Life on the Other Side

Real estate is a unique matter in Israel (isn’t everything?). And I should know – I bought land and built a home here. My previous experience with being a homeowner was buying a condo in Manhattan. Nothing very special in that – saw it, loved it, signed the papers, owned it. But in Israel? Oh! My! God!

We decided on Caesarea (well actually, I did and he went along) because it’s just about heaven here. Bougainvillea everywhere; no unsightly electric or telephone poles; located on the edge of an ancient city and port; breathing spaces between properties. Pretty and peaceful. We found the perfect lot – high above the golf course with the most magnificent sunsets you can imagine.

Surprise #1 came when we were just about to sign the papers. “The property is yours, but actually, it may not be. It could take a year for you to get permission to build. And it might never happen. But anyway, pay the full amount and wait – maybe in a year it will be OK.” The reason? Two municipalities owned the property, and they were fighting over it. We took a chance and forged ahead. We hired an architect and gave her our plans – a rough sketch done on the computer of what we considered to be our dream house. And at the end of that year – Hurrah! The land was ours. Time to start building!

First step – throw money in the hole. Literally! It’s a custom to toss some coins into the first hole that is dug to ensure good luck. After I gave up on finding ancient artifacts (which have been discovered in many other building sites in Caesarea), I tossed in a bunch of coins and we were off! Two months later I was wondering why our architect never showed up to see what was happening. I’m an interior designer from New York – I thought it was accepted practice for your architect to oversee the progress of the project. Apparently not! “If you want a supervisor, hire one! That’s not my job.”

Then there was the staircase fiasco. Our contractor built them and was so proud to show them off. My husband said something was wrong – they just didn’t look right. Sure enough – there were 17 instead of 18 steps. Meaning that every stair was higher than it should be – and not according to standard. Standard, did I say? Once again, back to the architect. “Oh. Maybe my assistant made a mistake.” Ya think? “Wait two weeks until I get around to fixing the plans.” Excuse me? We’re working on a deadline! I wanted to have an official opening of the house on Israel’s Independence Day, and it was less than a year away. Every delay would cost precious time. I think it was around then that we decided to fire her and handle it ourselves. GEVALT! Luckily we had a wonderful contractor. AND my husband showed up every day with his tape measure, and I made decisions and stuck with them – changing your mind is not an option when you are building with a deadline.

The building process proceeded. Can’t say it was roses all the way – there were arguments, disappointments, unexpected delays and of course the inevitable overspending. (Does anyone stick with a budget when building?). There was also the painter who fell through the hole in the floor made for the laundry chute; the truck driver who argued with me as to why if we were only two people we needed such a big house; the workers who took time off every day for their coffee ceremony and praying to Allah; my husband’s fall backward into the empty pool (two broken arms – but it could have been so much worse); and the drywall workers who insisted they didn’t need a level to put up the walls (and thus … we ended up with ceiling moldings to cover up all the uneven corners). But by the end … the mezuzah went up, the guests arrived and we celebrated the opening of our house in fabulous style.
Real estate in Israel? As everything else here, always an adventure!

Anne Kleinberg, author of Menopause in Manhattan and several cookbooks, left a cushy life in Manhattan to begin a new one in Israel. Now she’s opened a boutique bed and breakfast in her home on the golf course in Caesarea. For details, visit annekleinberg.com and casacaesarea.com.

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