Sunday, June 15, 2014

House Hunting - Dutch Style!

Things are moving pretty fast these days.  For all those months of waiting and waiting, it almost (almost, but not quite) seems so long ago.  There isn't time to think about all the tough times over the last 8 months.  Right now it's forward motion ahead.  And that includes house hunting.

Based on our scheduling, the only time we really had for house hunting was immediately following our trip to London.  As in, we flew right from London on Monday evening to Amsterdam.  It's a quick 45 minute flight - like flying to NYC from Boston.  So know that we will probably be making more frequent trips to England in the coming years with such close proximity!

Anyways, we landed around 6:30 and were in our hotel by 7:30.  As promised to Liam, it was a room service kind of night.  Whatever makes the kids happy makes us happy and during a travel intense 5 days, if that's room service, then so be it.  It's a perk he doesn't get often.  Josh and I were pretty excited about the next day of house hunting.  We had received a preview of what we were going to be seeing the next day.  And we already had an idea of what direction we would be leaning towards.... or so we thought.

Pictures can be deceiving.  And we especially found that during our house hunt.  Our criteria was slightly rigid.  We needed to be outside of Amsterdam because of the proximity to school.  And because we were going to be outside the city, we really wanted to have a yard of some sort.  And ideally, a stand alone house - something that is not common in the Netherlands.  It's a small country with a lot of people, they tend to live in closer proximity to each other rather than in single family houses.  Beyond that, our needs weren't much - just something of a reasonable size, close to school and close to public transit for Josh.

But it still limited us.  As in, we saw 5 houses the entire trip.  When we came to Barcelona we saw something like 14 apartments.  However, with these 5 houses, they were a much closer fit to what we were looking for then when we came to Barcelona and the look, feel and location of the apartments were so varied.  With limited inventory for our needs, we really only had those 5.  So our fingers were crossed that it would be enough.

I should also remind you that we want semi-furnished.  Semi-furnished in the Netherlands is not the same as semi-furnished in the States.  To me it means perhaps a table or a bed, but not fully furnished. In the Netherlands, from what our relocation person told us, it means that there are appliances, flooring and curtains.  Move in condition in other words.  Empty is actually Dutch empty and would mean no flooring (seriously), no lighting and no appliances, possibly even no kitchen (as in the cabinets taken as well).  It's a shell.  So semi-furnished is shall be!!

House #1
As I mentioned, the first one on our list really pulled us in.  It looked beautiful in the pictures, was close to school - about 20 mins by bike or 10 mins by car.  And it was in the small city of Almere so close to shopping and other amenities.  This was our top choice.  This was it.  No doubt about it.  Then we saw it and were so disappointed.  Like I said, pictures can be deceiving.  Of the 5 houses we saw, this one was the most spacious and in the best location.  It stayed on our list for just these reasons.  But it was run down.  It needed some major updating and the garden needed a bit of an overhaul.  It was just ok. It didn't stun us.  And the yard was smaller than the pictures led us to believe, like significantly smaller. The neighborhood also felt a bit run down.  Such a bummer.   But on the list it would stay.

Cute house - lawn overgrown but managable

Good sized living room

Kind of odd ceiling

Dining area

Breakfast bar

Liked the kitchen

Hmmmm this bathroom isn't as nice as the pictures made it out to be... no where close

Bedrooms were pretty big but the walls weren't in great shape

Another good sized room

Needs fixing and look at the baseboards

Liam liked the shelf / desk

Storage, though needs to be fixed up a bit

More of the eh bathroom

This room appeared much bigger in the pictures - still good sized though...

Backyard looked much bigger in the picture

House #2
This house was not far from #1 but felt like a different world from a neighborhood standpoint.  Yards that were cleaned up and well maintained.  But also total cookie cutter style house.  And I thought that my house at home was in a cookie cutter neighborhood.  Every single house was identical on the outside.  But it was still a beautiful community.

The house itself was beautiful.  It was impeccably taken care of.  But then the owners were retired and probably spent a lot of time and effort into making the house exactly what they wanted.  They were moving to Portugal and would be absentee landlords which is fine by us - it's what we are as well.  The layout of the house was ok.  There were 3 bedrooms upstairs but the third was significantly smaller than the others.  One overlooked a gorgeous back yard.  Almost too gorgeous.  Like my kids would destroy these flower beds in a moment kind of gorgeous.  There was also a huge stone table set up in the corner of the backyard that I could picture us having many a meal at.

But the kitchen was tiny.  And the storage room off the kitchen felt awkward.  There was another small sitting room that we figured could potentially be an office.  But we weren't sure what we would do about a guest room.  So the layout was not ideal but the house had a lot of potential.  It was also above our ideal budget by about 200 euros a month.

Every house looked identical to this one

Immaculate living room

The owner was weeding her garden as we were there - my kids would easily destroy it...

Dining area with interesting light

Small kitchen

Storage / laundry space

As in many Dutch homes, the toilet is in a separate room from the bathroom.

While the room looks somewhat small, it has this really pretty balcony overlooking the yard

We would have to remove all these closets to make a third bedroom

What is currently the master

House #3
Literally 2 streets over from #2.  This house was adorable.  But we almost immediately saw this was not for us.  The back yard looked like it was out of an English garden - not one speck of grass but plenty of stone and hedges.  No where for the kids to play.  There was no sense of getting a house with a yard that the kids couldn't play in.  Plus there were only 2 bedrooms.  No way we are making them share again - we've been there, done that and it wasn't pretty.  It's a shame though because the closet in the master was A - MAZING, especially for a European closet (which really don't even exist).  This one was immediately off the list.

Spacious living room

Doesn't come with the house but pretty cool old fashioned stove/oven made into a side table

Dining area


Good storage though the washer and dryer were in two separate rooms!

Backyard like an English courtyard - not for little boys

Office and bedroom

AMAZING closets!  Closets are not the norm in Europe and this was a whole room of closets.  Broke my heart a little bit to say no to this house... 

Outside of the house...cute

House #5
Yes, I'm doing these out of order because we had to reschedule #4 for the next day.  So figuring best to report to everyone based on first impressions, we did #5 before #4 so here we are.

House #5 was in Naarden.  At first I was hesitant because I kind of had my heart set in Almere because of the school.  Though according to the map, this house is equidistant to the first house we saw. Because we would need to take the highway to school though, there would be no biking there for the kids.  However, since they have never biked to school in their lives before, this is not a hardship - there will be PLENTY of opportunity to bike - after all, this is the Netherlands!

Naarden is considered to be more upscale than Almere.  While Almere is great, it has a lower perceived value because it literally didn't exist til around 40 years ago.  Seriously.  Was reclaimed from the sea 40 years ago.  And in Europe, new = bad.  In the US new = great.  We see both sides and were fine with "new".  But anyways, Naarden is supposed to be a much nicer area from what we have been told.  And since it was still close to school, though a little further for Josh for work we considered the area.

The house itself was on a cul de sac, like most of what we had already seen.  None were on a busy street which was great.  But this little road felt more private than the others.  And within moments we started to see bunnies.  I think we saw at least 10 before the house and neighborhood tour was over. Like the second house, this one was immaculately kept and yet at the same time it screamed family more so than the other one.  However, like the 2nd one, the space wasn't ideal - there would be no playroom or guest bedroom if this were to be the one we choose.

But the rooms were large and spacious and we loved the location.  Definitely high up there on the list for sure.  If it wasn't for the lack of space, we'd put it at #1.

Outside - it's kind of a duplex but yet doesn't feel like it.

The room with the brown sofa would have to become mine and Josh's bedroom as well as my office.  A good space and nice to be near the outdoors I suppose....the other picture is a storage and second entry area.

Beautiful new kitchen, a recent rennovation

Outdoor is being prepped for grass but it's not there yet.  Behind the shed is a bike path and woods.

Open floor plan, not often seen in Europe.  Kitchen / dining flows into the living room.

Working gas fireplace (would prefer wood burning but hey we've been without a fireplace for almost 5 years... I'll take gas!)

Lots of storage space (we would use our storage) in the living room as it would also have to double as toy storage.

Adorable bedroom - not sure who's furniture would fit best in here, Aidan's or Liam's.  Custom curtains would stay.

The current master would become one of the boy's rooms.  Problem is Aidan has a sleigh bed - if this non sleigh bed barely fits not sure how to make it work???

But the current master has tons of closet space which is a plus

More of what would become our room.  There is a sink behind the drying rack (and no dryer - fine for living in Barcelona, not so fine for the rainy, cold Netherlands).  Not sure why we would need a sink in our room but it's there.

House #4
We didn't get to see this house until our second day because we were running late and so had to be rescheduled.  But since the day before we tied with house #1 and house #5, we felt that we needed to go see this house.  It had 6 bedrooms, obviously way more than we needed but we can always use one for a home office, a guest room and a playroom.  So we figured it would be worth checking out.

This house was right down the road from house #5 in Naarden.  However, it was a tri-plex and our side would be along a main road, not our ideal.  Unfortunately right from the get-go, we figured that this home was not for us.

The kitchen, while adorable and boasting an amazing window seat nook, lacked something... oh a refrigerator.  Actually it did have a college sized one.  If you wanted the full sized one you had to go out thru the courtyard to the garage/storage area.  That's also where the washing machine lived.  Now, if this were Barcelona with 300 days of sun, this could work.  But since we are looking at 300 days of rain (ok perhaps a slight exaggeration), I'm not hot for my big fridge to be out in the garage.

And while there were indeed 6 bedrooms, the layout wasn't going to work for us.  There were 2 rooms each on 3 floors.  None of the floors worked out so that the boys could be together which would mean one child being on a floor with us and one being on his own.  Given the extreme jealousy in this family between them, I can't imagine anyone being a winner there.  So sadly, house #4 was out of the running.

Cute house and outdoor space is nice

Living area

More of living area

Breakfast nook with window seat - LOVE

Under the microwave is where the refrigerator is... I think the one I had in college was bigger

More kitchen

Alas, the big fridge and washer are across a courtyard

Master bedroom

An ok bathroom

2 more bedrooms - could someone actually still sleep and fit in the yellow one???  Talk about old, cute but old.

Another bathroom, again dated

More bedrooms

And the winner is?????
On day 1 of house hunting we were able to narrow it down to house #1 and house #5.  Both had pros and cons and neither was the perfect house.

House #1

  • Perfect amount of space
  • Quiet neighborhood, though slightly run down
  • House is in need of some upkeep
  • Great price
  • Small, but decent yard
  • Easy commute for Josh and kids
House #5
  • Adorable upscale neighborhood 
  • Near beach
  • Tougher commute for Josh, about the same distance for the kids but via car, not bike
  • Near playground
  • Smaller space, but immaculately kept
  • Also a great price (actually the same as house #1)
So the winner was????  House #5.  We felt it's a good fit for us.  And while the space might be a little tight we think we can make it work.  It's smaller than our current place but much larger than our first apartment here.  It's about 100-200 square feet smaller than our house in the States.  It's manageable.

But we felt the size was countered by the location - Naarden is an adorable town with a quaint town center.  We also loved that it was near a marina and a 5 minute bike ride to the beach.  It felt very New England-y.  We also thought the yard had great potential and right behind the yard, aside from the woods is a green area and a bike path.  

We did a second drive thru the neighborhood - I didn't take many pictures (for once my mind wasn't on the blog but just that immediate moment) but the area is adorable and bonus, close to the beach.

There was another beach closer to us, but this is the one with a restaurant and playground as well as a small marina.

It's not huge but seems pretty nice... nothing has yet to compare to our Cape beaches but we'll take it!

We've put in our offer and now we wait.  We had some feedback at the end of the day on Friday but are still waiting to see if this will work.  The owners are moving to London and have their own logistics to work out.  So our fingers are crossed that early this coming week we'll know for sure where we will be moving to.  We'll keep you posted!!


PS - On another note, the kids and I landed on Wednesday night after a long few days away.  We got to the front of the airport only to find there was a taxi strike.  Awesome.  So an extra hour and a half later we made it home (instead of the normal 20 minutes).  I had been sad upon our landing in BCN thinking, "this is the last time I will land at this airport for a long time".  But the moment we realized we had no easy way home, I thought, "yup, it's our time".  Thanks Uber and thanks taxis... way to say goodbye to Barcelona!

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