Monday, December 27, 2004

Living the Middle Class Dream

After some excursions into politics, this one is once more about the daily madness of life in Israel, about the urge of every Israeli to own a house, to be precise.

Even more so than in Germany, in Israel owning a flat or a house is a basic fabric of life. Although economically nonsense (at least as long as you have to take out a mortgage), you have to do it in order to be accepted by family and friends as a reasonably responsible adult. People that live in rent are either unstable or just plain poor.

Once you have accepted those ground rules the questions, which remain are: Where, what and when. When? As soon as possible. Where? As close to the center (=Tel Aviv) as possible. And what? A house with a garden for the kids to play in, of course. Never mind that you can play in the garden only two months a year, because in the summer it is just too hot and in the winter just too wet. A house with a garden is the ultimate middle class fulfillment.

Once you have settled on the type of property and the timing, you are now about to realize that "as close as possible to the center" probably means pretty far away, at least in terms of commuting time during the Tel Aviv rush hours. In our case we made to within 20 kilometers of the TA city limits, which translates to about one hour commute. Now here comes the crazy part: None of us actually works in TA. We both work in the opposite direction and haven't seen a traffic jam in 4 years of daily drive to work. So why not live further away from the center, where we could afford a respectable plot of land and a nice single family home, instead of a cottage with barely enough space around it to park two cars next to the entrance and still be able to put two shopping bags on the ground on our side of the fence?

Well, basically because just a few hundred meters further south of here starts the province. The province is where people don't take bar exams, they bath their kids only once a week and they watch Reality TV every night. In the province people drink Turkish coffee and eat Falaffel, while in the center we drink Moccacino and eat goat-cheese-on-sun-dried-tomato sandwiches.

Lucky us, we made it into the center, outskirts and barely, but center it is. House on the ground it is too, and the small garden has advantages: The kids can't get lost in it and always will make it back for dinner in time.

All difficult questions settled, now starts the fun part. Plan and build your dream house. We soon realized that we neither have enough spare time to plan the house properly, nor does an architect fit into our budget, so we went for a turn-key project with one of the more respected Israeli development companies. This would also free us from the hassle of managing the project ourselfs and struggeling almost daily with the contractors. Little did we know how smart a decision this would prove to be...

All things decided, we signed a contract in December 2003, took out a mortgage, paid up and waited for things to happen. We passed by the plot almost every day in order not to miss any action, but nothing happend for over four months. The development company didn't send us the signed contract despite several reminders, it appeared to have been lost! The companies' lawyer didn't send receipts for tax and registration payments we made to them, and not a single worker ever showed up. Just when we started to suspect that the whole deal was a hoax to relief us of our life savings, the first tractor magically appeared one day in early May to clear the plot.

From then on things happend at the speed of light. We had to meet with all the suppliers of the development company, to choose among a limited list of options for kitchen cabinets, tiles, doors, electrical outlets and most importantly pay for every deviation from the holy list. All in all hundreds of big and small decisions, and everything had to happen in about one week - although the completion of the house was still months away.

Just when we thought that the worst is behind us and from now on it is about watching how everything falls into place, things started to go south, but this time for real.

To be continued...

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