By: Raizel Rosen
Anyone who has been involved in buying or selling a house in Lakewood or its environs, has seen the skyrocketing prices of houses, as more and more Yidden move out of Brooklyn into the Lakewood vicinity. In addition, rental prices are sky high, as investors flip houses for a large profit sale or for enormous rental profits. Most of these rental houses are occupied by numerous families of Mexicans paying $500-$1000 per room, making the monthly rent for the investor between $3 and $4,000 per month (or more). Definitely a Seller’s market.
A lot of non-Jews are getting rich selling their houses to frum Jews who must be in walking distance of a shul on Shabbos. Many realtors, both Jewish and non-Jewish are making a killing, as the houses are going for $100K or more over the asking price.* Terrific! It’s great that Jews are successful in their chosen parnassah. Baruch Hashem!
So, what could be wrong with this situation?
- Bidding wars pitting Yidden against other Yidden.
- Buyers, who would be considered strong contenders in a normal housing market are continually outbid by people putting down so much cash over the asking price that they don’t have a chance.
- People forced to make snap decisions on buying a house with their entire savings and possibly a mortgage because to wait to find out more details about the house means losing it to a higher bidder.
- Families unable to secure a decent size house for their growing families, many stuck in basement apartments or townhouses they obtained when their families were much smaller.
- Developers buying up large swaths of land, clearing the woods that made Lakewood so appealing to Yidden who wanted to be out of the city crowding to be able to learn Torah without urban distractions. Who cares? – It’s still better than Brooklyn!
- The creation of de facto ghettos where as many families as possible are now living, and where parking is hazardous to your car’s health.
- The increase of traffic on main roads like the 9, so that you can be stuck there for 45 minutes at a time.
- Renters afraid to call landlords about repairs because they know they could be replaced instantly by someone willing to pay more for the rental.
Is this what Hashem wants for us? For Lakewood, once the isolated deep and pure Torah community started by Rav Aaron Kotler many decades ago, where young families sacrificed in gashmius to be able to learn here for as many years as they could afford?
I discussed this situation with a prominent Rav. His take on the situation was, that at the beginning of the overpricing and bidding wars, maybe there were halachic implications. However, once the situation became what the market could sustain and “normalized” bidding over the asking price, it is no longer against halachah.
OK. So, what’s the problem?
The current real estate sales situation raises a lot of questions that I would ask the reader to consider:
Many involved in this process are purchasing houses at a level of opulence that has never been the norm in Lakewood. Is it because they sold their homes in places with higher standards of living and they are trying to get the most of their money, inadvertently changing the standard of living in Lakewood and the surrounding townships? The houses in many of these areas are beyond the wildest dreams of many Yidden, some of who are only a few generations away from survivors. Imagine needing close to $1 million to buy a reasonably nice house for a large family in Lakewood!
We should live according to our means. If you’re well off, no reason to hide it. True. Is there a limit?
Yidden are second to none in the causes of chesed and tzedakah. Does this real estate situation require some rethinking of business ethics? Is it better to make a little less on a deal than to deprive families of decent housing? Should realtors be encouraging bidding wars and cash deals that exclude hard working families that can’t provide fully cash resources? If the “winner” in this game gives more of his profits to tzedakah, does that justify the impact on the “loser?”
Does the profit margin justify the bidding wars? Aren’t we supposed to go to any lengths not to hurt another Jew’s feelings or pride? Many buyers are demoralized after bidding on numerous houses only to be outbid again and again. How can the men concentrate on learning and the ladies on the children when they can’t afford a decent place to live?
Is it each family for its own? Or are we really one nation that hurts when one of us is hurting.
I ask everyone to consider these questions. Maybe someone’s heartstrings will be tugged and compassion will win out over the almighty dollar. Our mesorah teaches that there is more, much more, to being a part of our wonderful Lakewood community than the accumulation of money. And, maybe in the merit of our nation working together as one, Moshiach will get here sooner.
*Qualifier: not all agents are happy about the current shark tank environment of the real estate market. Some are doing their best to navigate the market while still working with integrity. However, the situation has snowballed and here we are.