House hunting tips: buying a home in Haarlem

Buying a home in Haarlem can be exciting but also incredibly stressful. Transitioning from ‘huur’ to ‘koop’ on the search map is a big thing – and then you have to dive into the whole buying process. There are certainly a lot of things I wished I knew before I started my house hunt, so now I share some tips to help you when it is time to buy.

People say that moving house is one of the most stressful events in life. Certainly, they could use the experience of buying a house in the Netherlands to confirm that statement. At first, I started with excitement – filled with the anticipation of owning our first home here. Those feelings quickly faded when the reality of buying a Dutch house set in.

Be prepared for fast decisions

We are blessed to live in a beautiful city but with that comes high demand. Even during a pandemic, a record number of homes were sold in the third quarter of 2020 – nearly 12% higher than the same quarter last year, according to the Dutch association for realtors (NVM).

A shocking realisation to me is that today in the Netherlands, buyers on average can only choose between two available homes.

It is clearly a sellers’ market and to succeed in buying a home in Haarlem, it is important to be prepared and ready. Below are some tips based on my recent experiences.

Things to consider when house buying in the Netherlands

  • Timing: Start the process of house hunting early. Not only does it take time to find a house, but you also might not be successful with your first offer. In addition, I was surprised by how long the closing times were for most of the properties. Multiple houses we viewed had a move-in date at least 6 months after the purchase date.
  • Work with people you trust: Especially as an expat with (extremely) limited Dutch skills, it was imperative to me that I had a real estate agent and a mortgage broker than I trusted. The mortgage broker was able to guide us in the best set up for our finances and advise us about how much money we could comfortably get. Our estate agent provided a realistic perspective. When I questioned the house price, she grounded me in the reality of the market.
  • Be realistic: My dream of having a garden and a stand-alone home while being close to the city quickly diminished. I knew I was going to need to make some sacrifices but with such low supply, we needed to be very flexible and determine what would be our top priority. For us, that was being close to our kids’ school.
  • Make fast decisions: Be prepared to decide if you like a house on that very first viewing, as it is likely you won’t get the chance for a second look. It is mind-boggling to me that I spent more time researching my last holiday than I did viewing the house that would become our home before we purchased it. However, that is the reality. All of the properties we viewed had multiple offers, over the asking price, within the first week of being on the market. Many were sold before we even got a showing. You must be prepared to make fast decisions. I found it beneficial to just ride around the neighbourhood even before the viewing to get a feeling for the area and to see the exterior of the property in advance of a viewing.
  • Stick to your budget: Talk to a mortgage advisor and review your finances in advance. You don’t want to fall in love with a house that you cannot afford but on the reverse, with the low interest rates and low property taxes, you may be able to be more comfortable with a larger mortgage than you expected.
  • Get a real estate agent: You might think that preparing for your search by setting up alerts on Funda and checking the site daily is sufficient – but having a real estate agent really does open up more possibilities. They will know about properties for sale that are not yet even on the market and can give invaluable advice on the market and house prices. I appreciated our agent’s Dutch directness in helping me set the right expectations and bonus points to her for being able to manage the often-conflicting opinions of me and my husband.
  • Check about the floors: Don’t forget to ask if the floors will be included! The Dutch do have a reputation of being thrifty and that is no exception in the house buying process. Each property for sale has documentation that details the ‘movable goods’. It lists the items that will stay in the house, items that are negotiable to stay and items that will be removed – which could include lighting, appliances and even floors. While you often have an opportunity to purchase some of the items after your offer is accepted, it is good to review the list in advance.
  • Know the process: When you place your offer, it will outline how long you request for mortgage approval and how long before would like to close and receive the keys to the property. These components play a role in how attractive your offer is. Interestingly, while in the US it is often an advantage to have a short close, here it seems to really be focused on the preference of the current homeowners. Additionally, the Dutch system does not have mortgage pre-approvals. Your offer could include a ‘reservation’ which is a clause that allows you to cancel the offer if your mortgage is not accepted. If you do not include a ‘reservation’ in your offer and you are not able to get a mortgage, you will owe the current owners 10% of the purchase price. This eliminates some of the risk for the current owners and in a competitive bidding situation, sellers often take the risk of not including a reservation.
  • Be aware of the final steps: Once your offer is accepted, you will have a short cooling off period in which you can cancel the offer. This was immediately followed by a home inspection that I found fascinating. Our home inspectors were clearly experts in assessing old Dutch homes and shared things with me I didn’t even know existed. If you are comfortable with your home inspection, then it is time to get your mortgage in order. This is followed by putting down 10% of the purchase price or a bank guarantee with your selected notary while you await final closing.

I will admit that I found the process to be stressful. Though, now, as we await the keys to our new house, I can breathe and smile knowing that we have a home in a city that we love that we can call our own.

Be flexible: we needed to determine what would be our top priority – for us, that was being close to our kids’ school