If you’re a millennial, buying a house in the Netherlands (or most other countries, for that matter) might be just a dream.
The state of the economy coupled with the overall situation in the real estate market has made it really hard for our generation. However, if you’ve been avoiding avocado toast and Starbucks lattes, so your savings account is ready for an attempt at buying a place in the Netherlands – I hope my experience can be helpful for your own journey!
Hopes and dreams
We started thinking about buying a place about a year into living in the Netherlands. Both my husband and I were employed full time, and had a decent income as a basis for the mortgage.
Our wishlist went a little like this:
- Ideally a house (we’ll settle for an apartment if absolutely necessary)
- At least two bedrooms (since we both work from home)
- A garden
- Good condition, so no work needs to happen right away
- Walking distance from supermarkets
- Nice part of the town
All of that ideally for under 300.000 euros! (I was willing to stretch it to 350.000, but not a lot more than that)
You can buy at least three huge houses in Serbia with that money (in smaller towns or villages), so even this budget was mind-boggling to me.
We did lots of research online and thought we have a pretty good idea about what we need to do in terms of paperwork and how much money we need to have in the bank. Still, the more we dove into the intricacies of the process, the clearer it became we wouldn’t want the stress of doing it alone.
Finding the right advisors
We’re the kind of people who always have a reliable accountant file our taxes, even though the process is relatively “simple”, just because we want to be 100% sure we won’t end up in jail.
When buying a house in the Netherlands, there are two experts you want to have on your team:
- A mortgage advisor (hypotheek adviseur)
- A real estate agent (makelaar)
These two parties will also need to work together to finalize the process, so it’s important they work in sync and are fully updated about what the other side is doing.
We had no one to ask for a recommendation when it comes to the real estate agent, so I had to rely on Facebook groups and Google. I saw Homes for Expats recommended by so many people in local expat groups.
Agents in the Netherlands will either charge commission (a percentage from the purchase price, which is anywhere between 1 and 3%), or a fixed rate.
Considering our budget, we felt more comfortable going with someone who charges a fixed rate, because we were afraid an agency charging a percentage would favor clients with a higher budget.
So when I saw Homes for Expats works with a fixed fee, I scheduled an intake call right away.
We got to meet Cherene, and loved her energy and transparency.
We also really liked that she’d help us with all parts of the process – planning viewings, figuring out how much to offer for a specific property, sending the offer, reviewing all the documentation, providing a technical inspection, providing a notary…
What we didn’t particularly love was the fact that she told us we needed a lot more money than we thought we needed. Overbidding is a thing if you want your offer to be accepted, and you need to have that money ready. Considering people in our area overbid 10-25% over the asking price, that’s a significant amount of cash you need to have ready.
As for the mortgage advisor, we already had one highly recommended by my in-laws. He made their house purchase process years ago very smooth, and has saved them lots of money, so it was good to have someone we know we can trust. There was just one catch – we had to communicate with him in Dutch! He understands English with no issues, but speaking and writing are easier in Dutch. We erred on the side of having full trust in him being more important, and we didn’t regret it.
If you’re comfortable with Dutch, I would definitely recommend Michiel Franken.
For my expat friends, the best address to talk about mortgages is Rocket Mortgages.
The job of a mortgage advisor is to fully understand your financial situation, and suggest the best path forward based on that. They are also your advocate when it comes to talking to the bank – they normally have great relationships with financial institutions, and can open lots of doors you couldn’t if you were applying for the mortgage yourself.
Another useful thing is that the mortgage advisor can help you understand what your budget really is, what perks are available (like a construction fund, or a sustainability fund), as well as finding the best interest rates. If you’re employed, the process is much easier and faster than if you’re self-employed. It’s definitely not impossible to get a mortgage if you have your own company, it just takes some extra paperwork.
And now, it begins!
In July 2022, with these two amazing experts on our team, we started the hunt!
It quickly became obvious that our budget means a house most likely wouldn’t happen, so expectations got adjusted and we were only viewing apartments.
Having Cherene on our side meant getting viewings was much easier – she scheduled these for any apartment we were interested in, she knew all the right questions to ask, she was our advocate, and noticed even the tiniest details about the space. She was also the one to ask all the stupid questions we felt silly asking ourselves.
One thing to be ready for – you’ll only be able to schedule viewings on working days, and during working hours. There’s not much flexibility with changing the timing if the first slot they offer you for viewing doesn’t work out either. So I hope you have a flexible schedule!
After the viewing, if you’re interested in the property, you receive a heap of documents for review from the selling agent. These documents tell you everything about the state of the property, any issues it might have, the house rules, who has the ownership of the land, how the house-owners association (VvE) is governed if one exists… It’s super important to understand these, as they give you the full picture of the situation, the financial consequences, and ultimately help you decide whether you want to bid on the apartment or not.
The thing that was the most useful to me out of all the documents was the checklist giving you the overall state of the property (Lijst van Zaken). It goes into detail about what needs fixing, whether previous alterations were performed by a professional, how old the kitchen is, if there were ever floods or other types of water damage. But it also goes into what the sellers will leave in the apartment, and what they’ll take with them – for example, it’s not uncommon that they’ll take the floors and light fixtures. This is important because you see the apartment set up for viewing, so it would be an uncomfortable surprise to get the keys and find naked concrete because the owners took the laminate floor with them.
Desperation kicks in
We knew the market was totally nuts, and we also knew people spend over a year unsuccessfully trying to find a place (especially first-time buyers without a huge budget like us). We’ve seen enough episodes of “Kopen Zonder Kijken” to know that it’s a long and difficult process. But we still believed we’d be the lucky ones who found an apartment on the first try!
So after the first offer that was not accepted for an apartment we REALLY liked, our optimism was in the gutter.
The second time this happened, I was deeply sad and decided that this will never happen for us (even though it wasn’t even a month of searching at that point)
Just before the next viewing, I remember Cherene asking how we are. I said “I’m honestly so sad and deflated!”, and her response was DO YOU NEED A HUG? That was one of the moments I knew we had the best person for the job.
It also quickly becomes clear that it’s not just about the technical specifications of a property. The energy also needs to be just right. We saw some beautiful apartments in great parts of the town where the vibe was off, and we didn’t even take those into consideration. So if I can share one wise thing here, it would be – listen to your gut! If it doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t right for you.
Finally finding THE ONE
I’m not going to lie, the first time we walked into the apartment we ended up buying – we hated the neighborhood, we hated the floor, we hated the bathroom. We walked out saying there’s no way we’d even consider this one, because it takes too much work. The storage space in the basement is also too small.
The kitchen is super old and needs to be replaced. The laminate floor is old and ugly. The person who lived there before us was a chain smoker who smoked inside, so the mechanical ventilation needs to be replaced right away. The water heater is 15 years old. The apartment is on the last floor, with a flat roof, oriented to the south, and there are no sun shades whatsoever.
IT WOULD BE SO MUCH WORK TO FIX THIS
We were very sure we didn’t want to remodel an apartment in the Netherlands. I don’t know if I would dare to do it even in Serbia! I might be a bit more relaxed doing it there because it would be easier to get contractors who are recommended by friends and family, and also because the prices are lower. But doing such major renovations in the Netherlands wasn’t something we were ready to do.
So after a bad first impression, we did still look over the documentation because the apartment was well within our budget, and in a decent location.
The next morning, we woke up and were surprised that we both have positive thoughts about the apartment popping up in our brain. The space is very open and bright. It has two bedrooms, so we could have a nice office, plus a proper bedroom just for sleeping after a very long time of having our bed in the living area. The bathroom is huge, especially compared to the bathroom in our rental where it was impossible for two people to be in there at the same time. The neighborhood is actually very convenient because the building is close to the city hospital, and it’s less than 10min by bike to the town center.
We looked at each other in disbelief – is it really possible we really like this darn stupid apartment that will cause us so much stress with the remodeling???
The stress of (over)bidding
We were one of the first people to see the apartment, so we were able to put our offer in quite early on, instead of waiting for the bidding to be closed.
Cherene prepared calculations for us, and a suggestion on how much to bid to start with, considering our maximum budget, and what’s the likely property value appraisal that’s taken into account for the mortgage. So our starting bid still gave us the space to bid a bit higher (which turned out to be the winning strategy)
The next few days are a bit of a blur to me. I honestly wasn’t sure what’s happening, but it all happened within 48 hours.
I think I just don’t see myself as an adult, and owning an apartment is the most adult thing I can imagine, so it was very surreal.
When we heard from Cherene that there’s another party bidding, which means we need to increase our offer by a little bit, I didn’t really understand we’re one step closer to becoming homeowners. And it definitely didn’t sink in when she said our offer was accepted!
We won the bid by literally 1.500 euros. A ridiculously low amount when you consider a budget of over 300.000, but apparently we had a good strategy.
The blurry days continued for me, as my husband was over the moon and celebrating, and I was just there – waiting for something to go wrong, because surely we cannot have a place of our own??? I was waiting to wake up and realize it was all just a dream.
We were doing the technical inspection, signing the paperwork for the mortgage, trying to understand where to even start with replacing the kitchen… It was a lot. The technical inspection is something many people skip because it costs money. However, having an expert get into all the nooks and crannies of the properties and tell you if there are any structural issues, and how much you’ll need to invest in fixing it is just the responsible thing to do.
Still, I think I was waiting for something to go wrong up until the day we finally signed the purchase agreement.
Signed, sealed, delivered
You get all the documentation before the signing date, but you have to go to a notary (along with the seller) to go over everything, make sure you understand it, sign, and get the keys.
Before the notary appointment, you have to make a full payment – the notary collects invoices from all parties who provided their services (which includes the agent, mortgage advisor, the mortgage application, the notary fee…) It’s handy to only have to pay one invoice, instead of all the separate fees.
As expats, it’s recommended to have an official translator present for the signing – if you don’t have one, it’s possible to later claim that you didn’t understand the contract fully, and you want to back out of it. It can also be useful to have this in case you’re not fully comfortable with google translating Dutch, as the notary goes through the most important articles of the contract, as well as the mortgage agreement during this appointment. So if you still have any doubts about the terms, you can get final clarification.
With the translation, the appointment can take a bit longer, so I believe we were in there for about 45 minutes.
We left the notary’s office with a bunch of keys in our hands, and we sat down in a cafe to grab coffee and breakfast and process what just happened. I sat there looking at the keys, and it still didn’t fully sink in what this meant. I called the mortgage advisor to tell him the good news and thank him profusely.
This was September 1st. If you don’t remember from earlier – we started the search in the beginning of June, and we bid on a total of three apartments. Realistically, that was a very fast and efficient process. It didn’t feel that way from the inside, though, because there were so many emotional ups and downs during that time.
The same day we got the keys, we had to go into the apartment with our dog for the first time, so she could see our new home! She found some fun things to sniff, but wasn’t super impressed otherwise.
At this point, even though we had the keys, we were not ready to move in.
The floors had to be replaced, and the first availability for a contractor to do that for us was mid-October. After that, the estimated delivery time of the new kitchen was mid-November! There was also lots of prep-work to do before the new kitchen installation, as the electricity and water outlets in that space had to be changed, the old tiles removed, and everything needed a fresh coat of paint.
SO MUCH WORK
We moved in at the end of October, in a week when we were both super busy with work, and with having no kitchen in the apartment. We improvised with a tiny fridge and lots of creativity for the two weeks before our amazing kitchen was in place.
Sure, it was lots of work, but our mortgage construction fund paid for it!
I learned lots of new construction-related Dutch words in the process. And we now have a floor and a kitchen that we specifically chose and we absolutely love.
Money Money Money
To give you an idea about the costs involved, the price we paid for the apartment was 341.500
The amount that was due to the notary was a little over 15.000 euros.
On top of that, the technical inspection was paid separately (440 euros), as well as the property appraiser’s services (850 euros).
I’m super happy that we’re not paying for someone else’s mortgage, but for our own! There’s so many little things that need to be improved in this apartment, but we’re not in a hurry, and we know things will get done eventually.
One thing we were naive about was definitely the cost. Not just the cost of the process, but your monthly expenses going forward as well. The difference between our rent and the monthly mortgage payments is only 300 euros. That made us feel very comfortable – it’s not that much higher when you consider the cost of living here in general! However, our rent already included the service costs that are due to the VvE (homeowner’s association). In our own apartment, that cost of 200 euros per month comes on top of the mortgage. Not to mention it’s also wise to have a home insurance, and that the bill for any repairs has to be footed by us, and not a landlord.
I read somewhere that when you’re renting – the rent amount is the maximum that you’ll spend for your accommodations. And if you own, the amount of your mortgage is the absolute minimum you’ll spend on a monthly basis. Perhaps this is common sense to you, but I’m sharing for any fellow naive first-time buyers.
All in all
I would not have embarked on this journey without the amazing experts we had on our team. We were also incredibly lucky to have this all sorted out so quickly, considering the insanely competitive market.
If you’re also planning on buying a property in the Netherlands, do prepare for a wild ride, and I wish you all the luck!