Hard to find housing for expats in The Netherlands

Edition 18 May 2017, by Hanna Fillingham

The Holland Times looks at the current housing problem in The Netherlands and speaks to young professionals who are currently facing the possibility of having to move out as a result.

Finding somewhere to live in The Netherlands, in particular big cities, has become increasingly more difficult over the years, particularly for young professionals and expats. The growing problem has resulted in many people facing the difficult decision of having to move country or city, leaving behind their job, friends and family as a result.

After talking to expats and locals witnessing the problems first-hand, it seems that the main contributing factors, apart from of course a lack of housing, is the current housing points system, the current EU regulations for expats seeking mortgages, the influx of AirBnB rentals and the increased cost of rent.

It is no longer easy for expats to get a mortgage

Since the European Credit Directive (MCD) came into force on 14 July last year, banks are less and less willing to take a risk with accepting new mortgages that are in the form of a currency that isn’t the Euro because expats are entitled to convert their mortgage into another currency. Therefore, employees paid in another foreign currency are unable to buy a property in The Netherlands.
The situation means that those who have settled for a life for many years in The Netherlands will have to keep renting, rather than benefiting from the stability of owning a home. Director of The Hague DGA, Jeroen van Lunen, reported to AD: “This is a really annoying situation. Think of employees of the many UN tribunals here in The Hague who receive their wages in dollars. We can not help them anymore. Or British Airways pilots stationed here and paid in pounds.”
Expanding on this, IBN spokesperson Reinier Steffens told AD of why banks are wary: “If the customer receives his salary in dollars or yen and passes that coin, he can convert his euro mortgage into that other currency. The currency risk is at our disposal.” Expat Mortgages, who have been helping overseas workers buy homes, are also facing the reality that they will no longer be able to help clients. Co-founder and owner Chris van Maasdijk stated in AD: ““It’s simple: we can not arrange a mortgage for them. There are about tens of expats, especially in Amsterdam, The Hague and the other Randstad. “They will have to Rent. “

Property prices have increased

Property prices are now considerably higher too – making it even harder to buy for both locals and expats. In The Hague, the housing market has continued to rise considerably in the last year – making it harder than ever. According to website Expats Verhuur, prices have risen 8.1% more than last year, with an average price for a property currently 210,400 euros.
But even renting isn’t an easy option. De Beheermakelaar has reported that the rental costs have sharply increased, in particular in Amsterdam – 7.1%, Rotterdam – 9.4%, The Hage – 6-8% and Utrecht – 7.3%. In other areas, including Apeldoorn, Assen, Den Bosch, Gouda, Groningen, Haarlem, Leiden, Lelystad and Middelburg, prices have increased over a year by more than 7%. In Eindhoven and Tilburg, the increase was limited to 1.8% and 3.6% , respectively.

So what is it like to be an expat facing the problem of having nowhere to live? We caught up with two young professionals from Britain and Denmark to hear their stories and the current issues they are facing…

Isobel Baker, 25, came to Amsterdam back in 2013 as a Masters student. After realising how much she enjoyed living in the city, she returned in 2016 with her boyfriend, and the pair planned of settling down and creating a life there. However, they are now struggling to find somewhere to move to once their current rental accommodation lease runs out in June.

So, Isobel, how long have you been looking for somewhere to move to – and what has been the biggest problem? “For a month now. There are two main issues. The first is that it seems there just isn’t enough accommodation for people looking, and the second is the insane income requirements for renting. Most long-term, “official” lettings require you to earn four times the amount of rent, sometimes even more. Who needs to have that much money left over after rent!? For us it is especially difficult as my partner moved to Amsterdam with me and took the opportunity to start studying again, and therefore doesn’t earn a huge amount and is in more casual employment.”

Isobel and her boyfriend were hoping to find an apartment in the city, but as a result of the current regulations, can’t rent somewhere despite earning enough money… “We really want an apartment (as opposed to a studio or room) and can easily afford a place for 1,000 euro (we are right now), but according to these official regulations we don’t earn enough. The answer, apparently, is to rent social housing. However, this seems unnecessary as we don’t need to do this and so social housing could be saved for people who really do need it. The waiting list for social housing is also very long.
“The result therefore is people turn to more informal means of renting, for instance finding somewhere on Facebook. However this leaves you much more open to scams. It is also very difficult to find a long-term rental on these platforms.
“Our current flat is through Facebook, and it’s been great (also because it is direct from the owner and not a sub-let), but we can only stay until June. “We are going to be in Amsterdam for at least the next 3 years and would like to have a proper home here, not have to keep moving (and going through this stress of flat searching) every year.”

If you can’t find somewhere to live what will you do? Will you have to move back to the UK? “No, moving back to the UK isn’t really an option for us. My partner is almost one year into his studies, I have three years left in a job that is perfect for my career. Plus, we’ve been living here since well before the Brexit vote…who knows what’s going to happen with that but we want to stay in an EU country for as long as we can! I guess we’ll just have to find something temporary until (hopefully) we finally find somewhere we can stay for at least a year.”

Have you experienced any housing difficulties throughout your time there or has it got worse recently? “When I was studying here it was fine because I just got accommodation from through the Uni. When I moved back over a year ago it took us a few weeks to find something, but I was invited to more viewings than I have been this time around. I’d say it has got worse, people on the more informal channels seem to be charging a Hard to find housing for expats in The Netherlands lot more money for the houses and I think there are even more scammers which gets incredibly frustrating.”

Why do you think it is so hard to find housing in The Netherlands? “As mentioned, the lack of housing generally, the income requirements, also the fact that you have to register at your address (obviously not a thing in the UK), so places say they don’t want/ can’t accommodate couples.” Theis Lauridsen, 28, originally from Denmark, has also been finding it hard to find somewhere to move to – and fears he might have to move back to his hometown of Copenhagen as a result. Theis moved to Amsterdam in 2015 and has been enjoying a life in the city ever since.

Have you experienced any housing difficulties throughout your time there or has it got worse recently? “During the last two years have I moved twice. And now I, unfortunately, have to move again as I can’t live where I live right now. “I have experienced that it is very difficult to find apartments in the city. The prices are high and those which is affordable is everybody trying to get.”

Why do you think it is so hard to find housing? “Amsterdam is currently growing very fast. Expats and companies are moving to the city. And also the tourism also has an impact. It pushes the demand and prices on housing. And it changes from year to year. “I know a lot of people who say that you buying apartments in these days. But that is, unfortunately, not an option in my situation in life.”

If you can’t find somewhere to live what will you do? “If everything goes bad will I temporary live on a friends couch. Or maybe a hotel. But can’t do that for long. In worst case I will I have to move back to Copenhagen.”

Interestingly. according to Jasper de Groot, from Pararius, who spoke to NOS, the reason for this is the growing interest in the city among expats. Stating the issue, he said: “The municipality wants to attract international companies and helps foreign workers with work permits and information about housing. Because these expats usually last for only three years, they prefer to find a rental house than a house for sale. “Also in other major Dutch cities there is a shortage of rental housing, especially for people with middle income. They do not qualify for a social housing, because they earn too much for that. Homes of more than 1000 euros a month, which are available, are just too expensive for them.”

International business is effected as a result

And the issue is not just affecting people, but the business market too. Harold Goodigin from international company Tom Tom, summed up the problem while talking to Het Parool. “It is difficult to host international talent. Homes are scarce and priceless. The shortage of international schools is an obstacle to international employees with a family. “They do not come if their children do not get a place.”

Meanwhile, Petra Tiel, from the Amsterdam housing department explained that the main issue is finding affordable housing for young professionals. “It’s mainly a lack of housing in the middle rental. Young talent deserves too much for social housing, but insufficient for the high rent currently in Amsterdam, let alone a cab.”

Holiday letting platforms are also boosting rent prices

And while local residents and expats are having trouble finding somewhere to settle long-term in the city, holiday makers looking for an authentic stay can enjoy a vast range of options when they come to the city, with the rise of housing rental platforms like AirBnB majorly boosting up the prices for all. This is backed up by ING bank, who stated in a report that the popular housing rental site drives up prices because people are prepared to pay more when they can make extra money renting it out.

Daan van Egdom has noticed the growing housing problem in his city, Amsterdam. “Currently a new trend is that people just go and live somewhere else and rent their homes to tourist for the complete year,” he observed.
Continuing, he added: “Currently most Dutch people will not even try to find an apartment in Amsterdam. In my personal experience people can only live in Amsterdam when they have good connections or have the money to pay high rent.”

Peter Boelhouwer, profesor of housing systems at the University of Technology in Delft, also noted the issue. Speaking to The Guardian, he said: “When so many flats are rented out to visitors, it has an effect on the availability of real estate.”
Another disadvantage that comes with AirBnB rentals is that local residents are being driven away from their own neighborhoods. Daan observed that: “In some streets there are hardly locals living there anymore. More and more tourists are walking in parts that are considered non-tourist places.”

Explaining the problem behind this, he continued: “Tourists want to enjoy their holiday with parties, while the rest of the locals need to go to sleep early because they need to go to work the next day. This means that locals end up moving out if Amsterdam, and most of the time renting out their homes.”
Daan calls this a: “Negative spiral.” And while Amsterdam’s current agreement with AirBnB means that you can only rent your home out for 60 days in a year, this doesn’t stop the problem. “Everyone knows that you can just enlist your house on another website. So currently we don’t see any change. Most houses are filled with tourists for the entire year,” he stated.

What can be done to help expats in The Netherlands? So what do those currently effected by the issue think should be done to help resolve the crisis? Isobel believes that there needs to be more help on offer in the country for young professional expats from their employers, as well as a rethink of the current income requirements.
“I think the income requirements need to be re-thought. Request two times the amount of rent or something, or allow for guarantors. Obviously this isn’t an issue for high-earning expats, but for a young professional it really is! More housing is obviously needed too, and as I said there do seem to be some new builds in the process, but open these up to young professionals looking for a more permanent place to rent.
“Maybe employers need to be more involved in finding their international staff a place to stay too, although I do very much recognize that the housing issue is also a problem for young Dutch people too.”

A possible solution for those looking to buy, according to The Dutch Association of Banks, is if the Ministry of Finance help. “If banks are able to warn expats when their mortgage is compromised by currency fluctuations, that would be alright.”