Sunday, October 30, 2011

Apartment Renting, Israeli Style

It's Sunday morning, and Elul and I have just returned from our morning walk. We walk every day for exactly one hour, which gives us our daily sun exposure for maximum Vitamin D absorption, cardio exercise for belly-fat fighting, and the added bonus of premature skin aging. It also gives us a chance to let our minds wander.

This morning we spent some time speculating about a prospective rental apartment in Nahariya we virtually viewed last night. We have booked our flight to Israel, and we will be leaving on December 27th, 2011. We don't have anywhere to stay yet, but we are working with an Israeli real estate agent named Yoram. Yoram comes highly recommended by a friend of ours who already made Aliyah three years ago, and also lives in Nahariya.

Renting an apartment in Israel is not--repeat NOT-- like renting one in America. For starters, there are virtually no apartment complexes in Israel that have a central management and leasing office. Instead, everyone owns their apartment individually, and if they want to rent it out, they have to find their own renters. Second, there is no MLS (multiple listing service) in Israel, so a buyer, seller, or renter has to really hope they get a good agent who has lots of contacts and experience. Third, and this is the real "ouch factor," it is customary that a renter pays the real estate agent a fee equivalent to a month's rent for the place they end up renting. If a renter works with two different agents, and the renter views the same property with each of the agents, the renter will have to pay BOTH agents their respective fees if the renter takes the apartment!

In Israel, if a renter decides to take an apartment, the landlord presents the tenant with a lease to sign. However, these contracts are not necessarily standardized, so all tenants are strongly advised to have their attorney review the contract and suggest any changes, if necessary. Woe to the hapless immigrant or other trusting soul who doesn't get their lease agreement reviewed by an attorney! Our friend in Nahariya is in this mess himself now. He didn't want to pay an agent to find his last rental, so he drummed up a vacancy himself through his contacts with friends. Another friend looked through the contract and told him it was a good one, so he signed it. Unfortunately, that friend mixed up the language that distinguished between "landlord" and "tenant," and it turned out that the contract was entirely in the landlord's favor, not the tenant's! Yoram is helping him sort this out right now, and it will take a bit of tact, diplomacy, and "getting to yes," given that the contract really does just have our friend over a legal barrel.

Thanks to the wonders of technology, which includes high-speed internet, Skype, and digital cameras, Yoram was able to show us a dozen pictures of a prospective rental last night. It looks good--very good. The location is great for us, in the middle of town and just a couple of blocks from the beach. Being in the middle of town means it will be easy for us to get around on bikes, since we won't have a car right away. It's on the third floor and there's no elevator, but that just means consistent exercise for the glutes, which, I've found, have a worrying tendency to sag in middle age! Furthermore, nothing encourages you to buy less food at the market than knowing you've got to haul it down the street and up three flights of stairs!

Yoram is a chatty, talkative fellow who spent a few years living in Southern Florida himself. His English is very good, and he's generous enough with his time and patience to give Elul free conversational Hebrew classes on Skype. Elul is improving by leaps and bounds, and can now string intelligible, if simple, sentences together, including the "fancy" ways of speaking in tenses other than the simple present! I, on the other hand, am a rank beginner and can manage saying fascinating things like "the cat is on the table," "he runs," and "the girl has books." On the other hand, I do spend at least an hour a day listening to "Reshet Bet," which is "Station B" on the Israeli Broadcasting Authority's internet radio station.

We like "Reshet Bet" the best because it features lots of talk shows, many of which are phone-in shows. Because of the time difference, we often hear conversations between radio hosts and apparently insomniac and elderly, listeners. I'm sure I'm missing much of what they are actually saying about these things, but I have figured out that there are plenty of parents and grandparents calling in to gripe about their ungrateful children who don't call enough, don't visit enough, are marrying the wrong people, and who aren't speaking Hebrew properly because they are watching too many American movies and music videos! Since Israelis also tend to get very excited and enthusiastic in discussions (which sound more like loud fights to me), I've also picked up some phrases that mean "Wait, wait!", "Hold on!", and "No, you're wrong!" I'm glad I'm learning these now, so I'll know when my Hebrew teacher is correcting me.

Here's the link to the Israeli Broadcasting Authority, by the way. It's . It can take awhile to load, and the radio streaming works a lot better than the television streaming. There are tabs that will translate some of the pages into partial English. The other radio options are "Reshet A" (Station A), and "Reshet Gimmel," which you could call either Station C (in sequential order, since Gimmel is the third letter of the Hebrew alphabet) or Station G, since Gimmel makes the "g" sound phonentically. Reshet Gimmel has more Israeli popular music, and boy, is it an eclectic mix! Sometimes the DJ's will put a show together featuring songs of all styles and ages that deal with a theme. For instance, last night's theme seemed to be about the seasons. Every song had something about spring, winter, fall, summer, or a particular holiday. A few nights ago, the theme seemed to be about family relationships, e.g. "Mommy, I Remember You," and so on. One night it was Israeli musicians doing covers of Frank Sinatra songs!

Do you know of any good Israeli radio stations that stream over the internet? Do you have any more tips about renting apartments in Israel, or even horror stories? Let me know!

Friday, October 28, 2011

We Got Our Visas!

Elul and I are so excited. Two days ago, we received our Aliyah visas so we can move to Nahariya, Israel. It was a long journey leading up to this point, starting more than two years ago when we lived in a small town deep in the American Southwest. While we were reasonably comfortable and in work, we were disturbed by the crash of the economy and the increasing nastiness of the political rhetoric flying around. We wanted to be part of a country that we felt needed our presence more.

I am in my mid-forties, and my husband Elul is in his late fifties. I don't have children, and Elul's children are young adults now; one son is in his third year of university, the other is a junior in high school and lives with his mother across the country. While moving to Israel is usually something people do when they are either quite young and just starting out in life, or completely retired and looking for a different way of life, we are doing it now. Frankly, we have little to lose at this point. Elul was laid off from his job last year, and a week after the layoff, his father died. We moved across country, to Southern Florida, in a hurry. I resigned from my job and we delayed making Aliyah for approximately six months, while we helped Elul's mother adjust to her new life as a widow. Fortunately, Elul's sister lives in the same town, so she will continue to be near my mother-in-law.

The entire Aliyah process is something I'll have to go into in subsequent posts, as it was fairly complicated and had quite a few twists and turns along the way. But the punchline is, as I've already revealed, that in the end we did manage to get our visas, Category 4-B (Law of Return), and we're going at the end of December!

Now, I must consult my English-Hebrew dictionary and see if there's a translation for "woot"!