Seaside Netanya offers more than the beach — affordable housing

At one time, a Netanya apartment meant beachfront property — snagging a prime, ocean-facing view of the Mediterranean from one of the older low-rise buildings, or a flat in one of the newer high-rises lining the wide boulevards along the water.

These days, Netanya real estate is heading south, between Routes 2 and 4 to be exact. If you're taking a drive out, perhaps to Ikea for a piece of furniture or some kitchen knickknacks, take the first Poleg exit and head toward Netanya's newest suburb.

This stretch of southeastern Netanya was planted with orchards at one time; soon it will be filled with clusters of residential developments — lower-priced apartments for buyers looking for spanking new, spacious homes near the country's center.

"It's a whole mini-town," said Netanya real estate broker Barry Shaw, who owns the Netanya Real Estate agency. "Where else can you get brand-new apartments for $140,000 or $150,000, with a balcony?" Shaw asked. "People go south and north of Netanya because they can buy cheaper, save money and get something new."

While there are several new projects in Netanya proper, including the Sea Opera building, a luxury high-rise where apartments are priced at around $270,000 for four rooms, plus an extra $3,000 for the higher floors, the bulk of new projects are at the northeastern and southeastern ends of the city.

"They are new, working-class areas," said Shaw.

That was the thinking behind the municipality's development of Netanya's outskirts. Before the current expansion, the few apartment buildings on Netanya's south side were owned by investors who rented out apartments to students at Netanya's Academic College, a private institution with more than 3,000 students near one of the city's industrial areas.

Two years ago, the city — working with the Israel Lands Authority — began accepting bids for available properties in the outlying areas of the beach town. The municipality also built access roads from Routes 2 and 4 (the old and new Tel Aviv-Haifa highways) into the area, as well as a bridge connecting the eastern and western sides of Netanya.

"Access to this area is improving every day," said Zohar Kaplan, vice president of development and marketing for Dankner Investments, one of the developers in the area. "We're seven minutes to the water by car, and you've got easy access from this neighborhood to the big cities in Gush Dan."

To Kaplan, the only neighborhood that matters is the one that Dankner is building: Dankner Ba'Sharon (or Dankner in the Sharon) will be a self-contained community encompassing 26 buildings as well as sidewalks, parks, parking and quick access to central Netanya. There will eventually be 14,000 units in this southern corner of Netanya, constructed by several contractors, including Ashdar, Dankner and Uri Dori, which is building Kidmat HaSharon, a project of 216 units of 3-, 3.5- and 4-room apartments in six to eight buildings.

The city had originally planned for contractors to build simple blocks of apartment high-rises, according to Kaplan, with "anachronistic, railroad flats," as he calls them. Instead, Dankner pushed for a change in plans, looking to build a self-enclosed neighborhood with sidewalks, parks and gardens that would surround lower but wider buildings with four, rather than two, apartments on each floor.

In the end, they purchased five plots of land at three to five dunams each, and will have 26 buildings and 650 apartments in Dankner Ba'Sharon.

Massive projects like these don't exist in central Netanya, said Shaw, who is selling apartments in several new projects, including the Sea Opera building, as well as at the Dankner and Shaked projects in the new areas.

Surprisingly, sales are brisk.

"It's going very well," he said, adding that most of the buyers make their own way to the new neighborhoods, without brokers' assistance.

While prices in Netanya proper are in the $180,000 range for an older, four-room apartment in an elevator building, prices are about $40,000 lower in many of the new developments.

At the Dankner project, a three-room, 103-meter apartment with a nine-meter porch is priced at $140,108. A four-room, 113-meter apartment is priced at around $150,000, while a slightly larger four-room, 117meter apartment costs about $155,000. There are also penthouses and mini-penthouses in the project, priced from $163,000 for a four-room mini penthouse with a 16-meter porch; $173,500 for a 131-meter, five-room apartment and $176,000 for a five-room, mini penthouse with a 16-meter porch. At $338,000, the highest-priced home is the five-room penthouse, a 144-meter apartment with a 115-meter porch.

By mid-January, 76 apartments had been sold in four buildings, which are scheduled to be completed by August. The entire area should be complete by 2008, said Emmanuel Turk, sales manager for the Dankner project.

"I think they're buying because we're offering a readymade, orderly project," said Turk, adding that most buyers are between the ages of 25 and 45, generally couples and families.

The swift sales are primarily due to price, said Shaw, the local broker.

"In today's tough economic climate, young families can't get to these sort of figures even with mortgages," he said. "If you need to buy a home, it's not about quality of life so much as price and what people can afford."