In the fall of 2002, Jeff was asked by his company to assume the management of their European operations headquartered in Amsterdam, The Netherlands. After much discussion and a trip to Amsterdam to have a look around, we agreed that it would be an exciting move for the two of us and our youngest son.
So on January 13th, 2003, we landed in our adopted country and began our three year adventure living and working within the Netherlands. We ll be sharing our experiences in several chapters, each on a separate subject. We hope they impart some valuable information if you re planning a move abroad, some interesting travel and cultural information if you re planning a visit or just some humor.
When we made our first trip to the Netherlands to take a look around, we had several objectives. The first was just to see what the country looked and felt like. We d never been there so just spending some time there was important. The second objective was to look into schools where Andrew would finish high school. And the third was to see what the housing options would be.
We knew that we would be during the Netherlands at least 18 months so that Andrew could finish high school without another move. And while we might be there somewhat longer, we were advised that buying a house would only be a good idea if we were going to be in it for five years or longer. So leasing a household seemed like the best option for us. The company put us in touch with a rental agent that they had used before and we made arrangements to meet her on our second day.
While we didn t know which school Andrew would be attending, the two choices were in two different cities; Amsterdam and Wassenaar. We probably don t need to tell you about Amsterdam as it s so well known. But you probably haven t heard of Wassenaar so we ll give you a brief description. Wassenaar is a small town of about 26,000 inhabitants. Of which about 3,400 are Expats. The village is immediately adjacent to Den Haag (The Hague) on the north side. It is a quiet place with lots of large old trees and beautiful estates. It is about 45 Kilometers from Amsterdam by freeway.
Most of the homes during the Netherlands are much smaller than we re used to here inside the US. We had decided that we wanted at least three bedrooms and two bathrooms. We needed two bedrooms for our family and we wanted to be able to accommodate at least one house guest. As we were looking at rentals online, we had to get used to the metric system as all of the offerings were measured in square meters. We figured out that a square meter is about 10 square feet so we used that as a rough estimate to determine the size of a house.
There are essentially four types of housing inside the Netherlands; the single family house or villa, the town or row house, apartments, and the famous houseboats. While there were a host of rental options available, very few of them were single family homes, or villas, as they re called from the Netherlands. Single family homes are pretty rare within the Netherlands. At the time we were looking, our agent told us that there were only 68 in all of Amsterdam. By comparison, our little community from the suburbs of Denver had 440 homes by itself. So the choices for single family homes available for lease might be limited.
We hadn t lived in an apartment since we were first married and without children. And most of the apartments are usually about 400 to 600 square feet in size. So we decided that an apartment was not an option for us.
Townhouses are generally larger but vary greatly. Some of the smaller row houses are basically four rooms stacked two on two and no larger than 600 to 1,000 square feet. We looked at a few in Amsterdam that were the traditional multistory row houses that have become the symbol of that city. These can be much larger and are generally in beautiful neighborhoods. In fact almost all of the Netherlands is a beautiful neighborhood. We became very excited over one townhouse in particular in Amsterdam and it was our first choice if Andrew were to attend school nearby.
The agent picked several homes for us to look at in both locations. We had looked online before going over and had some suggestions for her to include in our tour.
While there were only three of us, we were pretty sure we would be having a lot of visitors. So we were looking for something a little larger and hopefully with a small yard, or garden, as it s called there.
After looking at a dozen homes, we hadn t found the perfect one. We were pretty certain that Andrew would be attending school in Wassenaar. But until his application was accepted, we couldn t make a final decision.
A few weeks after our first visit, we received word that Andrew had been accepted at the AmericanSchool of The Hague in Wassenaar. So that narrowed our search for homes to the immediate area. We reviewed the choices we d seen and kept looking online. In December, Jeff went back over to make some final arrangements including making a final decision on a house.
As expected there were few choices and we settled on a duplex in a lovely part of Wassenaar. While it was large by Dutch standards, we felt it was just right for us. It had 5 bedrooms and three bathrooms. Two of the bedrooms were very small but could each accommodate a single bed for guests. And there was a bathroom on each of the three floors. A living and dining room, eat in kitchen and a small study completed the interior. And we had a small yard with a patio.
Also located inside the garden was a small shed with two rooms. One was used for storage of garden tools. The other housed the clothes dryer. We found this a rather strange arrangement but better than using a Laundromat. The washing machine was located inside the main bathroom on the second floor. So laundry day involved a lot of exercise as clothes were taken from the washing machine down two flights of stairs and outside to the dryer. And back up again to be folded and put away.
It might also be helpful for a prospective resident to know that Dutch laundry machines are not the same size as here within the US. They re about half the size and capacity but work just as well. But it will take a little longer to get through your weekly laundry.
And speaking of running up and down the stairs, most Dutch homes, with the exception of apartments, are more than one level. Our residence had four counting the cellar. The important thing for you to know when you re planning a move is that the stairs are not like we have from the US. They are generally much narrower and much steeper, some being not much more than ladders with wider steps. This can limit your ability to get large pieces of furniture to second or third floor rooms.
A little Dutch architectural history. As many of the traditional townhouses were both residence and warehouse for merchants, the buildings were built for this purpose. Freight and goods were normally stored on the second floor to avoid potential flooding with the family living on the highest floors. In order to accommodate loading freight from the street into the upper floor warehouses, the buildings were built to lean slightly over the street. And at the peak of the roof, there is a heavy beam with a hook or pulley by which loads were hoisted up to the higher floors. The Dutch are very clever engineers.
And as these same buildings are now used almost exclusively as homes, the Dutch have solved the narrow stairs problem in their usual clever way. They now use the existing beams and pulleys to get furniture to the higher floors. They re also masters of mechanical lifting devices which are also used during the moving industry to hoist large loads to higher floors and into the house through the large windows.
As in any real estate market, location, size and quality will determine the price. But having said that, real estate from the Netherlands is very expensive everywhere. It s not a big country to begin with and most of the land was reclaimed from the sea. Consequently, land is at a premium and that is reflected while in the prices. This also explains why there are so few single family homes. With the high cost of the land, higher density housing keeps the prices down.
We chose to live in Wassenaar because that s where Andrew s school was located. We didn t know it at the time but Wassenaar is also a very affluent community. The many single family homes and duplexes are larger than elsewhere, a little fancier and, as you d expect, more expensive. There are several small towns near by where less expensive housing can be found but we weren t aware of them until later on. Being short of time can limit the amount of information you can gather. So start early and look hard.
Another thing we didn t know was that everything is negotiable. The last time we rented an apartment had been over 30 years ago. And then, we were the apartment managers. As far as we knew, rent wasn t negotiable. So what they asked was what we paid. Again, more time and research would have been helpful. After we d been there awhile, we did look around some and found that there were several other options available to us. We used this information to negotiate a significant reduction in our rent when our lease came up for renewal.
Another thing to know. You will pay a fee to hire a rental agent to show you around to properties. While buyers agents are becoming more prevalent inside the US, the idea of paying a real estate agent was new to us. And it s a fairly hefty fee, usually 10% of the value of the lease. So if you hire an agent, be prepared to pay them their fee when you sign the lease. We were fortunate in that Jeff s employer was covering this expense. But many employers do not. The other option is to go directly to each property listing agent yourself. In those cases, the landlord will be paying the fee.
As with most leases of a single family property versus an apartment, we also paid all of the utilities. Our agent and landlord were very helpful in getting us in touch with the correct companies to arrange to have service established.
We ve already mentioned that we chose Wassenaar because it was close to Andrew s school. And we also told you we didn t have much time to decide or many options to choose from. So while we were ultimately happy with our new household and lived there for our entire stay from the Netherlands, there were a few things we would do differently if we could do it over again.
The first thing was proximity to the commercial district. As it turned out, we were living only two blocks from the south edge of the town. Which is the opposite end of town from the school and almost as far away from the main shopping street. So whenever Lisa needed to buy groceries or do any shopping, it involved driving. And Andrew became an expert on the bus schedule. He picked this up on our very first day in town and decided it suited him better than having a scooter, which is popular with pre-driving age kids. He also used his bicycle on dry days, as do most of the Dutch population.
You may be wondering why he wasn t driving to school like many US high school students. The answer is very simple. You are not allowed to drive within the Netherlands until you are 18 years old and have passed an exhaustive 2 year training course. Our observations from living there for three years is that this results in very good drivers.
Anyway, our new dwelling was located in a beautiful neighborhood filled with ancient oak trees and lovely homes, but it was a bus or car trip away from anything. If we had it to do over, we would try to find something within walking distance to the center of town. It would have made the daily shopping trips and getting back and forth to school much more convenient.
But we now knew where we were going to be living for the next few years. All we had to do next was get ourselves and some of our belongings there and we d be ready to set up our dwelling while in the Netherlands. So on to “The Move”.http://www.maricopa.gov/parks/hiking.aspx