All of us have had our experiences dealing with building departments and their bureaucratic procedures when trying to get certification for housing.

Whether trying to get original certificates of occupancy for new construction or existing ones, or getting certificates of completion for additions or renovations, the bureaucratic process and paperwork involved, not to mention the time lost, is nerve wracking at best.

But there are always new experiences to add to the old ones—some mundane and some unusual enough to raise an eyebrow and elicit a “you’re kidding” from the person you’re telling your story to. But I must say, the newest story I have to tell really takes the cake.

I often have the experience of selling homes in Israel for Israelis looking to relocate to the U.S., but rarely do I encounter an Israeli looking to buy a second home in the U.S. while still living in Israel.

Such was the case with one of my Israeli customers. He wanted a second home in New York where he and his family could fly back and forth as the spirit moved them, which as we know, is very uncommon since Israelis, at least the ones I’ve met, 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 actual transaction seemed very simple. Since he lived out of the country, a mortgage was not involved. The only important issue to work out in the contract was when the closing would take place.

Since we needed to coordinate the closing date here with the closing date on one of his properties in Israel so the funds would be available, the closing dates were synchronized accordingly, similar to the way a buyer and seller would synchronize a house they were buying and selling in the same manner here, so everything flows smoothly on both transactions.

However, a few weeks prior to the scheduled closing, an unusual situation popped up, one that I had never encountered before. And one that neither of the two lawyers here in the U.S. had ever encountered before as well.

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

In any event, a call came in from the buyer’s attorney on our house deal ready to close here in the Five Towns saying that the buyer needed to postpone the closing due to a situation in Israel beyond his control, which caused the monies to be frozen because a Tofus 4 could not be signed off by the local municipality.

The reason for the freeze, he elaborated, was that the mayor and some of his staff at the municipality in Israel were arrested and jailed, and the remaining staff could not sign off on anything coming out of that municipal office until permission was granted by a higher authority (who that was, we had no idea). As such, the buyer had to postpone the closing until the municipality found someone authorized to sign off on the Tofus 4.

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

I made some calls and got even more bizarre replies such as, “Yes, this is not unusual. Every now and then corruption is found and the police round up the officials in the municipal offices, while all their staff runs for cover by not showing up for work until the chaos dies down and things go back to normal.”

To end the story, all I can say is that the buyer was granted his delayed closing date and now I’m convinced that our system of obtaining certification from our various municipalities does not seem so onerous after all!


Anessa Cohen lives in Cedarhurst and is a Licensed Real Estate Broker (Anessa V Cohen Realty) with over 20 years of experience offering full service residential, management and commercial real estate services in the 5 towns of Long Island as well as the tri-state area. She can be reached at 516-569-5007 or Readers are encouraged to send any questions or scenarios by email to


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