Jerusalem — It was June and our family wanted to spend a couple of days in Tel Aviv before the weather became too hot. When we learned that all the good hotels would require us to book two rooms, we turned our attention to holiday apartments.
While short-term rentals are nothing new in Israel, the market has expanded greatly in recent years as more people, including thousands from overseas, have purchased apartments expressly for investment purposes.
Many of these apartments are beautifully renovated and furnished and in great locations: within walking distance to the Old City of Jerusalem, the Tel Aviv beach, the resort city of Eilat, the artists’ colony in Safed, to name a few. Depending on location and the number of rooms, a short-term rental costs $75 to $250 per night — the same or less than a single hotel room with no kitchen facilities.
The apartment we found through Tellavista, an online platform with 1,600 apartments, was newly renovated and just a block away from the Aviv beachfront. It was also a short walk from the Port, a beachfront complex of shops and restaurants, where we strolled on the boardwalk before dining by the water. The apartment has a designer kitchen, a big flat screen TV and lots of sunlight.
While it was a great find for a weekday, we learned after we arrived that the hallway, with its winding staircase (the apartment is on the third floor), would be too dark to navigate during much of Shabbat, making it — like many Tel Aviv rentals — inappropriate for Shabbat observers.
For a short-term rental to work, landlords and agents say, there must be communication. Ideally, the apartment under consideration has a website, but even then, it’s imperative to ask about cancellation fees, whether the place is kosher, about the number of beds and stairs, whether it has A/C, whether the fridge is a mini and — this is especially important — whether the price of utilities, especially costly electricity, is included. If not, ask the landlord for an estimate.
Jody Garfinkle, owner of WISH properties and management, which specializes in sales and quality short- and long-rentals in Jerusalem, noted that “many tourists will come and just leave the A/C or heating on 24/7 and it’s very expensive here. When they know they are paying for electricity they are careful not to waste energy.”
Almost all Israeli rentals require the tenant to provide a security deposit, pay a small cleaning fee, and sign a contract. Don’t sign a contract unless it’s in English or you are fluent in Hebrew.
Nadav Ziv, who cofounded Tellavista with his brother, Roee three years ago, said prospective tenants should book as early as possible, especially for stays during holidays and the summer. Even then, he said, it’s possible to find a nice apartment at a good price.
Tellavista’s least expensive accommodations — a room in a shared apartment — costs $22/night and its most expensive, a stunning villa in Jerusalem, costs $3,000/night. Most properties are between $100 to $200/night.
Although apartments offered directly by an owner may be less expensive because there is no middleman, booking through an agent or an apartment rental service like Tellavista (there are several in Israel) may provide an added level of security.
Ziv said the homeowners his company represents don’t get paid until the tenant enters the apartment and finds everything to his or her liking.
“This way, there’s no incentive to cheat. We also include a system of reviews so others can see what real guests have written.”
Shia Getter, who heads the Getter Group, a company that sells and rents Israeli properties to an Orthodox clientele, advises tenants to ask who will handle problems if the landlord is unavailable.
“If the landlord goes abroad and there’s a problem, the tenant may or may not be able to reach them. It’s vital that a landlord have a representative to deal with any issues that arise,” whether the representative is a friend or a paid agent.
Not that that offers any guarantees.
During the winter of 2010, Anne Picker, a New Jersey-based attorney, booked a two-bedroom Jerusalem rental for herself and two friends via an agent.
“About five days before we were supposed to leave for Israel, she emailed me that the flat was no longer available and she had another one — a studio with three beds, a bathroom and a kitchenette.”
As it turned out, “the room was an unused bedroom in someone else’s apartment, with a toilet and a tiny shower carved out of a wall.” The kitchen had a non-working electric stove burner and no urn to boil water. The beds were “a sofa, a trundle and a cot. Oh, and the ants!”
Picker was unable to find another apartment because it was Christmastime. Eventually, the agent brought a microwave, “which let us make tea, although we had to buy the mugs,” Picker said.
Fortunately, most Israeli rentals turn out much better.
Shanna Bergman Meyuhas’ parents stayed in an apartment managed by At Home In Jerusalem, which offers select properties in upscale Jerusalem neighborhoods.
“Since they were going to be here for three weeks I felt it would be much more comfortable and cost effective to stay in an apartment. The company went out of their way to show me many apartments until I found the one that was most suitable. Throughout the stay they were most accommodating and the apartment was great for my parents,” Meyuhas said.
When the Jerusalem family of Rebecca Hurwitz was between apartments, she found a short-term rental she found via Airbnb.com.
“Zion, the guy who rented the apartment to us would appear every day to water the plants, give me tips on how to use the washing machine, and cleaned the front porch,” Hurwitz recalled. “The apartment was beautifully cool, being an old Arab apartment on ground floor, and the water pressure was fabulous. The kitchen was stocked with every kind of plastic utensil, table cloth, bag you can imagine, and the cupboards (which were plentiful) were bulging with spare blankets, sheet and pillows.”
While the apartment was lovely, Hurwitz said, “what made it so great was Zion, who was so accommodating.”