Not All Square Meters Are Created Equal
A number of years ago, my client wanted to purchase a 3-bedroom apartment in a new development project. We first viewed a 150 square meter (“sqm”) 3-bedroom unit [1 sqm equals 10.76 square feet] in a brand new complex. We then visited a different project and looked at a 110 sqm 3-bedroom unit, which surprisingly felt just as spacious as the 150 sqm apartment. When we measured both apartments, we confirmed that the two units were almost exactly the same size! What gives?
In the past, calculating an apartment size was a tricky proposition, as not all developers used the same methods of calculation. Some developers would incorporate the common area space into the apartment size; for example, if the apartment was 5% of the project, the developer would add 5% of the common area space to the unit’s square meterage to cover the cost of constructing the lobby, hallways and stairways. Other developers were more honest and didn’t use these “rubber rulers.” As a result, it was difficult to compare apartment sizes in different developments.
To create market uniformity, the government implemented laws dictating how to calculate apartment sizes. These new laws allow developers to include walls but not the common space outside the apartment. A good rule of thumb to determine usable space in a new development is to deduct 10% off the official square meterage. Therefore, if an apartment is officially 100 square meters, you will have approximately 90 square meters of usable space.
Unfortunately, there are no set rules when measuring existing apartments being sold second-hand, as sellers sometimes use different methods to calculate size. In order to create consistency, we always ask to see the arnona (property tax) bill, which measures usable space - or what we call "sponga space" as it's the space that needs "sponga" or to be mopped - in addition to seeing the square meterage registered in Tabu (deed). [During contract negotiations, your attorney will compare the arnona bill with the deed to identify possible discrepancies and illegalities.]
In addition to square meterage, another important issue to consider when determining the spaciousness of an apartment is the layout: some apartments have very efficient layouts while other units’ layouts have more wasted space. Just last year, my client wanted to purchase a 3-bedroom apartment with at least 125 sqm, as she stressed the importance of having a “roomy and welcoming” apartment. The first unit that we viewed was 135 sqm but, due to an inefficient layout, low ceilings and dark walls, the apartment felt somewhat cramped. Then we looked at a 115 sqm 3-bedroom unit with an efficient layout, higher ceilings, large windows and light walls, which created a much more spacious environment. Despite my client’s initial request for minimally 125 sqm, she bought the 115 square meter apartment, and she could not be happier with her purchase.
One last issue to consider when determining the roominess of an apartment is the size and location of its exterior space – which, by the way, is not included in the apartment’s square meterage. Sometimes a garden or balcony feels like an extension of the apartment. A spacious balcony situated just off the living room - sporting attractive outdoor furniture and offering lovely views - often becomes a focal point in the apartment, and frequently becomes a favorite gathering place. Contrast this situation with a balcony situated off a bedroom and you will see its usage plummet, as users are not drawn to the space. Just like any other room in a home, a balcony’s usage will directly correlate with its accessibility and appeal. Great outdoor space can be a boon to apartment dwellers as it expands the unit’s footprint and literally offers its residents a change of scenery.
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. To sign up for his monthly market updates, contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.