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No Place Like Home

Chany Rosengarten

The growing Jewish community has carved out its own viable niche in the housing market. Developers are cashing in on this trend, providing homes that accommodate the Jewish lifestyle. Pesach kitchen, succah porch — what will it take to make this house your home?

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

illustrationWhen Aron Ruby moved into his Monsey home 30 years ago, its large size made it rare. It had five bedrooms; three kitchen counters for meat, dairy, and pareve; a living room, dining room, and foyer; and ornate woodwork throughout. Today, the house is a relic of the past, dwarfed by its more modern neighbors. Its hallways are considered narrow, the dining room can hardly fit a simchah, the kitchen counters are tight, and the bedrooms lack a dance floor.

What happened? Did his house shrink, or did neighboring houses blow up in proportion? It seems that the houses have grown in correlation with the Jewish community. Contractors and developers have learned that “jumbo,” “super-sized,” and “extra” are effective marketing tags, especially when employed with Jewish homeowners.

So how did yesterday’s mansions become today’s hovels? It takes a home to raise a child. How big of a home does it take to raise 12 children? Add a visiting grandfather, a married daughter, a friendly playdate, a shalom zachor crowd, and a Shabbos guest to the equation, and the space demands of the Jewish family grow — along with the rising bar of what’s considered “basic” and “necessary.”

“Today, developers are giving more square footage than before,” says Asher Zelig Brodt, a Lakewood real estate broker. “In a townhouse, the attic is now being developed with two extra bedrooms.” As families grow, and as married children come back with grandchildren in tow, everyone is looking for extra bedrooms.

Why are developers providing more legroom, and why are homebuyers demanding more for their money? Consumer power gives Jewish homebuyers choice. “A Jewish home needs to accommodate all 613 mitzvos,” explains homeowner Suri Bauer. “The average non-Jewish homeowner hardly lives in his house. The bedrooms are smaller, the kitchen is smaller, and closets are not essential. Jews need to fit more in.”

Today’s homeowners are looking for size, but that’s not all, according to Rafi Zucker of Somerset Development. “The market is cognizant of design issues,” he explains. “It’s no longer simply a matter of square feet, but how it comes together. We focus on privacy, the scene from the window, how the houses relate to each other, and of course the layout within the house. The frum consumer needs space for a growing family, and as the community matures, the houses built a few years ago might be considered tomorrow’s slump.”

While the average American can live out his years in a matchbox, the Jewish family has its needs — and builders are accommodating with more, wider, and better.

According to Zucker, most people won’t buy less than five bedrooms. “That’s considered a starter apartment. In the general market, two-bedroom condos are average. By us, the definition of a starter is 2,800 square feet, plus attic and finished basement to rent. And because people are struggling to manage mortgage payments, the ability to rent the basement is high on the list.” 


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