Caesarea: No longer the exclusive province of the super-rich

Where can you find a house with a garden a ten-minute walk from the beach for only 2.4 million NIS? Turns out it’s in the most unexpected place in Israel: Caesarea!
Caesarea home selling for 6 million NIS Photo Credit: Liran Shemesh, courtesy of Halel Architecture

What’s going on in the real estate in the historic port city? The name Caesarea conjures up associations of the unattainable: luxury villas, the elite, oligarchs and the sea. Nevertheless, a look at real estate portals reveals a different situation entirely, making the dream of living in Caesarea more reachable. A spacious apartment in Tel Aviv or an unrenovated house in Rehovot – those are Caesarea’s competition.

The Yad2 website features a 100m², four-room apartment with a 60m² garden for a mere 2.35 million NIS. The renovated residence faces the beach and is located in a complex that offers a fitness center, pool and playgrounds. In Neighborhood 3, another property is available: 150m² with a 100m² garden for only 2.75 million NIS. It has been completely renovated, divided into two units, and sits within walking distance of Keshatot Beach and downtown Caesarea.

If you’d prefer to pamper yourself with a more upscale property, you could buy a unique, luxurious house on HaKochavim St. in the Country Club section of town for a paltry 6 million NIS. The property occupies about 300m² on a 600m² lot and was built four years ago in a European style.

Caesarea has known better days. Many people talk about a more than 50% decrease in luxury property prices there. While those reports lack factual basis, there is certainly a glut of secondhand properties that make luxury villas a harder sell. For comparison’s sake, in the first half of 2016, 17 sales of over 5 million NIS were recorded in Caesarea – hardly a figure in keeping with the descriptor “exclusive.”

So what is happening in this exclusive city?

In the last decade, Caesarea has absorbed the cream of Israeli high society. Oligarch Valeriy Kogen bought seven huge houses and connected them, forming a single luxury property estimated at hundreds of millions of shekels. Well-known and well-connected businesspeople with a reputation for getting what they want (and throwing their weight around) have chosen the city as their hometown. The list includes Ami Lapidot (the Lapidot Group), Shalom Ziedler (Wissotzky Tea), Giora Yaron (hi-tech), media personalities, military officials and, of course, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has owned a home there since 2002. These and others have helped maintain the homogeneity of Caesarea and its prices and share one common interest: maintaining their privacy.

Caesarea home selling for 6 million NIS Photo Credit: Liran Shemesh, courtesy of Halel Architecture

Nevertheless, the Caesarea Development Corporation, which runs the town, has expressed other interests. In the final analysis, it is a unique municipality that is not run by a typical local government but by a company with solely economic considerations that represents the Rothschild clan and the State of Israel. To date, this has worked to Caesarea’s advantage in that its administration has not been subject to political winds – only economic and local considerations. Currently, those interests appear to be at odds with the veteran residents of the city.

Over the last ten years, the Caesarea Development Corporation has decided to further develop the port city and promote it as a “communal settlement.” Without a young population and children, reasoned the company, the city cannot develop.

That vision is what drove the company to establish a new neighborhood, deemed Neighborhood 12, covering 465,000 m² and including 240 individual lots for independent construction. Preliminary marketing of the first 100 lots of 600-700m² area began in 2014. These were sold for 1.45-1.85 million NIS and are slated for houses of 360-420m² each.

Caesarea home selling for 6 million NIS Photo Credit: Liran Shemesh, courtesy of Halel Architecture

In the last two years, the company has advanced a master plan for Caesarea (to be implemented in 30 years). The plan calls for an increase in residential units by more than 50%, the construction of 2,650 hospitality units, 10,000 commercial tourist spaces and 3,000 residences. The population size the plan aims to achieve is 9,500, whereas today it stands at only 5,000.

The plan has sparked a struggle between the wealthy residents and the corporation that manages the city. While the former warn that Caesarea will become another Eilat, the company argues that the city will more resemble the French Riviera. Either way, the plan is likely to dilute the wealthy population. Some of those will likely leave in favor of a more heterogeneous population and housing prices will drop accordingly. In fact, they have already begun to descend from the Olympic summit they once occupied.

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