A Home For Active Retirees
Tue, 07/26/2011
Israel Correspondent
The Jerusalem Citadel bills itself  as “exclusive retirement living.” It boasts a pool and spa. Photos by Michele Chabin
The Jerusalem Citadel bills itself as “exclusive retirement living.” It boasts a pool and spa. Photos by Michele Chabin

Jerusalem — As her husband Gordon’s retirement neared seven years ago, Dorothy Mandelzweig, who made aliyah from South Africa about 20 years ago, began scouting around for a place to retire.

Longtime residents of Rishon Lezion,
southwest of Tel Aviv, the couple sought an affordable home in a retirement community nearby.

The Mandelzweig’s soon came to the conclusion that communities that cater to active seniors tend to be very expensive, especially in the center of the country, so they widened their search.

Eventually the couple discovered Ganei Omer, a 20-minute drive from the southern city of Beersheva. Like many of Israel’s senior communities, it offers a variety of housing units, a pool and clubhouse as well as organized activities and a nurse on the premises several hours a week.

Even better, the couple was able to purchase a 700-square-foot semi-detached cottage for $130,000. Maintenance fees were approximately $500 per month.

“We’re very happy we bought here,” Gordon Mandelzweig said in a phone interview. “The other retirement communities we saw required a large downpayment that would depreciate 2.5 to 3 percent every year — a loss of 30 percent of your capital over time. Here, our property is registered in our name and we can sell it to anyone we want, any time we want.”

Although Ganei Omer’s management declined to say how much the units cost today, a 700-square-foot apartment recently sold for about $230,000. Active retirees who want to live in a community in the center of the country, or along the coast, can expect to pay double or triple that amount along with hefty maintenance fees.

Rare in Israel just a decade ago, communities for active retirees have become increasingly popular, according to Avigail Buiumsohn, a pre-aliyah counselor for Nefesh B’Nefesh.

“It’s a trend internationally and it’s come to Israel,” Buiumsohn said. “Developers who focused on assisted-living facilities are now targeting a younger crowd.”

That younger crowd includes many diaspora Jews in their late-50s or early/mid -60s who are ready to retire – or to launch a new career -- in Israel. A significant percentage of these young retirees have children and grandchildren already living in Israel.

“Many dreamed of making aliyah all their lives but, for whatever reason, put the dream on hold. Now their children are grown and they’re winding down their careers and feel ready to come,” Buiumsohn said.

A sizeable number of these potential immigrants “are looking for a life that’s low maintenance,” she noted. “These are people who are in the process of packing up their homes and discarding items, and preparing to move thousands of miles away,” Buiumsohn said. Living in a community of their peers, with facilities and activities on-site, may be an attractive option.

Before committing to a senior community, or any other housing options, for that matter, perspective residents should ask themselves some basic questions, Buiumsohn said.

Do you want to live in a city or something quieter? Do you want to be within walking distance of your children/grandchildren? Do you plan to buy a car or use public transportation? Is there a shopping center close by? What about theaters, synagogues, doctors’ offices and hospitals?

“Some people want to be full-time babysitters for their grandchildren while others want to pursue their own interests. Some are looking forward to starting a new chapter in their lives and want to focus on traveling, taking classes and volunteering,” the counselor said.

Sheila Bauman, the absorption counselor for the Jerusalem region of the Association of Canadians and Americans in Israel (AACI), said there is no need to rush into purchasing a home.

“I have clients who’ve been here many years but who continue to rent. Much depends on one’s financial circumstances.”

Bauman said active senior communities have several advantages. “There are some beautiful places, in Jerusalem, in Shoresh [between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv], Netanya, Herziliya. The buildings have elevators and are built with the necessary infrastructure to install an emergency call button. The doors are wide enough to accommodate a wheelchair.”

There’s also no need to mow the lawn or fish leaves out of the backyard swimming pool.

Fees at the luxurious Jerusalem Citadel, a 66-plus residence in south Jerusalem, provide, among other things, a once-a-week apartment cleaning and membership to the facility’s beautiful indoor pool and spa, with Swedish and Turkish saunas.

The building, whose dark-wood and marble interiors are full of old-world charm, also boasts a synagogue, entertainment and game rooms, as well as two restaurants.

Beit Protea, an active senior community for English-speakers, offers an indoor pool, library, laundry service, hair salon, medical clinic and physical therapy room on the premises.

Before signing a contract, buyers need to ask some basic questions:

“What’s included in the price? Laundry? Meals? Is there a mini-market on the premises? Is there an option for assisted living? What if I need a caregiver? Is this allowed? In a lot of places, the answer is no,” Bauman said.

Other questions: Is there on-site parking? Public transportation nearby? Can the grandchildren stay over? Is it possible to rent out the apartment while you’re on vacation? And what happens to the deposit if you die?

“People often say, ‘I didn’t know. They didn’t tell me.’ You need to know what questions to ask,” Bauman said.

Both counselors advised prospective buyers to factor in the dollar-shekel exchange rate, which fluctuates from day to day. The dollar has been weak for more than a year and buys much less than it used to.