How To Buy Floor Tile In Israel
Most olim, accustomed to western shopping styles, are totally stymied by Israeli bargaining. Think souk, but apply this to everything.
We need floor tiles for the new apartment. The contractor has his own that he's willing to install, but they're cheap and ugly, hence the need for something that (1) looks nice and (2) will last until I'm dead.
In the States, I would ask my contractor or the builder or my friends who have already redecorated where to go for tile. I've done this before, and the guy who redecorated our bathrooms actually gave me a great tile store that gives owner/remodelers a tileman's discount.
Here, I ask Yossi. I'm about ready to rename this blog "Travels With Yossi: A Survival Guide to Successful Aliyah."
First, Yossi takes us to Modi'in. A strange choice for tiles when our new apartment is in Jerusalem, no? No--the guy who owns this big everything-you-ever-needed-for-your-house-store is Yossi's cousin's husband.
Welcome to the Middle East where tribalism is alive and well.
The cousin-by-marriage is thrilled that these stupid, oops rich, Americans (we are, in reality, neither) have trailed in after his relative and he sends one of his best sales reps over to show us anything we want.
I find the perfect tile. I show it to The Husband, who is there under protest because he HATES shopping. However, I refuse to make major decisions like color and style of floor without his input. I simply don't want to hear "I hate this floor" for the rest of my life. He and Yossi went out for breakfast and strong coffee while I visited Emah S. and saw her wonderful new digs for a couple of hours, along with her wonderful, handsome, cute and very intelligent boys, so The Husband was a bit mollified that this trip wasn't ONLY a shopping trip. The guys got to talk sports and girls over breakfast without their wives overhearing them, which almost made up for the next several hours of torture-by-shopping.
We have different shopping styles. The Husband walks in, sees something, says "That looks okay," and he's done. I walk in, see the same something, say "Hey, I really like this, honey--whaddaya think?" I then proceed to look at every other piece of floor tile in the store to compare texture, quality, price and color. And since I'm there, I might as well also figure out what we're going to use in the bathrooms so they won't clash with the floor in hall and bedroom, right?
Yossi is trying to be inconspicuous since the worst place for any friend to be is in the middle of Husband and Wife. At one point I asked Yossi what he thought of the color of a piece of tile. His eyes widened in alarm. "I don't do this, Sarah, not if I am dead! I NEVER pick the color or the tile--this is the wife's decision. What makes my wife happy makes me happy," he told me, then looked over my shoulder for support. "Nachon, Mike?"
"Nachon," the Husband agrees. "Shalom Bayit. Besides, I'm color blind, so I don't care."
Okay, so now we have the perfect tile. It was, of course, the first piece I saw but I had to look at everything and drive both guys nuts.
We look at the price tag. 421 NIS per meter. For which one need not be American but must be either rich or stupid. Chaval--I have been here long enough to know highway robbery when I see it.
So Yossi goes to bargain with his cousin. For us, since we're friends-of-the-family and we're buying tile for the home, the bathrooms and the mirpesset, well, gee, he'll give us a discount and knock it down to 350 NIS per meter.
Yossi and he disappear into a back nook of the showroom. I am now familiar with this routine. Yossi is a taxi driver, and drivers work hard for very little money. So every hotel manager, business owner and contractor tries to get some business thrown their way by offering the taxi driver a cut of the profit--it's usually 10%.
When the taxi driver at the airport tells you that you should stay at the Inbal because it's really much nicer than the King David, he might be offering you his honest opinion--or he might be getting a kick-back from the manager at the Inbal. You can't really know one way or the other, but you should know that there's a lot of "black" money transactions here and it's primarily because its very, very tough for people to make a living in a country where the minimum wage laws and other labor protections are pretty much unenforced.
One reason the Husband and I know that Yossi is more family than merely friend is that we watched while a sales rep offered Yossi 10% of the purchase price of a penthouse to prevail upon us to buy HIS penthouse and not to take us to any other contractors. Yossi played along, and when the sales rep finally reached his lowest price, Yossi asked about "his 10%." The sales rep readily agreed--and Yossi then told him that we were family and that Yossi wanted that 10% also knocked off the price of the apartment. Flummoxed, the sales rep reluctantly agreed, so we got a further reduction in the price.
We ultimately didn't buy that apartment, but that's how it works here.
Sure enough, Yossi's cousin wanted to assure him that if Yossi would recommend his shop and make sure we bought all our household tile from him, then he would give Yossi a cut of 10%.
Yossi then took us to Jerusalem, where he knows the owner of another tile store. This guy was young and very direct. He told me, point-blank, that because we're "family" to Yossi, he would give us the same tile we saw in Modi'in for 210 NIS per meter--but only because we know Yossi. "I'm making this price for HIM, you understand? Not for you."
I understood. I also saw him pull Yossi into an alcove and pretend to talk about the ugly green bath tile on the wall when I knew perfectly well (and Yossi later confirmed) that he was promising Yossi a 10% cut if Yossi would insist that this was the best shop in which to buy the tile.
From there, we went to three other stores in Jerusalem and a very nice, small store that was the best of the lot in Rosh HaAyin--SevenStone. Unlike the competition, it isn't in a big flashy showroom. From the street, it looks like a warehouse in the industrial section of town--but the owner is honest, and the prices can't be beat.
Unfortunately, they don't carry the tile I want.....
Back to Modi'in. Yossi tells the cousin that we need floor tile, and bathroom tile, and toilets and a tub and shower stall, and since we're bringing him all this business, how about a better price?
The cousin comes down to 210 NIS/meter. Yossi argues persuasively with him--c'mon, that's the same price as in Jerusalem, can't you do better than that?
Cousin then gives us 50% off of all the fixtures, and 40% off the bathroom and mirpesset tile. It looks like we have a deal...but Yossi's not done yet.
He takes the cousin aside. "What about my 10%?"
"But I gave you the best price possible!" the cousin protests.
"Yes, but that's for the buyers--what about me?" Yossi persists. "You PROMISED me that I'd get 10% if I brought their business to you."
Despite the airconditioning, the cousin is sweating. He finally agrees, looking slightly ill, to the 10%.
"Good!" Yossi exclaims. "Take it off their bill--these people are family to me!"
We got that tile I couldn't possibly afford for 190 NIS/meter. I'm lousy at math, but I figure that's about 45% of the original asking price.
So how do you buy tile in Israel? Make really good Israeli friends who have to survive on the economy and know the ropes, and then take them shopping with you. DO NOT try to do this alone, without adult Israeli supervision and with your immigrant accent--you'll get eaten alive.