Everyone wants to live in Amsterdam but it's fairly difficult to find an apartment here.
Well, that's the impression I got from rental agents, people at the supermarket, friends and even the guy that made my coffee.
I went into the search here expecting it to be difficult, but how bad could it be, right?
Wellington, where I moved from, has a fairly bleak rental market. The majority of properties there that aren't earthquake prone, lacking any insulation or are horrifically damp cost far more than the average person can afford.
Amsterdam was a whole new ball game. Before moving, Fem and I did a ton of research into great neighborhoods, the rental sites and what to look for. We had a budget in mind, some neighborhoods and what we needed in a place (a central-ish location with two bedrooms to support a home office).
Based on a quick Google search it seemed like De Pijp was the place to be, but the reality is it's far more expensive than the internet gives it credit for as it's now the "hipster" neighborhood of the city. It's nice to visit, but far too expensive to live in.
Right now Amsterdam has fairly serious shortage of rental housing. I'm not well versed on the why, but it seems to be a combination of people rarely moving once they find a good place (it's difficult for landlords to kick people out, too) with an influx of people moving from overseas.
My preconceived ideas of where I wanted to live in Amsterdam based on the internet had to die when I moved here -- you simply can't get an idea of what areas you might like to live in when looking online. Most of the information is morbidly out of date, too.
The hunt begins on sites like Paraius and Funda, which help you search for what you want based on your requirements. They're pretty good tools and both offer map views alongside filters for drilling down to what you specifically need.
The problem is, that shortage I mentioned isn't obvious on the surface. Prices are steep, sure, but that's the case in any major city that's appealing to live in. The problem is the sheer speed.
A few days after I landed I started ad-hoc contacting listed properties via email, hoping to get a viewing. I got few responses, almost all of them telling me the listing (which had been up for, in some cases, 24 hours) had already been rented out.
That's when Fem and I took it up a notch, creating a system for tracking apartments we'd applied to or were interested in. I signed up for email alerts so I'd know when a new one came up and would phone immediately so I could be first to see it.
With this strategy, I started getting viewings.Even then it wasn't particularly smooth sailing.
Three viewings I showed up for told me upon arrival that the apartment had been rented out. Others wanted exorbitant prices for tiny houses (I never had to think in square meterage before moving here). A number of agents had decided to change the price after listing the property. One agent told me that our budget was "a joke" in Amsterdam and that to talk to her I'd need to raise it.
Once you find a property you like, the next step is a little odd. You tell the agent (the "makelaar") you're interested and they ask you to make an offer. Usually there's some wiggle room for getting the rent down slightly, so if it's listed for €1500 per month you might be able to get it down to €1400 if you're lucky, but expect something more like €50 off.
You're forced to move swiftly and somewhat irrationally in order to ensure you don't miss out. The agents would pressure me over the phone to make an offer by the end of the day and even call to chase me within an hour or two.
Once the offer is made and the landlord accepts, you then need to provide information even your best friend would be embarrassed to ask about. I was asked for a combination of my monthly salary, yearly salary, debts, birth certificate, passport and other information by various companies, usually delivered by the end of the day.
Then, if you send those documents and formally agree to rent the apartment you'll have to get ready to hand over a ton of cash.
In general you'll be paying between 1-3 months bond and 1 month rent up-front. Some of the more shady agents will also try and ask you to pay a "key fee" but it's actually illegal. If you're planning to move here, you should save with this in mind.
When talking to agents it's worth being aware of the ones that specialize in finding homes for expats. Many of them do so without explaining what that means -- in my experience they'll basically do the hunting for you, drive you to viewings and manage the entire process... for a huge fee.
Many of them won't tell you that they charge such a fee until the last second and there's no way for you actually get the apartment after they've shown it to you without paying if you didn't know.
In the end, we actually circumvented the entire process: a colleague of mine moved to Australia and had an incredible apartment available. We were a hair away from accepting a place that wasn't quite what we wanted when this opportunity came through and saved the day!
Thankfully that cut out all of the agents, weird fees and negotiation and got us in a great place without the stress, though isn't necessarily the normal result.
It wasn't so bad on the rental market here, but I had no idea how fast it moved. Nobody really warned me - if you're able to move fast and don't try to email agents, it's a cinch to get a place. You just have to be on the ball.
For those reading this and considering a move to Amsterdam, here's a few tips for dealing with the rental market:
- Move swiftly
- Build a system for tracking apartments you've seen or contacted (I recommend Trello)
- Only use the phone, don't send email
- Sign up for instant alerts for apartment sites
- Ask everyone you know if they know of something (people are used to it)
- Be sure to ask the agent if registration at the address is possible (more on that later)
- Save money before you come