We started the apartment hunt ourselves with online listings in Amsterdam. How hard could it be, right? Well, frankly, pretty hard. Apartments in our budget were limited and online information did not indicate whether pets were allowed (usually not). We sent dozens of emails expressing interest, and if we ever heard back, the apartments had already been taken. Even when we received an email notification and replied within minutes, the property was often already gone.
It was my dad who suggested we expand the search to Haarlem, which he remembered to be a nicer city, and thought may have better prices. It did indeed have better selection for us, and so we expanded to search to Haarlem.
The contact I had made with Haarlem Real Estate prior to arriving in the Netherlands was no longer interested in helping us when we arrived. So, we continued to look on our own before settling on an agent with Koops Makelaardij, representing Amsterdam, Amstelveen, Haarlem and surrounding areas. They were recommended to us by word of mouth and also coincidently were one of the only agencies to give us the courtesy of replying to our previous internet inquiries. Saskia was of immense help to us and we found her to be very professional, friendly and responsive to our needs.
In our experience, it is necessary to have an agent to work on your behalf, and it is recommended to only work with one agent (it's considered rude to play the field). Koops Makelaardij's listings were consistently good quality apartments for moderate to higher prices. Their Amsterdam listings were unfortunately out of our reach, but their Haarlem listings suited us just fine. By the time we had settled on Koops, we were quite fond of Haarlem anyway, so it seemed a match made in heaven.
We were looking for a fairly small, furnished place, around 50 m2 (about 538 sq ft), in the center of town. We were interested in an older place with character, but fairly open as to what that would mean. Whether a traditional Dutch façade on the building, exposed beams, weirdly shaped rooms, sloping ceilings or awkward stairs, we were looking for something that we couldn't readily get in Canada. Outdoor space would be nice, but not necessary. Our absolute maximum budget was €1500 ($2,000 CAN) per month, but we were looking to spend significantly less than that, especially considering that utilities are usually not included. And obviously, we needed a place that would allow us to bring Nougat.
And so the search began:
€ 1100 /m 72 m2 2 bedrooms & 2 balconies furnished excl. WGE (water, gas, electric)
During our first visit with our real estate agent, she pointed out the Binneweg location as the only current furnished offering that may allow pets. After checking with the landlord, she scheduled a viewing for us. Heemstede is a small town very close to Haarlem, so close that they seem to be connected. This apartment was on the main street which has been rated the top shopping street in the Netherlands. It sounded promising, even though we were not keen to leave Haarlem.
It took us only 11 minutes to ride our bikes to the viewing, so it was close enough to Haarlem to go every day if we wanted, and it was still just a 20 minute train ride into Amsterdam. But as we rode down the main street, we noticed that it was lined with cars, a lot of cars. We saw very few people people on bikes, and very few people under the age of 60. The first impression for the two of us who were looking for that big city, real city feel was that Heemstede was probably not the place for us.
But we kept an open mind, and once we saw the apartment, it was a little harder to say no right off the top. It was fairly large, with a second bedroom and plenty of storage, and the furnishings were more than adequate (not as pictured!). But the main selling feature was two very large balconies on either side of the apartment, so that when you lost the sunshine on one side, you could just pick up and move to the other.
In the end, we decided that the place was too big for us, and not in a central enough location. We decided to ditch our hopes for a furnished place and reignite our search by seriously considering unfurnished locations.
€ 1125 p/m | 85 m2 2 bedrooms & balcony unfurnished excl. WGE
The Anegang property is in the fifth building on the right, the one with the red roof and pointy façade. We set up a viewing for this property even though it was really too big for us and spread out over two levels (floors two and three). Why? The view, the view is why!
The space also had a second bedroom which we thought would be great for guests. The apartment was in a central location, just off the Grote Markt. The atmosphere on the street, and probably the layout of the apartment, was quite similar to our second temporary accommodations, and we liked the idea of being located in such an active area surrounded by shops.
What ended up happening was that the viewing we had the day before won us over. We thought hard about our reasons for wanting each place and decided to put ourselves first. Two bedrooms and a balcony were too much for us to furnish, especially when we didn't really know how often a guest room would be used. We also didn't believe that stairs would be Nougat's preference, even though he had been adjusting to them well at our temporary residence. The view was hard to give up, but it was the right choice for us.
Old Droste Cocoa Factory, Haarlem
€ 1290 /m 80 m2 1 bedroom furnished excl. WGE
When I was in Haarlem in 2003, this was still a functioning factory (although not Droste at that time), and as we came down the Spaarne river in a boat, the air smelled strongly like chocolate! What a place to live, eh? This building was converted into a residence in 2008.
We briefly considered this apartment because it's so cool, but it was at the very top end of our budget and newly furnished, and so not likely to accept Nougat. We rode our bikes there just to be sure it was worth getting our hopes up, and had to wait at a traffic light for what seemed like an eternity after crossing the river from Town Center. We've gotten awfully used to owning the road on our bikes, and it really seemed unfair! We also noticed some of the buildings nearby seemed derelict, even though the immediate surroundings were well-manicured and landscaped. All in all, we decided not for us, but maybe just cool enough for you?
Groot Heiligland, Haarlem
€ 1150 /m 69 m2 1 bedroom unfurnished incl. W, excl. GE
It may not look like much from the outside, but this location is prime. It is located on a main thoroughfare, and directly across is the path to Grote Markt, where the Grote Kerk (Church) from that stunning view I coveted earlier is located. In fact, we just might be able to see the steeple from the window on the corner. Back the other way, in our same block, it's less than a two minute walk to the Frans Hals Art Museum, Haarlem Museum and Haarlem Architecture Museum.
The apartment was a solid winner as soon as we stepped in. It's on the first floor, just above a scooter shop. It has all those five big windows across the front of the building and the top of each window is stained glass. Stained glass! The result is a bright and cozy space. It was also decorated beautifully, I must add, and we are pretty disappointed that the current tenants cannot do our decorating for us. The bar's been set for our modest decorating budget.
We have a working fireplace, a fridge, a stovetop, an oven (rare!), a dishwasher (rare!), a shower and a bath (rare!), and tons of storage space in the kitchen and bedroom. We have a toilet room, which is common in the Netherlands, and we also have a hookup for a washer/dryer.
The bedroom is large and comfortable, the bathroom is large and comfortable, the kitchen is large and comfortable and the living space is perfect for the three of us Shus. And, we are delighted that we get to stay in Haarlem.
What do you think?
~ Erica ~ Brian