03 January 2014 Rhys Maddocks
Property hunting in the Netherlands can be a trying task. With a population of nearly 17 million and only three million rental homes, it’s about as difficult to find accommodation in the Netherlands as it is, say, in New York City. Dutch rental properties fall under one of two sectors: the sociale huurwoningen, “social housing,” or public sector, and the more expensive vrije, “free,” or private non-subsidized sector. Most expats will find themselves trudging through the latter, as social housing is a competitive market mainly reserved for a select few.
Below, our top 10 tips to renting in the Netherlands created to enlighten and, most importantly, have you on your way to finding a humble abode in your new home abroad.
1. Find a property via a real estate agent
Using a real estate agent will help minimize the time and hassle spent trying to find a suitable home, as most makelaars in the Netherlands are well trained in navigating the ins and outs of the elusive Dutch housing system. Along with matching your housing preferences and providing you with city information, many agencies will gladly answer any questions you may have and even offer extra services, such as helping to sort out parking permits, insurance, and utility subscriptions, among others.
You can search for rental properties specifically for expats on www.onlyexpats.nl, or browse other large English-language rental portals such as XpatRentals.com. Several Dutch-language rental sites to consider are Funda, Direct Wonen and Qualis.
The popular sites above will direct you to nearly all of the possible rental properties from agents in the Netherlands. Contact the agencies directly to make an appointment for a viewing or for a tour of several properties.
2. Find a property via a private landlord
To avoid paying agency fees (usually one month's rent + 21% VAT) and snag better deals, many house hunters choose to scour sites that advertise privately owned properties, such as Marktplaats, the Dutch equivalent of Craigslist. Craigslist, too, offers private listings in the Netherlands, specifically in the Amsterdam/Randstad region, and has a star system in place to help you easily save your favourites throughout your online hunt.
Be aware that renting through a private landlord may not always be the best choice. You run the risk of sealing a poor deal, receiving little or no security, or even renting an illegal property. A sure sign of fraud is if the owner will not allow you to register yourself at his/her place, which you will need to do in order to be able to receive mail and inform the municipality of your whereabouts. Take note: Tenancy agreements in the Netherlands can be written or oral, so remember to bring along a witness when finalizing business. Sealing a deal can be exciting, but not if it’s a poor one!
Read further for more information on Dutch tenancy agreements.
3. Living on a student salary or staying for the short term? Search for an affordable room or short-term tenancy
If you’re a student, single, or working abroad for a brief length of time, a room may be the most ideal housing option. You can search on XpatRentals.com under “Search Student Rooms” or “Rooms Available” for thousands of short- and long-stay rentals in cities A-Z. Airbnb is also a mainstay in the rental world, especially for short-term tenancies.
When renting a room, facilities are often shared, like the kitchen, bathroom, shower and living area, but an affordable rent is sometimes worth the temporary communal lifestyle. Plus, many properties that offer room rentals are student buildings, and that usually means laundry machines are available for use, allowing you to save loads (no pun intended) in the long run.
Do keep in mind that restrictions may apply when renting a room or short-term tenancy. Some agencies can choose to rent their properties to females only or to those with job contracts, refusing students or expats that have just moved to the Netherlands. In addition, short-term tenancies can also be pricey, as many of them are apartments or houses that come fully furnished as a means of convenience. If you can afford this handy option, go for it.
4. Learn the three states of rental for no last-minute surprises
While researching rental properties in the Netherlands, you’ll sooner or later come across some awfully multisyllabic terms. But, just because you can’t pronounce them doesn’t mean they should be disregarded. Dutch furnishing terms may be the most important lengthy words you’ll need to know when looking for housing in the Netherlands.
The three ‘states’ of rentals:
- Ongemeubileerd, “unfurnished,” means that the property has no flooring, curtains, appliances, etc. Expect to have to buy a toilet seat cover, showerhead, hand knobs, light fixtures, hooks — basically everything! Many public sector (social housing) properties are rented out this way, as kaal, or bare.
- Gestoffeerd, “semi-furnished,” translates to some type of flooring, such as carpeting or laminate, basic appliances (don’t expect an oven), and sometimes curtains. Work will still be needed.
- Gemeubileerd, “furnished,” essentially means that the property is ready to be lived in, as it’s equipped with appliances and furniture.
Understanding these three terms will help you stay within your housing budget and aid you in deciding whether or not certain properties are worth the investment.
5. Research typical housing prices before setting your heart on a city
It’s unfortunate that gorgeous countries and hideous rental prices often come hand in hand. We can fantasize about our fairy-tale dream houses all we want, but the reality is that most of us can’t afford our own imaginations. So, before you get your hopes up, make sure to check the average housing prices in the cities you’re considering.
Let’s take for example Amsterdam, the place to be in the Netherlands. Expect to pay anywhere from €1000 to €5000 (exclusive) for a one- or two-bedroom apartment in the district we see most in postcards: the sought-after grachtengordel, “canal belt.” Yes, this is the extreme, but prices outside the city centre are still no middle-class expat’s idea of budget-friendly.
Try surrounding suburbs, nearby cities, or even more down south, like Eindhoven and Maastricht. Properties in the provinces of Brabant and Limburg are generally more affordable than those in the popular Randstad region (Utrecht, Amsterdam, The Hague, Rotterdam).
Use the sites listed in tips 1, 2 and 3 above to check the typical prices of where you’re hoping to relocate. Learn about extra rental costs below.
6. Consider extra costs
When renting a property in the Netherlands, prepare to pay two months’ rent up front, which usually covers the first month’s rent and a deposit. Upon moving out of your room, studio, apartment or house, you will receive the security deposit in return, as long as the property has been well maintained and meets the standards agreed between you and your landlord. It is often required that walls be patched up and painted white for the next potential tenant.
Don’t be fooled by a rental property’s initial price. If it seems too good to be true, it probably is. Most rentals are exclusief, meaning the price excludes the utility costs for gas, water and electricity (g/w/e), and possibly also maintenance. Some landlords will have you pay a voorschot, or advance, which is included in the rent and paid at the end of each month. At the end of the year, bills will be calculated and balanced, resulting in either money owed or, hopefully, returned. You should be issued with a comprehensive eindafrekening, “final settlement,” for your own records.
Along with deposits and service fees are Internet and TV subscriptions. Usually a joint subscription can be taken out with companies like Ziggo and KPN. TV may also be included in the monthly rent. As for Internet, sharing costs with a housemate or neighbour is common practise in the Netherlands.
7. Know what you are signing up for
A property rented in either the social or private housing sector is subject to a tenancy agreement, which is a contract made between the tenant and landlord stating the terms and conditions agreed, such as: length of tenancy, security of tenure, monthly rent, rent increases, service charges, house rules, and so forth. As mentioned previously, tenancy agreements can be written or oral, and they can be for a fixed or indefinite length of time. Although fixed tenancy agreements are given a final date, they cannot officially be terminated on that date unless both the tenant and landlord send a written notice by registered mail. A fixed-period tenancy agreement can also be ended before the final date, but only if both the landlord and tenant agree.
It is important to know that tenancy agreements in the private sector are considered liberalised, meaning negotiations can be made between the tenant and landlord. Because they are liberalised, the Dutch puntensysteem, “rental value points system,” does not apply and therefore rent ceilings do not exist within the private housing sector. Liberalised rentals are defined as self-contained properties (for example, an apartment within an apartment building) with a starting rent higher than €681.02 (2013).
8. Look into slim-chance social housing
Social housing is an incredible concept, but really only incredible if you’re eligible. Properties in the social housing sector have a maximum monthly rent of €681.02 (2013) and can only be offered to those with a total household income less than €34,229 (2013) or €34,678 (in 2014). A mere 10 percent of these budget accommodations, which are reserved mainly for the young, the elderly, and those with disabilities, may be kept aside for people with higher household incomes, a.k.a. expats. However, the reason many expats move to the Netherlands is for a better job, for which they’ll presumably earn a generous salary, or for a spouse, in which two salaries will most likely exceed the household income limit. But, there are always those lucky few who make the cut (only after having survived the dreadful waiting list!).
Every region has its own social housing website. For instance, the government site for Leiden, a cosy city popular among expats and students, is Woonzicht.nl. You can create a free account and apply to a maximum of three properties each week. Click on Woningaanbod, then Reguliere aanbod and select “starters,” as this option is given voorrang, or priority.
Although there’s a pretty slim chance you’ll be eligible for social housing, it’s always worth looking into.
9. Find out if you’re eligible for housing allowance
Along with zorgtoeslag, “care allowance,” there’s another Dutch benefit called huurtoeslag, “housing allowance,” where tenants get back a big chunk of their rent each month.
If you’re a low-income social housing tenant who’s paying a relatively high rent, then you can apply for huurtoeslag through the Belastingdienst tax services site.
10. Know whom to contact
Are you unhappy with your social or rent-controlled property?
If you are unsure as to whether or not your tenancy agreement is liberalised or if your apartment qualifies as being self-contained, or if you believe your rent is too high, contact the Huurcommissie, the official rental committee, within the first six months of your contract. Otherwise, there is nothing that can be done for you.
Good luck and happy house hunting.