If the broad, sturdy trees forming a leafy roof across the roads, the park-like suburban setting, or distinctive green and gold signs don’t give it away, perhaps the sprawling multi-million shekel mansions will let you know that you are not in Tel Aviv anymore.
Welcome to Savyon, where the dream of a spacious home with a yard in a friendly, quiet community just a few minutes from the beating financial heart of Israel is alive and well. Well at least for Israel’s one percenters.
The central Israel town, some 30 minutes outside Tel Aviv, covering just 3,746 dunams (3.7 kilometers or 1.4 square miles) routinely tops rankings for Israel’s best place to live.
A big part of the Savyon charm, according to those who live there, is that it offers a relaxed and close-knit community, one that just happens to include some of Israel’s wealthiest citizens, many of whom shun the publicity that comes with Israel’s other ultra-ritzy enclaves.
Founded in 1955 by the Africa Israel Investment company, Savyon’s original inhabitants were wealthy immigrants from South Africa. They were used to large houses surrounded by land, and the new settlement tried to mirror that with what for Israel’s urban areas were super-sized plots.
As the community grew, the size of plots shrank, though they remained generous by central Israel standards. Some of the largest landholders subdivided their land to make room for newer homes. According to agents, the majority of plots today measure at least 1.5 dunams, or 0.4 acres. while many are up to 2.5 to 3 dunams (27,000 to 32,000 square feet). A merger with neighboring moshav, Ganei Yehuda, in 2003, has added smaller holdings of around half a dunam (5,300 square feet) into the mix.
But despite its central location, between Petah Tikva, Yehud, and Kiryat Ono on the eastern edge of the packed Tel Aviv conurbation, Savyon continues to resist high-density building in favor of large and exclusive family homes.
A small number of the original South African inhabitants and their descendants remain, but Savyon is no longer the enclave of English-speaking immigrants it once was. It is today a town of young Israeli families, with many of its more recent residents tech millionaires looking for more space than Tel Aviv has to offer.
There are no “for sale” signs in Savyon, though houses in the community are perpetually in high demand. Homes change hands quietly and discreetly, with confidentiality paramount.
Having a real estate agent is key, and with the occasional exception, most transactions are handled by agents based inside Savyon. The agents work below the radar to bring would-be buyers and sellers together, bringing in architects and designers for families buying in and helping take on responsibility for introducing newcomers to Savyon and its people.
Bargain hunters need not apply, but with real estate costs all over Israel rocketing, Savyon’s stratospheric prices look increasingly reasonable — a relative term. When the asking price on a four-bedroom apartment in Ramat Gan is NIS 9.5 million ($2.8 million), and a unique beach-front penthouse in Tel Aviv is advertised at NIS 96 million ($28 million), a 700 square meter home (7,500-square-feet), on a plot measuring 2,200 square meters (more than half an acre), with two kitchens, multiple bedroom suites, a gym, a cinema, and a large pool, priced at NIS 34 million ($10.5 million) can seem like a decent deal.
The number of properties for sale at any one time is extremely limited, and agents working in Savyon say that there is very little negotiation – places sell for the asking price, and those asking prices have risen by 30 to 40% over recent years, because of the desirability and the rarity of what Savyon has to offer.
The asking price is partly determined by how exclusive the property is, and partly by the size of the plot of land, as well as the state of the home on it.
Re-developing land to build the dream home is a popular option, although it does not come cheap.
A plot measuring 5 dunams (1.2 acres) on the cheaper side of town — again, a relative term — recently went on the market for NIS 20,000,000 ($6 million). Closer to the center of Savyon, NIS 10,450,000 ($3 million) will buy a 1,250-square-meter (0.3-acre) plot of land. An older, 400-square-meter (4,300-square-foot) house currently occupying the plot will likely be torn down by whoever buys the parcel, but its large size provides a general footprint for what can be built to replace it. Building costs can easily top NIS 10,000 per square meter ($260 per square foot).
Strict local building codes capping home sizes to a percentage of a given parcel are designed to safeguard Savyon’s core characteristic: large homes on larger pieces of land with high levels of privacy.
According to real estate experts in the area, there are frequent attempts to push the bounds of what is allowed, but community leaders continue to limit what property owners may do in the interests of preserving the unique character of the area as a whole.
Building work is ongoing on almost every street of Savyon, and building codes do not extend to style, leading to an eclectic mishmash of mansions.
Within a few streets, one can encounter overstated baroque accents or Corinthian columns, uber-modern granite walls with water pouring down them, Mediterranean-style villas, American country houses with wooden shutters, and unique combinations of the traditional modernist Israeli cuboid design. In-ground pools are standard and many homeowners invest in lush, extravagant landscaping with an eye to maximizing privacy.
It’s the kind of place where homes will have extensive security systems and a high wall to keep intruders out, but also have the homeowners’ last name emblazoned across the mailbox out front.
“People who come to live here want somewhere that feels more rural,” said Lior Sklarsh, a Savyon native and real estate agent. But they are not looking for social isolation, she adds.
“They want to be part of the community. When there is an event going on here, almost everyone comes. And this is a place where people live. They may travel for work, they may have a second home somewhere else, but in Savyon these are homes that families are based in, and that gives the area a very different feel from some other luxury neighborhoods,” she said.
Like many other small communities, Savyon has a small, rustic shopping center with a compact grocery store for basic supplies, cafes, and more. Unlike many other small communities, it also has a NIS 65 million ($19 million), 300-seat cultural center, including an outpost of the ice cream chain Golda.
The town is also home to what is said to be Israel’s first “country club,” complete with rinks for lawn bowls (though no golf), as well as the more typical trappings of Israeli towns, such as schools, playgrounds, community centers, soccer fields, youth and seniors’ clubs and multiple synagogues.
Shani and Ilan recently bought a new home in Savyon. In a thank you letter to the real estate agent who handled their purchase, the two wrote that “when searching for the most coveted luxury real estate market in Israel, there are several places which pop up… but there is only one considered to be ‘The Israeli Dream’ for many years now. It is Savyon.”
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