That’s the magic number that popped into the news last week. It’s the maximal price of a house that those who did not serve in the army, or do national service, could buy as their first home and get the benefit of paying no taxes.
The number was thrown in as a compromise by the treasury, which originally proposed offering the tax break only to first-time buyers who had kids and who did army or national service, and offering for homes worth up to NIS 1.6 million.
NIS 600,000, or about $173,000, may sound like a lot of money, but it’s nearly impossible to find a home for that much anywhere in Israel, where home prices have boomed in recent years and builders have shied away from putting up smaller units.
The move to cap the benefit for non-army veterans to the very low NIS 600,000 so galled Arab and ultra-Orthodox politicians (whose constituents are the least likely to get the higher benefit) that one Shas MK opined that the ultra-Orthodox would have to house-hunt on Mars to find homes for that cheap.
Don’t get your space suit out just yet, though. Leaving the confines of Israel reveals a number of places where nice, even palatial homes can be had for NIS 600,000 or less, tax benefit or no.
Saint Petersburg, Florida
The city of some 250,000 boasts sandy beaches, a bustling nightlife, a burgeoning arts scene including a museum dedicated to Salvador Dali, and a median home price of $177,000. For just $160,000 (NIS 552,000, or the down payment on an average Tel Aviv apartment ), you can be the proud owner of this two-story Mediterranean style townhome. Aside from three bedrooms, two bathrooms, over 1,400 square feet of space, the home also comes with a pool. For swimming in. On your Sunday off. Watch out for hurricanes, though. And this guy.
Sure they are electing neo-Nazis to parliament (and maybe the EU), and their economy is about as lively as bingo night at Temple Beth El, but the birthplace of democracy is still a world-class city. Boasting ancient and modern architecture, a metro system, beautiful sandy beaches nearby, the best moussaka this side of the Adriatic, and a hip nightlife that only sometimes breaks out into anarchist rioting, the city has a lot going on. Plus with home prices averaging 1,588 euros per square meter (or about NIS 7,000, compared with NIS 30,000 for Tel Aviv), according to cost-of-living tracking website Numbeo.com, cheap homes abound, like this 92 square-meter beaut in the heart of the city, for a measly NIS 570,000.
Love Israelis but not Israeli home prices? Then head to Peru, the land of Machu Picchu, post-army backpackers, beautiful nature and border disputes with neighbors that will make you feel right at home. While Lima’s median home price lies well past the NIS 600,000 benchmark needed for Yair Lapid’s magical benefits, the city boasts plentiful real estate with prices that don’t reflect the height of the towering Andes, and not even in the city’s slums. This apartment comes with three bedrooms, two pools, a Pacific view, and a list price of NIS 630,000, but I’m sure you can finagle them down.
In the heart of Africa, the up-and-coming city of Nairobi is not a bad place to end up. Sure the city’s best mall was ravaged in a several-day terror attack that left scores dead last year, but it also has a booming economy with branches of several multinationals and enough parks and green space to make Alon Tal giddy. Some of the greatest national parks and wildlife reserves this side of Mars are just a short jaunt away. With an average price of about NIS 435,000 for a 100 square foot apartment in the center of town according to Numbeo, you won’t need to poach ivory to afford a place to live either. This two-story, five bedroom house in the capital, for instance, will only set you back about NIS 513,000. Get to it.
Nestled in the shadow of Mount Ararat lies the ancient city of Yerevan, which yes, is in Armenia, but has some good things going for it too. Like a metro system that you didn’t know it had, castles, ancient ruins, Soviet-style architecture and a giant statue of Mother Armenia which you will totally love and maybe be a little afraid of. Plus, you can get 100 meters worth of Yerevan real estate for the low, low sum of just 65,408,300 Armenian drams, which comes out to about NIS 500,000. This three-room apartment in the center of town, for instance, will only set you back some NIS 520,000.
If you don’t mind the occasional mortar attack and breaking Israeli law, there’s an oodle of places to live in charming, war-torn Damascus, just a skip, hop and jump away from Israel. Despite three years of devastating civil strife, real estate prices haven’t fallen as far as you might think, but they still put Tel Aviv, or even Beersheba, to shame, with an average price of NIS 620,000 for a 100-square-meter apartment in the city center, according to Numbeo. If the listings offered by Aram real estate are any indication, though, you can get a lot more for a lot less, like a deluxe Damascus property, complete with garden, maid suite, and a kitchen larger than many Israeli houses, for just 1.5 billion Syrian pounds, or about NIS 350,000.
* We do not actually think you should live in Syria at this time. No matter how low the prices are.