A renter's guide to dealing with housing agencies

A renter's guide to dealing with housing agencies

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Mike Russell describes the pitfalls to watch for and questions to ask when navigating the labyrinth of housing agencies in the Netherlands.

Bump! You land at Schiphol to a new job and a new life. Your company has provided for everything. Everything, that is, except an apartment.

"An apartment?" your HR manager looks vague, eyes cloud over. She fumbles in a desk drawer and hands you a crumpled list of housing agencies in Amsterdam. "Good luck," she says, "Call me if... well, call me sometime."

What do you do now?

Why bother with an agency?

Mike Russell explains: If you're renting for the first time in Amsterdam, then go with an agency - there is less chance of falling down a big, black, expensive hole. A decent agency should have knowledge of the market, the city, price and quality, be able to interact with landlords to negotiate a good deal, and draw up an adequate rental agreement. In particular, an agency should be able to explain the, frankly, over-regulated market and how the points-system works and the implications for the types of property you will – legally any way – be able to rent.

Be aware that there are many restrictions on cheaper apartments. Examples of such restrictions are that you cannot earn more than a certain amount or that you must have an economic tie (economich verbinding) with the city of Amsterdam in order to be allowed to rent a specific property.

Furthermore, your agency should not promote illegal apartments (and there are plenty in Amsterdam). Such apartments may seem like great deals but taking one may mean you get turfed out in the middle of the night and/or you may not be able to register with the local authority.

More scare stories later. With other stuff going on like opening bank accounts, registering with city hall, and exchanging your driving licence, a housing agency can make settling in that much easier (proving you select a good one).

Which agency?

There are two basic choices: a dedicated rental agency or a real-estate company that does a bit of rental on the side. Go for the former and, if possible, look for one with experience assisting foreign business professionals. Someone arriving on the banana-boat from Ireland has very different concerns, requirements and constraints than, say, Jan Dutchman moving to Amsterdam from Utrecht. An agency's claim to have experience helping people 'just like you' is stronger if they have materials in English (such as contracts, websites, other information) and can relate to your situation.

Your rental agency must have a meaningful number of properties on its books. Five apartments is not an agency. Fifty and upwards is. Ask how many apartments they represent; whether they look outside their portfolio if there is no match; how many apartments matching your spec they have free currently. Be clear on their fee structure.

The money

So, you have a new job but no money. Not for the first month, anyway. Problem is though, if you rent somewhere, you'll need to cough up a chunk of change in advance. Just over four months rent is typical: one month rent, two month's deposit, and one month agent commission (and don’t forget the 19 percent government tax on the agent commission).

Depending on your agency, there may also be further (hidden) costs. Registration costs are not uncommon but – in my opinion – you shouldn't pay them. You may also be asked for EUR 70 to EUR 150 to have a rental agreement drawn up. In short, it's a big upfront hit and most landlords don't give a damn about your cash position.

The solution?

I suggest tackling your friendly HR manager. Will the company pay the agent commission? Maybe they’ll just foot the deposit – or even pay for everything. At least they may advance some funds against your first pay cheque. If you are an IT freelancer – forget it. You will likely earn enough anyway. Be specific – you've found an agency and know how huge the hole in your pocket will be. What next? You need to define in detail what you want.

Budget is only one aspect. What about the following: ground floor or not, furnished or unfurnished or partially furnished (whatever that means), modern or traditional, close to work or the metro or the highway, need for parking, number of bedrooms for you or guests or friends, or people who you never realised were your friends but that now you are living in Amsterdam insist that you’re the best of mates, space for storage, pets, carpets or wooden floors, length of lease, including or excluding utilities…  

The list is endless. The point is this: you will take time off work to look at places. Make it worth your while. If you do not want to live on the ground floor, then tell your agent. Otherwise, you will both be wasting time looking at properties that you'll never take.

If your agent is showing you places that are not close to your specification, understand why. Were you specific enough? Do they have anything? Are they merely trying to push their limited selection regardless of what you need? In any case, if you refine your specification, keep your agent informed. Let them know why your requirements have changed. If they understand your thinking, they're more likely to work with you than hang a label around your neck reading 'Unstable - ignore.'

The myth of many agencies
There is this theory that registering with many agencies will lead to a better result. Wrong. If you register with many agencies the following will happen: None of them will pay you any attention. Agencies all talk with each other. Within minutes, it will be clear that you're shopping all over the park. Each agency will get the impression that they are unlikely to close a rental deal because too many others are involved.

You will therefore not get the focus you need, and this will cause you to register with even more agencies making this approach even less likely to succeed.

The flood effect
Alternatively you may experience the ‘flood’ effect. This happens when the agency thinks like this: “Oh my god! We have to show this rental client twenty apartments today or some other schmuck agency will make the deal”. Let's flood them with everything we have.

Viewing fatigueViewing fatigue
Finally, registering with too many agencies can result in ‘viewing fatigue’. Exhausted by viewing every apartment in the city, fatigue will set in and, in the end, you’ll make a bad decision just to get away from the viewing madness.

My advice: select one, at most two, agencies. Give them a chance to sort you out. Don't be hasty, but be prepared to move very quickly when you find the place you want.

Timing
You need to be in your rental apartment on, say, 1 November. This means viewing in the three weeks prior to that date. There is no point in looking in September for a November start date. Any good empty apartments you like will not be available four weeks hence, let alone ten weeks.

Bear in mind that if you view a currently occupied apartment that will free up on 1 November, you'll still have to look through the crap of the current tenant strewn randomly throughout every room. Vision is required. Bring in that friend of yours who strongly believes they should have been an interior designer.

Price
The fact that you're moving to Amsterdam from Vienna where you paid EUR 500 for a three-bedroom villa in the best part of town is irrelevant. Amsterdam has its own market, as does any city. So, talk to colleague expats and see what they're paying. Although the following is no hard and fast guide, it is indicative of current pricing:

Studio: open kitchen, 40-55 m2
near Amsterdam centre: (+/-) EUR 1000 - 1300
outskirts of city: (+/-)EUR 900 - 1100

One-bedroom apartment: open/separate kitchen, 55-75 m2
near Amsterdam centre: (+/-) EUR 1200 - 1500
outskirts of city: (+/-) EUR 1000 – 1200

Two-bedroom apartment: open/separate kitchen, 70-90 m2
near Amsterdam centre: (+/-) EUR 1400 - 1800
outskirts of city: (+/-) EUR 1200 - 1400

Negotiation
You might want to negotiate something. Price may be on your mind and, good news, the landlord may be flexible. But do not assume price is always too high. You may be getting a great deal. Other things to think about include: an extra lamp, perhaps a bed, curtains… whatever. But whatever you agree, get it in writing because once you're moved in it's difficult to agree additional bells and whistles. Your agency should negotiate for you and advise you of where/if there is room for manoeuvre to prevent unravelling of the deal by pushing too hard.

Most agencies do not work with options. You like the place, then agree terms in writing and take it. Make a down payment and get a receipt.

Getting your deposit back
You'll be asked for two month's rent as a deposit. Sometimes it will be three months. It will never - well almost - be one. Usually, the deposit sits on the account of the landlord (without interest) for the duration of the lease. When you leave, an inspection will take place. Be present at the inspection with the agency and/or the owner. Demand to know immediately if there are charges to be made against your deposit.

What are these deductions?
If there are deductions against your deposit, get them put on paper and signed off. If you've left the apartment in pristine condition, it's reasonable to expect all of the deposit back. If anything requires repair or cleaning, outside of normal wear and tear, this will come out of your deposit. The balance should be returned within four weeks. Your rental agency should act on your behalf in trying to the secure return of your deposit if there is a delay.

The majority of landlords are honest and will repay. I would advise against withholding the last two months rent as a tactic to ensure you get your money back. You are not entitled to do this and may find yourself locked out until you pay.

To wrap up - a lot of this is common sense. The problem is that with all that needs to happen when settling in, you don't always have the time to handle everything yourself. This is where a decent agency can save you hassle, money, legal battles and smooth the path to the perfect apartment.

All you have to do is choose carefully, be specific, take your time but be ready to move fast when the right place comes along. If you are uncomfortable or are being pushed too hard, then take a step back for reflection. Good luck.

18 April 2008


Mike Russell, MBA, PhD
Managing Partner, Perfect Housing

Visitwww.perfecthousing.nl 

 

Have your questions answered

Mike Russell If you would like to ask Mike Russell a question then go to our Ask-the-expert
section. You will find Mike listed under Renting a house.


[Copyright Expatica 2008] 

 

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15 Comments To This Article

  • marissa posted:

    on 30th September 2014, 19:06:12 - Reply

    i have not had a good experience with Park Real Estate in Amsterdam as a landlord, they don't follow through and do anything to get the deal and their fee but precious little follow up or support. Avoiding phone calls or promising to call back and then ….silence.
  • therese posted:

    on 21st September 2014, 19:49:59 - Reply

    Oh, and Charlotte.
    Just because your highschool drop out 'brokers' spend all day driving around from house to house and sourcing houses on internet, does NOT constitute a VALID REASON to make renters pay for their time.

    I don't know on what planet you have been living...but lately here on planet Earth, the humans have decided to cut out to middleman and save themselves some money by dealing directly with home owners. Renters have to go visit a house anyway to check it.
    They have a phone and can call a lawyer to check if it is no scam, AND they have a money back guarantee from airbnb websites in case the house truly was 'a scam'. In fact, thats a lot more than when they deal with a broker, because it turns out that so many brokers were scammers in Amsterdam, that that was a reason for the government to make them get a 'license', because since they don't OWN the houses, they could easily broker for non-existent houses, while an owner at the minimum can prove he OWNS a house, with notary deeds and so on.

    So, now, i hope you understand that here on planet earth, renters have moved on, and brokers better start getting to university again and get some sort of USEFULL degree, and lose the 'i am the only person that can help an expat' attitude. You are nothing but an undereducated scumbag, as you put it, "sorry to say".
  • therese posted:

    on 21st September 2014, 19:36:18 - Reply

    Charlotte,
    You must be dutch. You're so pro-Dutch and brokers.

    Guys and Girls, STOP WASTING MONEY ON BROKERS, get on airbnb, and deal with the landlord directly. It will save you 1000 euro (at least, cs thats what the broker will charge you for typing up a contract and sitting between you and the landlord). Just handle it on airbnb, very low commission, 200 at most.
    If you don't trust the rental agreement, you can always go have it checked by a REAL professional, like a Lawyer (you know, thats a guy who DID go to university, as opposed to the cloggie dutch highschool drop out, calling himself 'makelaar/broker'). Any lawyer will take one hour tops, thats 150euro. And you save yourself handling a makelaar and losing all your money!
  • charlotte posted:

    on 2nd September 2014, 11:42:14 - Reply

    I have read this article and read what Guy posted on the bottom. I am a relocation agency and have to say that even though the writer does work for an agency he is totally correct in everything he says. If anything I should say "oh yes he is wrong, I agree with Guy" and "look how great I am". I am sorry but there are so many scams in Amsterdam from private landlords, fake facebook posts and so on that expats need the help from professional agencies. The one month fee is a fair price considering rental agencies work all day 9-6pm sourcing housing in this overflooded market, presenting you with options which are genuinely to rent, driving you around, setting up your utilities as well as most of the time arguing with landlords about replacing furniture, gardening, property management and 1000s of issues you just do not even think about. Please remember that sometimes an agent drives around all day, and rents nothing so the one month fee is not something they are cashing in on 20 times a day. I as an expat myself, and a relocation consultant have moved a few times and because of my inside knowledge have happily paid the 1 month fee on more than one occasion. I used Magic house back in 2002 for my first studio, as well as Interhouse only last year, who frankly did a wonderful job and worked very hard for the money. I think it ashame that some people in life let a few crappy agents blacken the market for the majority of the hard working good ones. No one complains paying a broker fee (kosten koper) when you BUY a home. Renting is an equally important task and important to get right. I am sorry if I sound harsh, but having been on both sides of the fence and worked closely with a number of very good agencies it is clear to me after 15 years in the HR and relocation business some shark agencies blacken the name of a number of outstanding hard working agencies.
  • Guy posted:

    on 23rd July 2014, 23:29:03 - Reply

    Don't trust this article. The writer is not "a renter", he is clearly a worker at a rental agency. There is a clear conflict of interest here: he OBVIOUSLY wants you to rent with an agency, preferable HIS agency, that's why he advises to not speak with other agencies.
  • roger posted:

    on 16th May 2014, 14:15:47 - Reply

    Well, I had a temporary contract for 9months, and they made me sign a separate paper as well as a deregistration form for townhall admin to leave that place in exactly 9months, that's when the owner's flight back home was dated for (he went on a 2semesters trip abroad for university)
    I went to see a lawyer (just to see what my chances are), to see if the contract was an illegal fake temporary one - and he immediately said that if i was planning to refuse to leave, then it would be squattering which is illegal now and considered a criminal offence.
    Long story short, I already signed a de-registration form when i moved in, and the tenant subletting to me already sent it to the town hall to get my moving out recorded, ahead of the end date!
    My HR department also told me that if i wanted to push the case, they got involved in another case before with an other employee, and apparently that guy went all the way pushing by staying in the house, and then got a visit from police officers who kicked him out when they checked the municipality online records and noticed that he didn't even have a legal title anymore as he was de-registered already. That guy dit try to get himself re-registered again, but the amsterdam townhall asks for proof (unlike in Rotterdam), and since he had no rental extension papers, he couldn't show them anything. He moved out that day and went to a hotel to sort out a new place.
    I found my place through airbnb, and saved a bit of money on broker commission which would otherwise be around 1200eur (equal to 1 month rent). I also asked my lawyer to try to find out about getting back that commission, and you should be informed that dutch lawyers don't go after airbnb as it is a USA company and not a dutch one! Well, it was worth a try...
    This was an interesting article.
  • Matt posted:

    on 2nd March 2014, 11:40:28 - Reply

    A good rental agency should make sure that the contract is complying with all legal requirements: e.g. they should explain that a contract that states "temporary" or "one-year lease" does not automatically end after the expiry date. A temporary contract is only allowed in very rare and specific situations. Also, they should explain to you that there exists a deadline after signing the contract in which you may ask a rent commission for an opinion on how much rent you should actually pay according to the Dutch point system. In some cases, the "liberalised" rent you pay may turn out to be not so liberal after all, and you may be entitled to a partial retrospective refund of rent paid. There are even agencies who you can ask for help in obtaining the refund and in filling out the forms.
  • Chris posted:

    on 17th July 2013, 14:59:13 - Reply

    If the rental agency sets you up with a high price rental in an old dump that should be offered at a social housing price (ask your lawyer) then you can take that housing agency to court, very easily and win.
    They are prohibited to offer brokerage of social housing. They often still do however, and they know they aren't allowed and that they run a risk the tenant takes them to court (direct wonen agency was taken to court once), not to mention city hall will also impose a hefty penalty on them of thousands euro's for intermediating in social housing. At the very least you will get the rental difference, and you will get back the broker fee as well which you should, because they shouldn't set you up with an illegal house in the first place for which you need a housing permit anyway (it is pretty much impossible to get the permit unless you have been around all your life)
  • Kaccie Li posted:

    on 24th May 2013, 23:14:48 - Reply

    Why does the moderator keep editing out important information? These forums are all most expats have to work with to avoid bad housing deals in the Netherlands (and there are so many). Info on specific companies and landlords are invaluable! Please cut us a break.
  • lillea posted:

    on 25th April 2013, 13:41:18 - Reply

    Stay away from agencies!
    They take 1month worth of 'agency fee' (that's a 1 month extra you pay on top of the normal rent each month) and all they do is get you the keys, a contract which in the end you are signing with the owner anyway! Then, as Kato pointed out, they send you to handle disputes over deposits to be returned, straight back to the 'owner'. I know the owner has the last say (it is his property after all), but asking a FULL month agent fee for a year's rental contract, while no services are provided except for setting up a contract is ridiculous. I did it the first time, but the second time I went directly to the owner. Most owners have old contracts (and if they haven't, I have my old contract as well!) and just re-utilize the text body them year on year - saves you a hell of a lot of money which you can spend on adding some furniture to the house.
  • Kaccie Li posted:

    on 26th November 2012, 05:36:07 - Reply

    I agree that this is an excellent article. I lived in Groningen for 2 years, and the same happened to me as Jose and Kato though! The rental agency "Martinitoren Vastgoed" was extremely good and responsive up to the point when I got my keys. I do not recommend them. Sure enough, there were problems: 1) Central heating died when winter came, 2) a floorboard came loose, 3) One of the window's vent was stuck, broken, in the open position and taped up, 4) variety of crap left over when I moved in. Both the landlord and agency were difficult to get a hold of. Eventually landlord got someone to come and fix the heater as I was freezing half to death. Martinitoren also double dipped in the sense that they charged both parties a month's rent finders fee which is actually illegal. My landlord currently has held my deposit for 2 months and is doing everything possible to not pay. [Edited by moderator]
  • Jose Larco posted:

    on 23rd November 2012, 18:21:13 - Reply

    Hi, All I can say is that in Eindhoven, I gotan end inspection OK, only for them to later say that it was very dirty and refuse to pay. This was total dishonesty from their part, knowing how difficult is for them to sue them. I will advice to not use Dehuisvesting Centrale in Eindhoven [edited by moderator].
  • Roger van Gerwen | Eday Housing Service posted:

    on 12th November 2009, 10:12:12 - Reply

    Hi Kato,

    I think it's not the agency you need to address, although they should return your calls and at least try to help you, but the owner should have the deposit. If you like you can give us a call and we might be able to be of advice to you.
  • Kato posted:

    on 11th November 2009, 20:32:32 - Reply

    I took the advice and I did rent my apartment through an agency in Amsterdam. An incredible apartment right in the centre for a pretty high price. For 3 yrs an easy tenant and paying always on time. Now I've terminated the contract because leaving the country again. The whole procedure of termination has been done by the book. The only thing that has been left is the return of the deposit. There were some issues that might be taken of the deposit and that amount needs to be agreed upon. However the broker refuse to return call and emails with the next steps or what amount needs be agreed on. How can I, have the broker return my calls/emails and is he fully entitle to decide what amount of the deposit shall be returned without discussing this? Where can I get help if this agency will not return my deposit?
  • Roger van Gerwen | Eday Housing Service posted:

    on 9th September 2009, 12:17:49 - Reply

    All I can say to this: \\\"You caught it all in a nutshell Mike!\\\". We at Eday, amongst a group of other agencies here in Amsterdam, are working hard to get this business to a level where things as service and expertise are considered as a normal thing instead of a lucky shot. If you follow the advice Mike is giving, you will find either us or another agency and you will remain with a good and positive feeling.