By Anessa V. Cohen

We have all had our experiences dealing with a municipal building department office when trying to get certification for housing. Whether trying to get original certificates of occupancy for new construction or existing ones for old, or getting certificates of completion for additions or renovations, the bureaucratic process and paperwork involved, not to mention the time lost, is usually nerve-wracking.

There are always new experiences to add to the old ones–some mundane, some unusual enough to raise an eyebrow from the person to whom you are telling your story. The newest story I have to tell really takes the prize of all the stories I have heard or have told in years past.

I recently had the experience of selling a second home to a customer living in Israel. This is not a common situation, since Israelis–at least the ones I have met throughout my life–do not typically buy second or vacation homes in the Five Towns.

When we first went into contract with this customer’s home purchase, the transaction seemed simple. He lived out of the country and a mortgage was not involved. Arranging when the closing would take place was the only issue to work out as part of the contract.

In order for the funds to be available, we needed to coordinate the closing date here with a closing date on one of his properties in Israel, so the closing dates were synchronized accordingly to ensure everything would flow smoothly on both transactions.

A few weeks prior to the scheduled closing, however, an unusual situation popped up–one that neither I nor the two U.S. lawyers had ever had the experience of dealing with.

In Israel, the equivalent of a certificate of occupancy is a Tofes-4. Any house that is sold there, whether new construction or existing, must have this certificate produced and signed as in effect before any monies from a sale of house transaction can be released. If the local building department does not sign off on this document prior to a closing on a house, the monies are held in escrow and cannot be released until such document is produced.

In any event, a call came in from the buyer’s attorney that his buyer needed to postpone the closing (here in the Five Towns) due to a situation in Israel beyond his control that had caused the monies from his closing there to be frozen because a Tofes-4 could not be signed off by the local municipality.

The reason for this freeze, he further stated, was that the mayor and some of the staff of this municipality in Israel had been arrested and were in jail, and the remaining staff could not sign off on anything coming out of that municipal office until permission was granted. (Who was to grant this permission was never made clear.) As such, the buyer had to postpone the closing until the municipality found someone authorized to sign off on the Tofes-4.

To say that I was flabbergasted is to put it mildly! The seller’s attorney called me and asked if I had ever heard of such a situation since he had not. I said I was speechless! The seller’s attorney said the story was so bizarre it had to be true, but we needed to find out for sure before extending the closing date. I told him I would make some calls to contacts I had in Israel to check out the validity of this story.

I made some calls and got even more bizarre replies explaining that this is not unusual! Every now and then corruption is discovered, and the police round up the officials in the municipal offices involved. Others working in those offices run for cover by not showing up for work until the fervor dies down, and then things go back to normal.

I have no words! All I can say is that the buyer was granted a delayed closing date, and now our system of getting various certifications from our local municipalities no longer seems so onerous! v

Anessa Cohen lives in Cedarhurst and is a licensed real-estate broker and a licensed N.Y.S. mortgage broker with over 20 years of experience, offering full-service residential and commercial real-estate services (Anessa V Cohen Realty) and mortgaging services (First Meridian Mortgage) in the Five Towns and throughout the tri-state area. She can be reached at 516-569-5007 or via her website, Readers are encouraged to send questions or comments to


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