Viewing: house hunting

House hunt: What happens next

Once Marlon and I had decided on The One, I was nervous about bidding. I didn’t want someone else to get it first, and I didn’t want the owners to junk our offer!

It turned out to be surprisingly easy. Things went fast—really fast. Via our broker, we bid below than the asking price first thing Monday, and were rewarded for our promptness by being the first (and I suspect the only ones) in line. The owners (via their broker) counter-bid on Tuesday; we counter-counter-bid, they replied with their final price, and we put in one last counter-offer on Wednesday. By Thursday evening, the owners had accepted our offer and the apartment was ours! Or at least one step closer to being ours, officially.

Since then, I’ve allowed myself to get a little more infatuated with “our” apartment. In fact, last weekend I kind of stalked it. We visited the Sunday market at Westerpark (which is awesome and deserves another post), just minutes from “our” new place. To take the tram home, we walked through “our” street. It was lovely and I couldn’t believe we would be owning a home here soon. It felt like we had made the right decision.

However, there’s much to be done before I can drop the quotation marks from “our” apartment/”our” street. Here’s where we get into the nitty-gritty of buying a house in the Netherlands, and where we’re more than happy to pay a small premium for an English-speaking, expat-friendly broker to help us through the not-so-fun stuff. Of which there is a lot.

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House hunt: The One

I could tell you about the eight other apartments that we viewed after that first housing tour (nearly three weeks ago, but only blogged this week), bringing our total count to 14.

I could tell you about the place we viewed that ticked all my boxes on paper, but freaked me out when I stepped into the long, narrow, neck-like hallway leading to the bedrooms and realized that I could not be alone in it. Ever. Especially not at night.

I could tell you about the third-floor apartment in the Museum Quarter that I fled from before I even stepped in. I opened the front door, saw a vertical wall of stairs, said “No f*cking way” and walked off. (Good thing our broker wasn’t with us for that one.)

I could tell you about the places that came close. Or I could just tell you that we found The One.

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House hunt: Westerpark

(Go west!) Life is peaceful there
(Go west!) In the open air
(Go west!) Where the skies are blue
(Go west!) This is what we’re gonna do
-Go West, Pet Shop Boys

Is it possible to fall in love with a neighborhood? It seems that’s exactly what happened when Westerpark and I met for the first time.

It was a sunny Sunday morning when Marlon and I cycled to Westerpark for a look-see. We’d seen a few promising, budget-friendly apartments in the area on Funda but didn’t know much about the neighborhood, so we decided to go and check it out ourselves.

Living in the rather posh Oud Zuid has spoiled us, so we were a little tentative about the surroundings at first. It wasn’t seedy or creepy or anything like that, but you just kind of get used to being surrounded by cravat-wearing, Lexus-driving people in this area. I know, it’s not normal.

But low-key Westerpark had a few tricks up its sleeve. The first arrow into my heart came as Marlon and I were peeking into a ground floor apartment that we were thinking of viewing.

De Wittenkade apartment for sale

The place was nicely done up for sure, but that wasn’t what got me. It was the sweet little old lady that tottered up to us in her housecoat and walker as we had our noses pressed up against the window.

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So, tell me what you want (what you really, really want)

Before we set out to view apartments for sale in Amsterdam, I thought Marlon and I knew what we wanted. Our wish list included:

  • A minimum of 80 square meters—smaller than our current place, but not too small
  • Something special—period details such as original moldings or exposed beams
  • Ground floor or first floor, max
  • Two bedrooms—one for us, one for the baby (plus a possible future kid)
  • A bathtub and a back yard would be nice, at least a balcony will do
  • An open kitchen

It turned out that we had only the vaguest idea. Our broker (who specializes in expat rentals, but gamely took us on) easily stumped us by asking questions like: “If you were to rank your criteria, what would be your top three considerations and why?” Cue long and puzzled silence.

That’s why our first “housing tour”, as they call it here, was so important. Each of the six apartments we saw was like a date, or a mini-relationship. Each clued us into a little piece of what we wanted and didn’t want—which, like love and many other things in life, are tedious but necessary steps that eventually lead to The One.

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House hunt: Choosing a neighborhood

Buying an apartment in Amsterdam has given Marlon and myself a lot to think about. I’d like to think we know much more about life here than when when we first went house-hunting, nearly two years ago. Plus, buying is so much more complex than renting. So I decided that before showing you some of the places we’ve seen, I’d share some of the peculiarities of house hunting in Amsterdam to give you an insight into life here.

The first thing I wanted to share is, to me, the most striking difference in looking for an apartment here versus the two cities I lived in previously. And that is how much impact choosing a neighborhood has on your decision.

In Manila, your neighborhood is determined pretty much determined for you by budget and commute time. For example, as a prospective Pasig resident, you might love the feel of Valle Verde… but only really have the budget for Barangay Bagong Ilog (lol). Reducing the amount of time you spend sitting in traffic is also a major concern, so proximity to a school or workplace usually seals the deal.

In Singapore, the neighborhood hardly matters as everything feels so.. alike. With very few exceptions, you will find the same HDB flats and condos, the same malls with the same shops, the same infrastructure everywhere. That’s why it’s so easy to just settle in. The sameness eliminates the guesswork about what is the right or wrong neighborhood.

Even people I know who lived in Geylang (the “red light district”) had a cushy condo just minutes from an MRT station. The area you live in hardly comes into play unless you’re trying to get your kids into a certain school or achieve a certain status. When we were looking for a condo in Singapore, our decisions never hinged on how Yio Chu Kang “felt” versus, say, Novena. Character is just not a factor.

In Amsterdam, the first question I’m usually asked by friends I’ve told about our decision to buy is, “Where are you looking?”

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Change of plans

When Marlon and I first got married, we had a five-year plan all mapped out. It looked like this:

Year 1 and 2: Travel.

Year 3: Get pregnant. Have baby.

Year 4: Buy house.

Year 5: Do whatever one does with baby and house.

Well, it didn’t quite work out that way (it never does). Instead what has happened is this:

Year 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5: Travel.

Quite a few of our peers back home already have a house, a car, one or two babies. We have none of that, but we’ve visited 23 countries in 5 years (some more than once), three of which we actually lived in. “Hmm. So this is why we don’t have savings,” Marlon said when I gave him the final tally.

So The Plan has changed a bit; no regrets, we obviously had a lot of fun straying from it. Now it gets interesting, as we have decided to squelch three years’ worth of major life changes into the next few months.

Last 6 months of Year 5: Get pregnant.

Last 3 months of Year 5: Buy house.

Yep, we’re buying our first house. In Amsterdam. And the search officially commences today.

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Le sigh

The apartment situation has been a little crazy these past few days.

Through Housing Agent #1, we made an offer for the place on Beethovenstraat which was lower than the owner’s asking price. After two days, the owner’s agent told us they had knocked €50 off the asking price—and I was like, what the heck kind of tawad is €50? Still, we kicked our budget up a notch (the house is that nice), made a counter-offer, and waited.

And waited.

In the meantime, we viewed another apartment with Housing Agent #2 (a.k.a. The Blond Clive Owen). A ground-floor apartment near the Concertgebouw and Museumplein, it promised to be a contender, but turned out to be too big of an investment on our part—we’d have to spend for closets, curtains, a dryer, lighting fixtures and to clean up the garden. So much for that.

And still, we waited.

Marlon and I also decided on a back-up apartment should Beethovenstraat reject our offer. I haven’t blogged about it since the pictures I took were crappy. But we saw it on our very first day of house-hunting, and it was the pick of that day. We just needed to get the final word from Beethovenstraat so we could make an offer on this other place before it got snapped up by someone else.

But still, we waited. And started to wonder why the owners were taking so long to evaluate our counter-offer.

Today Housing Agent #1 found out that the owner’s agent was in talks with another prospective tenant about the same apartment! Instead of holding one-to-one negotiations with the first to make an offer, he had been playing us off each other without either of us knowing. After getting an offer from us, he would tell the owner, then run to the other party and get a counter offer, then make the owner decide.

This whole runaround not only prolonged the entire process, but drove up the rent (and the agent’s commission)… in favor of the other “bidder”. Marlon and I weren’t expecting a bidding game, and we’re certainly not funded to play one. Welcome to Expatland, where there will always be someone with a bigger relocation package/housing allowance/tax benefit than you.

So we gave up the bidding war to the other party, and for the second time in as many weeks, I’m crushed.

We now have a pending offer for the third choice on our list. I can only hope it’s still on the market—we lost so time on this stupid waiting game—and that the negotiations are not as draining. We’re only in the serviced apartment until Wednesday, so we have to close a deal on an apartment asap. Like tomorrow.

Let’s try this again

After hearts are broken, life must go on. (Chos! Emo!) So, in the interest of moving on, Marlon and I have instructed our housing agent to make an offer on another flat. It’s on Beethovenstraat, in what the housing agent and relocation consultants keep saying is the one of the poshest areas in Amsterdam. 
I don’t know if this fact is stated over and over again because it’s meant to be a huge selling point; it’s all the same to me. It’s not like fitting into the social hierarchy is on my agenda here. What I care about more is that right across the street are a tram stop, Albert Heijn supermarket, fishmonger, bakerij and butcher! No more carting heavy bags over a 15-minute walk in the cold!
Ayan, na-excite na naman ako. Be still, my heart. After my recent real estate heartbreak, I don’t want to really get my hopes up. But I thought I’d share the place with everyone anyway so you can root for us!
It’s on the first floor, so just one flight of moderately manageable steps, thank goodness. The front door opens into a small hallway that leads to all the rooms. I now have to think of things like where to hang the coats, and whether there’s space for a coat rack or just wall-mounted hooks.
I like the wooden floors and the decent-sized living/dining space facing the street. The decommissioned brick fireplace in the corner is a nice old detail in an otherwise modern space.
The all-important second bedroom also faces Beethovenstraat. Because it’s a busy street, the owners have all but hermetically sealed this room off. To compensate for the lack of circulation, they’ve also added a contraption that lets in fresh air while filtering out the noise from the street. It’s the small rectangular box on top of the radiator.

I also like the checkerboard floor in the bathroom, and the fact that the place comes with its own washer and dryer (less for us to spend on!). It doesn’t have a bathtub though, which I initially thought was not such a big minus. Huwag maging choosy ang lumaki sa tabo at balde, lol. But I did a long, delectably hot soak in the serviced apartment bathtub the other day, and I must admit having one would be a wonderful luxury.

Still, I can’t complain. The his-and-hers sinks are a major step up from our tiny bathroom in Singapore.

The master bedroom is airy and spacious. The closet is a huge plus, since a lot of apartments here don’t come with built-in closet space.

The apartment has its own garden! How cool is that. It will be really lovely to eat here with guests when the weather is warmer. It’s a little odd, though, that the only access to the garden is through the master bedroom. Marlon and I are toying with the idea of switching spaces, i.e. using this room as the living/dining area and the front room as the master bedroom. But then that would mean that our bedroom faces the street.

A relatively spacious kitchen, with the very rare full-sized refrigerator (who needs a refrigerator when it’s already cold outside? is the Dutch logic) and enough space for our kopitiam table, Eames chairs and maybe some extra shelving.

Looking at it on the map, Beethovenstraat seems kind of far from the center of town (the canal belt up top), but it’s only about ten minutes by tram. The Museumplein where the Van Gogh Museum and Rijksmuseum are about three stops away. Yep, Amsterdam is that small.

For guests (that’s you!), there’s a direct train from Schiphol Airport to Station Zuid, which you can see is practically walkable from the apartment.

So root for us to get it! It’s a great apartment for you too!

Prins Charming

Every girl dreams of meeting a dashing prince who will sweep her off her feet. Well, friends, it finally happened to me. 
His name is Prins Henrikkade. You could say he had me at hello. 

A listed historical building on the Prins Henrikkade facing the water, a few minutes’ walk from Centraal Station and the public library, this apartment got my heart beating from the moment I walked into the perfectly preserved, shared entrance.

Being on the first floor (or second floor to us non-Europeans), even the dreaded staircase was transformed into a delightful confection. Kulang na lang ang yellow gown ko and my Beast waiting on the ground floor. Or, since I have a short bob and no yellow gown, baka dapat ang naghihintay sa akin sa baba ay si Captain Von Trapp.

The front door opened into a spacious kitchen, a full room instead of the little strip that is common to all the apartments I’ve seen so far. We could probably fit a decent dining table inside. I knew Marlon would love it.

And the living space. Exposed beams, herringbone floors, a gas fireplace… swoon.

*SHOOP!* Your Highness, pardon the sound of my panty falling.

This huge front room was linked to the back of the apartment by a small hallway…

… that looked out into a small light/airwell. The Prins was pushing all the right architectural buttons. Naughty naughty.

A decent-sized second bedroom for our many future guests, and at least one future baby.

Connected by an equally decent-sized bathroom…

… to the most stupendous master bedroom in the history of all house-hunts!

Fall to your knees, peasants! Behold!

I may have seen one too many episodes of So You Think You Can Dance, but it made me feel like breaking into a Viennese waltz. When the housing agent opened the original built-in closets, I simply melted into a vaguely girl-shaped puddle on the floor.

The best part about this handsome Prins? He’s well out of the heavily touristed area, but just one or two streets away from the classic city centre views. With a “negotiable” asking price just a hundred Euros away from our budget range, I thought I had found my happily ever after. After seeing the pictures, Marlon gave me the go-ahead to tell our agent to make an offer.


Like many modern-day fairy tales, this one does not have a happy ending.

Choosy pala si Prins Henrikkade. After my agent made the offer, the owner’s agent nosed around into Marlon’s salary, length of contract and tax status, then requested soft copies of his employment contract and both our passports. Mayabang ang lola mo at muntik ko nang sampalin ang kontrata sa mga mukha nila. But of course there is no way to make sampal with a soft copy, jejeje.

Yesterday I got a call from my agent. The owner rejected our offer. Not because of our income. Not even because of our nationality. But because of… our cat.

Unwanted :( :( :(

“The apartment has been newly carpeted, newly curtained, blah blah blah…”They didn’t even want to put in a standard clause holding us liable for all pet-related damage. My agent was pretty pissed (his commission just rode off into the sunset!), declaring this truly unfortunate and unreasonable.

Lesson of the story: don’t give your heart to the first Prins you meet. He just might turn out to be another frog.

The End.

Hunting season

“There’s no such thing as a perfect apartment,” warned my ex-boss, who lived and still owns property in Amsterdam. It might be in a great location, but tiny and with vertiginous staircases; spacious, but expensive; cheap, but with wooden beams poking out of odd places, or visitors having to enter directly into the kitchen instead of a proper entryway.

So far I’ve found this to be true. Working with two different housing agents (one assigned by the relocation agency, another that I found off the Net) and seeing 18 apartments over three days of viewing, I got a mixed bag of hits and misses. Marlon was only with me for the first day; I took over when he started work.

There were a couple of places boasting that Holy Grail of real estate, a classic Amsterdam canal view. One of the first apartments we saw was along the Singel, one of the famous canals in the city center. When the agent drove into this area, kinilig talaga kami ni Marlon.

Imagine looking out your window and enjoying this view every day. 

It even had a fireplace!

It also had a pair of Roman pillars in the bedroom. Roman pillars! So, thanks but no thanks.

Another canal-side apartment was sunk into a basement. A priceless canal view can be yours, if you can see past the various-feet view and dog-poop-on-the-street view.

Look down, look down, don’t look ‘em in the eye

A corner apartment on the Prinsengracht had this view in front…

… and a touristy strip of bars and restaurants on the side. “I should probably let you know that this is… not the quietest area in Amsterdam,” the owner suggested delicately. Got the message loud and clear.

From centuries-old buildings, we headed off to the newer part of town. Newer in the sense that the buildings were built in the 1920s lang naman. Amsterdam hosted the Olympics in 1928 and built accommodations for the athletes, near the Olympic Stadium in the Zuid (pronounced Zoud, which means, you guessed it, South). This explains why the buildings all look alike. Still, a lot of them have little details characteristic of the era.

Zuid seems far from Marlon’s office on the map, but one thing I’ve come to realize (after every Dutch person I know telling me this) is that Amsterdam is tiny and that everything is pretty close by. In this area, the apartments started looking less… er, quirky, and more livable. They were more spacious, too. 

We even found one that we really liked.

We also saw one with a garden and a small studio, but figured maintaining the garden was too big of a commitment. Neither of us have had much luck with plants.

One of the apartments in the low end of our budget range had some very… distinctive, and, er, historical marks embossed into the old metal doors.

Dahil sa madugong kasaysayan ng lugar na ito, na-afraid ako sa mga bagay na hindi nakikita, na baka makita ko. Pero mas na-afraid ako sa hagdan.

I ventured far west of the city, to an area called De Baarsjes. Though it’s walking distance to the Vondelpark, Amsterdam’s own version of Central Park, medyo hindi kanais-nais ang lugar. Again, a mixed bag—a roof terrace…

But rather depressing, cell-like bedrooms.

Far east of the city, in a sort of industrial/dock area called Zeeburg, was a nice corner apartment with tons of light, and a sweet dining nook.

But, in the words of the housing agent: “Here we have a very different part of town.” And in the words of Ellen, my relocation agency yaya for the day, “This neighborhood is not so nice.” Hindi naman siya ghetto. But all the gray cement blocks just don’t say Amsterdam to me.

As Anna, our previous relocation consultant said about another apartment, “It could be anywhere. It could be in Denmark, for goodness’ sake.” (No offense to the Danes, of course.) The apartment she was referring to was an absolute no-no for Marlon. Paano ba naman, the master bedroom looks directly into the Philips tower, one of their two offices in the city.

Kamusta namang your colleagues can just look into your bedroom to see if you’re really at home when you call in sick? And thank goodness Europe doesn’t have much of an overtime culture, because Marlon would hate for his colleagues to know what goes on at night!