A little over ten years ago, while attending a real estate event in Manhattan, a significant developer pulled me aside and handed me a paper written by an Ivy League professor. The professor and his students in the urban planning class went on a field trip to Israel to study Bat Yam, a rundown suburb of Tel Aviv and Yaffo situated along the Mediterranean Sea, and created a comprehensive plan to overhaul this tired city into a thriving metropolis.
I found the study fascinating, and thought that this was an exciting opportunity for an investor with vision. However, having just made aliyah and still working in New York real estate, I did not give this study a second thought, and soon forgot about it altogether.
Fast forward to 2016, and one can see the actualization of this professor’s dream.
Bat Yam Beach. Photo: Little Savage - own work, public domain.
Bat Yam was established in 1926, and grew dramatically after the State of Israel’s establishment, as it became a landing place for many immigrants who flooded the country. Today, the city’s population is over 130,000 residents.
In the early 2000s, the city was on the brink of bankruptcy, due to a series of financial scandals and government mismanagement. Its crime rate was high, its infrastructure was neglected, the streets and parks were dirty and unkempt; basically, the city was a financial and physical mess.
In 2003, the city’s fortunes started its reversal with the induction of a new mayor, Shlomo Lahiani. He was so effective that he won re-election in 2008 with an unprecedented 86% of the vote. Unfortunately, in 2014 Lahiani pled guilty to breach of public trust after being charged with bribery and income tax fraud. It’s a shame he tarnished his name because, putting aside his legal offenses, Lahiani literally and figuratively cleaned up the city. The city’s infrastructure has been upgraded, the streets and parks are clean, crime has dropped significantly, and its demographics have dramatically improved.
One of Bat Yam's many beautiful beaches. Photo: TouristIsrael.com
How has Bat Yam been so successful in improving its image and, in turn, its fortunes? First of all, as the name implies, the city is located along the seashore, and sea views have always been in great demand. Second, it is in a great location, situated less than 6 miles from the center of Tel Aviv. Third, unlike most of the cities along the seashore, vacant plots of land were available for development. And fourth, because of its checkered past, real estate prices were significantly lower than Tel Aviv and other seaside cities, making housing attractive to young professionals just starting out.
Initially, this opportunity to purchase homes boasting sea views was better understood by overseas buyers, including many from France. Unlike the old-time Israelis, they didn’t have negative associations with the city and were able to envision the city’s bright future. However, over the past half decade, Bat Yam has also become popular with Israelis who overcame their earlier concerns and have moved into the city.
Situated so close to Tel Aviv, Bat Yam offers its residents excellent access to most of the country’s business hubs and has attracted many people looking for a relatively short commute to work. In 2011, two new railway stations along the Tel Aviv-Rishon Letzion line opened in Bat Yam. Furthermore, Bat Yam will be the last stop on the Tel Aviv Light Rail’s Red Line that is currently under construction, with a completion date of 2021.
The heart of Bat-Yam is its magnificent two-mile long promenade, which overlooks the sea. The promenade offers many fun activities, and boasts beautiful parks, cafes, pubs, restaurants, shops and hotels. The city has nine lovely beaches which are very popular with the beach-going crowds. One of these beaches offers separate bathing days for men and women.
Bat Yam’s housing prices are still considered inexpensive compared to Tel Aviv, Herzliya, Netanya and other established seaside towns, but as demand continues to grow, pricing is catching up quickly.
Gedaliah Borvick is the founder of My Israel Home (www.myisraelhome.com), a real estate agency focused on helping people from abroad buy and sell homes in Israel. To sign up for his monthly market updates, contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.