Most of us, when coming to the Netherlands, rent a place somewhere. It’s the best way to start up new — get to know the country, the area and not too committal for the first few months. But somehow that rented place is never quite ‘home’ and sooner or later most longer term expats are looking into buying a place.
For us, this decision came after we decided to stay in the Netherlands for good for at least ten years. It seemed not only more sensible from a financial point of view, but making the commitment was very important for our peace of mind. Where before, we would constantly think about moving here or there, taking this new opportunity or that new job, with the decision to buy a house, we became more settled.
I was amazed at how easy it is to buy a place in the Netherlands — compared to our home countries — we didn’t even need to make any down-payments. Also, I was surprised to find that often, rent is actually more expensive than the the mortgage payments. Mainly thanks to the “aflossingsvrij” mortgage. That is a curious Dutch construct, in which you basically pay for max. 30 years interest only and then you get money back from the taxes (Belastingdienst). How much that is, depends on your income. (If aflossingsvrij makes sense for you or not depends on a lot of different factors, don’t just pounce on it.)
With this spirit of “wow, I can be a house owner”, my partner and I went to one of the banks that looked promising in an overview and had our initial appointment. I had salary slips, contracts, financial overviews and immigration information with me right from the start and was all happy that the lovely lady spoke English to us. She gave us a maximum mortgage amount (which was way too high) and assured us that nothing could go wrong with our application, because we are both European citizens with unlimited work contracts — easy peasy.
House shopping was painful — but I don’t want to bore you with my scars from real estate agents today. When we found our dream home very unexpectedly in Almere, we put in the next mortgage gear. We double checked with the bank if they were happy to give us the mortgage for this very property, sent them all information we had from the real estate agent and after a verbal okay, signed the letter of intent with the seller.
This letter of intent is a common thing in the Dutch house sales cycle. Basically, you declare that you intend to purchase the property and both buyer and seller commit to the process. The buyer then has usually 4–6 weeks time to straighten out the financials. Often — and so in our case — a penalty of 10% of the purchase value is attached to this contract in case the sale does not go through. So this letter of intent is a major step.
A day later.… the phone rings… and the nice lady from the bank is on the line. She was terribly sorry, but she hadn’t noticed that I had not lived in the Netherlands for three full years yet. So, her bank would unfortunately not be able to give us a mortgage. — - — . Right. Needless to say, I went ballistic. We had been with this bank in detailed conversations for a two months and I just could not believe that she would have missed something as basic, yet essential as this. Especially because we put so much emphasis on the fact that we are expats.
After I went ballistic, I felt very sick. Very very sick.… that’s when I realized that we had signed this letter of intent and I had no idea how to get any mortgage in that time frame. I don’t remember anymore what I typed into Google, but I ended up on the Expat Mortgages website. And I gave them a ring.
When Chris picked up the phone, I think he could hear the panic in my voice. He calmed me down in a matter of minutes, asked a few questions and assured me that he could help us to get our house. We made an appointment the very week and Chris sat down to explain to us all the ins and outs of the mortgage options and application process. Chris researched a number of options for us and came back within a week with a very comprehensive report and recommendation on the model and the best options for banks.
He didn’t just toss that report over to us, but sat down with us a number of times — because I am really slow with numbers — and explained over and over again why, how and what. I did admire his patience! The exceptional thing about Chris and the team at Expat Mortgages was that they did not only help us to get a mortgage, but supported us in the entire selling process. It wasn’t a smooth ride at all, but thanks to Chris it did not feel quite as bumpy. All in all, it took us a bit longer to get the mortgage settled than agreed with the real estate agent — but Chris took up the conversation with them directly and ensured that we got the okay for the delays. He checked the contracts for us and gave us translations. He helped to find an interpreter for the session at the notary and was even there in person to assist in case of an further complications.
I remember, that Chris often proactively approached me and asked if he could help with several things. And I would say: ‘Chris, how much do you charge for that?” Then he would laugh and tell me, that that’s just what he does as a service to us, because we are his customers. And true enough, we did get great service.
You will say — what’s this now, are you in the business of surreptitious advertising? I am not — but I have had the experience that with professional help, specialised for expats, you can save yourself a lot of nightmares when looking to buy that dream property.
If you would like to get in touch with the Expat Mortgages team, you can find them online under http://www.expat-mortgages.nl/
Do you know other mortgage advisors that rock for expats? Drop a comment, why don’t you?