Before Signing on the Dotted Line . . .
Updated: Jul 7, 2019
Over twenty years ago, I wanted to make an offer to buy a house in New Jersey and the agent told me to submit my offer in the form of a signed contract. She explained – and my lawyer subsequently confirmed – that upon the seller’s acceptance of the offer, my attorney retains the right to void the contract and to craft a new agreement during a period of days following signing. Well, let me tell you some facts of life in Israel: do not sign anything – not even an informal letter of intent jotted down on the back of a napkin! – without your attorney’s approval. If a document has your signature, it can cause you serious problems.
Legal Implications of a Contract
Debbie Rosen-Solow, a real estate attorney with offices in Beit Shemesh providing services throughout the Jerusalem region, and a Ra’anana office servicing the Sharon and Tel Aviv areas, explained that the process of purchasing a house in Israel is very different and far more complex than in the United States. As opposed to most other countries where the majority of legal implications occur upon closing, in Israel the privileges and obligations are shifted from the seller to the buyer upon signing a contract. One implication is that the acquisition tax has to be paid within sixty days of contract signing, even if the closing has not yet taken place.
No Post-Contract Grace Period
Another fact of Israeli law is that there is no post-contract grace period to allow purchasers to perform due diligence and obtain mortgages. It is therefore crucial that all legal and financial research is performed prior to signing any written agreement, as the Israeli courts have recognized even a memorandum of understanding (or “letter of intent”) as a binding contract.
No Title Insurance
There is no title insurance in Israel, consequently if conflicting title claims or unpaid mortgages or liens against the property crop up, it may become the buyer’s problem. And these problems happen. I personally know of a case where there were two competing ownership claims; it took many years and large legal bills to finally resolve the dispute. In another somewhat recent transaction, my friend’s attorney missed a title issue and the resulting cloud on title prohibited the buyer from obtaining a mortgage. I share these stories to impress upon you that in Israel a good lawyer is worth her weight in gold.
Debbie Rosen-Solow is one of the outstanding real estate attorneys I recommend to overseas purchasers. She has impressed me with her legal acumen, her ability to protect her clients’ rights against difficult opposing counsel, and her ready accessibility to clients. If this article inspires any follow-up questions, please contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Gedaliah Borvick is the founder of My Israel Home (www.myisraelhome.com), a real estate agency focused on helping people from abroad buy and sell homes in Israel.