Buying a house while living abroad can be fraught with uncertainties. Think about these questions to help you decide if it’s the right move for you.

Buying a house is a huge commitment and responsibility. It becomes even more difficult if you are an expat and are not sure about your future plans. Some people see living in a rental as a sign of being unsettled, and ownership gives them a feeling of permanence in life. If you are thinking of buying a house, you need to have your priorities straight, and here are some questions which can help you clear your mind about this big move.

  1. Are you ready?

    Like having a baby, buying a house is also a pretty permanent thing in your life. You have the option to sell it later on or rent it out, but having a property in your ownership means a lot of responsibility on your shoulders. Renting has its advantages; you can call your landlord for maintenance problems and can leave the house basically whenever you want, depending on your contract. For your own house, you are accountable for every single leak, or damage. On the other hand, you also have the advantage of making changes in your house as desired, a luxury you can often only afford in your own house. So ask yourself, are you ready to take up this responsibility?

  2. How long do you plan to say here?

    This may be one of the hardest questions for you to answer. Your stay in this country might be dependent on a number of factors like job or family. So rephrase the question to “How long would you like to stay here?” If the answer comes that you won’t mind staying here for a while, that probably means you like living here and investing in a house would not be such a bad idea. However, it is also important to see the market and judge how difficult it would be to rent or sell your property in case you have to move out before your planned time.

  3. What’s your budget?

    Before you start looking for houses, the first thing you need to do is talk to a mortgage advisor. Most of these financial advisors offer the first appointment for free, where you can ask them questions regarding your mortgage. They look at your finances and can give a good estimate of how much you can borrow. Even though buying a property is relatively easy in the Netherlands because of no down payments, you still end up paying roughly 2% of the total cost of the house out of your pocket. And that does not include moving costs. So get your calculators out and make sure you can afford this move before plunging into it.

  4. Where do you want to live?

    Now that you have decided on buying and worked out your mortgage, your next big task is to find an area where you want to live. Even though the Netherlands is not very big, it does provide a lot of variety when talking about areas. Do you want to live in the city, or are you looking for big space and green valleys? The area in which you live is as important as the house itself. As parents, one of the most important factors to consider while looking at an area is the schools. There are public schools in every neighbourhood, but if you wish your children to attend certain kind of schools, it is better to find a house in their vicinity or see how easy it is to travel every day to the school of your choice. If you want a car, it is good to find out about the parking situation in the area – such as do you need any permits, and how much time and money it will cost. If you are going to rely on public transport, find out how good the connections are. It’s also good to know what kind of shops and facilities are available around the area. Visit the area on weekends and evenings to get a feel of the neighbourhood. Ask for first-hand experiences from people living there.

  5. What do you want?

    Everyone has a dream house in mind, but that dream house does not necessarily exist, or exist in your budget. Thus, it is important to clarify your priorities. Discuss with your partner a few points that are your top priorities and you would not compromise on. Is it a nice garden, the number of bedrooms, a big kitchen? The clearer you are about your wishes the easier it would be to shortlist houses, and avoid unnecessary viewings. While using websites, do not rely too much on pictures, as they can be deceiving. Learn how to read the floor plan to see the exact measurements of rooms.

  6. Are you willing to renovate?

    You can choose to go with a fully renovated house, where you don’t need to make any major improvements, or you can buy something very basic and make changes to it according to your taste and preference. Again ask yourself if you have the time and energy to do that.

A Few More Tips

  • Make use of your friends and acquaintances who have already gone through the process of buying a house. Ask questions and recommendations for makelaars and moving companies. Learn from their mistakes.
  • Beware, the more you ask, the more opinions you get, which can lead to more confusion in your head. In the end, listen to your instincts and trust your judgement.
  • Once you find a house you like, and which ticks most of the boxes, stop looking. If you continue in your search for something better, that search may prove endless. Try looking at the house as your own, imagine decorating it and living in it. If it brings a smile to your face then it is your house.

photo credit: Wojtek Gurak via Flickr cc

Amal Shakeb

Amal Shakeb is a freelancer and former Content Manager for Amsterdam Mamas, along with being a mother to a spirited young boy.