Jerusalem, is religion. And indeed, many of the Jerusalem property buyers are observant Jews who, for religious and spiritual reasons wish to own a home in Jerusalem. A large number of these buyers have children living in Israel, having been sent to study in Yeshiva or Seminaries, and subsequently marrying and settling down in Israel. Their parents feel that, as they grow older and are nearing their retirement, they may also relocate to Israel and live the Zionist dream.
Without a doubt, 9/11 and anti-Semitic acts worldwide have served as a turning point in Diaspora Jews’ world view, prompting them to realize that Israeli citizens are not the only ones who suffer from terrorism. Antisemitism and Jew-hating is everywhere, and even the US, which always seems so safe and removed from terrorism, was dealt a heavy blow of terrorism, causing many Jews to reserve a spot in Israel. Property buying is the beginning of a process of understanding that this is where Jews belong, and many eventually make Aliyah.
Personal acquaintance with several such buyers has made me privy to the fact that they also donate formidable sums to various organizations and charities, as well as to the IDF. They contribute greatly to and partake in organizations representing public diplomacy in various communities around the world, and in recent years, a harsh discourse has developed around the issue of “ghost properties”.
A philosophical debate surrounds properties that are empty almost all year-round. Young couples and students are outraged by non-residents raising the property prices disproportionately, making it difficult for them to live near the city center. They are right, of course, but the same is true in other world capitals. Many people, regardless of spiritual or religious ties, buy properties in New York, Paris, London, and Rome with no objection, as this is a normal and sane process under democratic regimes – anyone can purchase a property where they see fit.
So why is the Israeli public so angry? And what is the positive side of non-residents buying properties?
Jerusalem is not of a stable economic and entrepreneurial nature – it is comprised primarily of civil servants with average wages, and undoubtedly, non-residents provide plenty of work for and inject tremendous funds into various industries, such as: restaurants, taxi cabs, laundromats, caterers, banquet halls, hotels, realtors, contractors, architects, various companies engaging in renovations and hardware, and, of course, the tourism sector and an endless number of services.
We have grown accustomed to the negative instead of focusing on the potential good, and have therefore devised numerous requirements and demands of non-resident property buyers to prevent them from coming, buying, paying, and contributing to both city and state.
Is this really the way to go? We believe these requirements serve us well, but perhaps we’d do better to ask our mayor, Nir Barkat, to come up with a plan whereby foreign investments for city developments are encouraged, as well as the initiation of more projects in which non-residents are given benefits and incentives to contribute to the urban renewal of the city of which we all speak and dream.
Many non-residents are involved and invest in real-estate initiatives, and we should have the opposite interest – that they inject their foreign funding to open up our city rapidly, and provide more jobs for its inhabitants.
Non-residents view property buying in Israel as more than a mere financial investment, but as part of their realization of their faith, their contribution to Zionism. Some even end up making Aliyah, and that is certainly a foot in the door to a process we are all interested in, because it means the lights will be turned on in all vacant homes.
It seems that the social revolution and young Jerusalemites’ outrage may put a spoke in the wheels of normal, democratic processes that take place all over the world, and particularly in capital cities.
But this should not happen. Yes, it’s true, this process does push younger buyers to live in more remote neighborhoods in Jerusalem, but that does not mean their homes are of any lesser quality. All we are required to do is go with the flow, allow the city to grow and change, even if these developments seem threatening or difficult, because they just might be all that is good, right and desirable for our city, and the promotion of its real-estate and many other areas of life. When it rains, we all have water.