I had always planned to move to Herzliya and start school at the IDC Herzliya– one of Israel’s top universities upon finishing my service in the Israeli Defense Forces. What I did not and could not know, along with the rest of the world, was that a global pandemic was going to strike and we would all need to adapt to new versions of normal. My new normal now meant going through the challenging process of finding an apartment to rent while abroad in the United States.
Learn how I found an apartment, negotiated with the owner, signed on the contract, and coordinated a moving company all from the comfort of my house.
In March, everyone had to take action as rumors of a pandemic transformed into rapidly increasing diagnoses across all corners of the globe. Being a lone soldier in the Israeli army, I had planned on going home to visit my family in March. I ended up as one of the last soldiers leaving the country the midnight before the no-fly rule was issued. A week after landing, I was informed I would not be returning to Israel anytime soon; and that that would mean my army service is over. I left in March unaware of the fact I had already experienced my last days on my army base, and my last time wearing my uniform on duty. With all those mixed emotions also came the responsibility of having to reorganize my life in Israel from abroad–and the most challenging aspect became finding an apartment.
The Apartment Search
I began my new apartment hunt fairly optimistically; this being my third time looking for an apartment thus far in Israel. I started with scouring all of the relevant Facebook groups daily, if not hourly. I also searched Yad2 (Israel’s leading secondhand website) every single day. Remember to search websites that reflect what you are looking for and post listings in your price range.
The biggest issue for renting, however, is that the smartest time to start looking for a rental is normally 4-6 weeks in advance. I began my search during the spring and consequently all of the listings that piqued my interest were marketed with an entrance date for the beginning of summer, whereas I was searching for a lease starting in August/September. But I was determined to prevail and insisted on messaging every agent/owner (depending on if it was being rented out privately by the owner or through an agent) that had an apartment that matched my long checklist.
Tip: When reaching out, always ask if the price is flexible. The worst thing they can say is no, and most of the time they will be open to a reasonable discussion.
Apartment Searching & Viewings 101
Due to the coronavirus pandemic, the viewing stage of acquiring an apartment can be quite difficult. In our situation, one of my roommates was able to go to see the apartment in person; however, technology enables us to see an apartment almost as if we are truly there ourselves. Utilize apps like facetime and ask your realtor to work with you as much as he/she can to help create an accurate depiction of the apartment.
Apartment size: My roommates and I needed a 4 bedroom apartment, which in Israel is a 5 room apartment since they include the living room in the room count.
Renovation level: We wanted to find an apartment in a newly renovated building, but we were open to considering brand new buildings as well even though new buildings normally increase the price. Central air conditioning is a nice amenity, but it is important to note that it is much more expensive for the electricity bill than individual AC units.
Parking: Neither I nor my roommates have a car for our first year in university, so we didn’t need a parking spot, but consider that parking spots can also hike up the price of rent.
Important things to consider:
Always make sure there is an appropriate space to install a washing machine as well as a dryer.
Be sure to check how the hot water is heated. The boiler can be heated electrically, from gas, or solar panels; lots of models now have boilers that can be heated in multiple ways.
It is also very important to check if the apartment comes furnished or empty. An empty apartment might appear cheaper; however, you must take into account expenses from acquiring furniture and moving companies and/or delivery fees.
If you choose to bring in furniture, make sure to get floor layout plans and to measure the space.
Check how big the elevator/stairs are so you know if your movers will charge extra depending on how tight spaces are and which floor you are on.
Always be sure to receive plenty of pictures and videos from multiple angles to ensure an accurate depiction of the apartment. Make sure these are not outdated pictures and that they reflect the current status of the apartment.
I always recommend asking previous tenants about the landlord and if he/she is kind and reliable, or if they pose as difficult and unhelpful.
Time is of the Essence
The hardest part was without a doubt trying to finish the process from start to finish in a timely manner. In our instance, we had signed on a particular property months in advance and at the very last minute, it fell through. This happened one week before my lease was ending in my previous apartment and we, therefore, needed to scramble to find a new apartment so I could move out on time and not interfere with the incoming tenants. This caused quite the stressful situation, rest assured that apartments can truly come together on the spot. Don’t assume that there isn’t enough time for something to happen because you never know if people are willing to work with you to help you figure something out.
One of the more inconvenient stages of our process was negotiating the contract. Since our move came down to the wire, we had 6 days from viewing the apartment to when we needed to close the deal, sign, and receive the keys. The apartment we found is a brand new apartment, and my roommates and I would be the first-ever tenants. We struck gold with our landlord and he went above and beyond to help us, but I would like to stress that is not usually the case. Before we signed, however, the negotiating was quite intense because when dealing with a new building, the contract normally includes more precautions to ensure payment and proper upkeep of the space. Sometimes landlords can make astronomical asks, so remember it is within your rights to try and adjust certain clauses. Do not just accept the contract as it is without thoroughly looking it over. For example, our contract stated that after the initial first-year lease, the subsequent lease would be for 3 years. The four of us were uncomfortable with this clause and got it amended to an option of an additional year-long lease. Once we ironed out the details we were left with a contract to sign and an apartment to turn into our home. Normally one signs the contract and receives the key at the same time, but during corona times we had to pass the contract around to all the roommates. We used apps to put our signature on the document in a seamless fashion. As I’ve previously stated, technology is on our side, and a wonderful alternative if not all parties can be at the signing.
The Big Move
Last but not least, we had to coordinate with a moving company. Our actual move took place during the High-Holiday lockdown in Israel. Moving companies were permitted to work, but because of the lockdown and other factors, prices were much more expensive. I had called 17 moving companies, all of them giving me astronomical rates. After asking a coworker if he knew anyone who could give discounts to released lone soldiers/students, he led me to a mover who is also a lone soldier who goes above and beyond to help other lone soldiers, new immigrants, and students at a price that is surely a steal.