So I Guess We Might Be Buying A House?

Life can throw you for some unexpected loops. Originally, this blog was started to track my law degree progress. After I’d started and gotten some grades, Tracy and I had a big talk about potentially not staying in the Netherlands, and it seemed fairly certain we were seriously exploring emigration. So, the law degree got put far back on the backburner (a degree in Dutch law makes no sense outside of the Netherlands). Then, as we were exploring options to travel to Canada, discovering that the threshhold would be quite high, COVID-19 hit, pretty much eradicating any possibility to move at that time. Fast forward a year as we move to a new apartment, settle in more, I change positions at work, and we improve our financial situation, and suddenly life looks vastly different.

We’d been exploring our options to buy a house for a few months now, trying to understand what was possible. Based on my income, we could get quite a reasonable mortgage for the type of house that we’d enjoy. However, I also have a substantial student debt, which greatly limits the height of the mortgage you can get (essentially, double your original student debt gets deducted from what you might afford based on your salary). As I posted before, despite having a rent that’s higher than whatever we’d pay for the highest mortgage based on my income, we wouldn’t be able to get that. One mortgage lender quite nicely said that we’d “be able to buy a nice garage” from what they’d be able to offer us. We were downtrodden but nevertheless Tracy put her dealfinder skills to work to find us new options (seriously, she’s really good at finding high-quality yet cheap things).

What came next was a cavalcade of terrible housing. We viewed a house that was incredibly cheap, had a large garden, was located in the middle of the city, and was really spacious. Oh yes, and also the garden was on loan from the municipality, most of the house was rotting, and three rooms had to be torn down with an estimated cost of 100.000 Euro for the rebuild. There was an affordable house in a tiny village (it had about three streets to its name), that was half an hour away by a bus that came once an hour. There were tiny houses, bizarrely designed houses, run-down houses, and so on. We’d gotten to a place where we’d given up hope.

Earlier in the week, we’d viewed a house that Tracy really liked but I wasn’t too excited about (once again, small village with only a bus connection, which would limit Tracy’s mobility). Our next viewing was a house I thought would be pretty decent (it was fifteen minutes away from work on a train line), but Tracy didn’t really like the look of. However, we’d agreed to look at anything and everything that was remotely decent – the worst that could happen was that we’d waste some time while we more clearly realize what we can and cannot accept. So, we go to this small town, and we are blown away by the neighbourhood. We’ve joked that it looks like Hobbiton. There’s medieval buildings here and there, and town centre has open and wide streets. There’s stretches of greenery where you can hear the chirping of birds (I hadn’t realized I’ve not heard any for over a year) and many people walk their dogs. The neighbourhood of the house is well-kept, quiet, and decent. We instantly realize that this is the type of town that is our perfect compromise: rural enough for Tracy to love and close enough to work for my convenience. We know that this town is worth our attention.

As we come to the house, it’s actually better than the photos had led us to believe. The rooms are decently sized, the kitchen is larger than it looks, and the back garden is much larger than it looks. The shed has plugs, so we can turn it into a workshop, and the back alley is large enough for Tracy’s scootmobiel to go through. It’s really close to town center, close to a supermarket, and pretty close to the train station. It seems great! The previous owner was an old lady that passed away, and apparently the house is the inheritance for a set of nieces and nephews who just want it sold so they can divide the money. The big downsides, really, are that the previous owner was a heavy (and I mean heavy) smoker, so all the walls are yellow and the stench of nicotine assaults you as you enter. Given the rotted houses we’d seen, the prospect of just doing some deep cleaning doesn’t scare us in the slightest. She also kept some cats, who’d terribly scratched up some of the wallpaper upstairs. Taking down wallpaper and repainting? Big whoop, we would do that anywhere we move in anyway.

Sure, there’s some things that need improving. For instance, the bathroom downstairs doesn’t have a sink. For some reason, that’s quite common in Dutch house of a certain period – don’t ask why. In fact, in this one, it isn’t just that they never built a sink in the downstairs bathroom – they actually had it removed! God knows why. The kitchen is pretty decent, but could use some improving; restructuring some cabinets, improving the use of vertical space, that type of thing. Also, the bathroom was poorly constructured: the cover they added to the ceiling wasn’t made of water-tight material, so there’s some warping there that needs to be fixed. The biggest downside there, though, is that there’s no toilet upstairs (relatively common in houses in this price range in the Netherlands). However, these are all things we can deal with. Seven years down the line, when my student debt is gone, we either sell the place, or get a second mortgage to do some major upgrades.

So, based on what we’d seen, we figured to put in a bid. This is the best house we’d seen in the price range, and the town itself was love at first sight. It fit all our criteria that we’d been building for the last months. Suddenly, everything goes at warp speed. Thursday evening we viewed the house, and later that evening we mention we’re interested in bidding. Friday morning the realtor calls us to explore options; a few hours later we’re talking with our mortgage broker, after which we call in a formal bid to the realtor; a few hours after that, we get a call that our bid is accepted, and we’ve reached a deal in principle. I can tell you it was a tense, emotional day. We were both equally excited and freaked out: we’re actually getting the house! Oh god, did we just buy a house? Wow, we’ll be saving so much money! Wait, are we sure we can afford this? This is the best house we’d seen so far! What’s the catch here? When do we discover what the major problem is?

Any day now, we can expect the bill of sale, which is the starting point of us talking to our mortgage advisor. Now, there’s still plenty that can go wrong at this point. The height of the mortgage is determined by the valuation of the house. If the bank values the house at a lower price than we bid, then we don’t have the money to cover the difference. If the bank, for some bizarre reason, doesn’t want to give us the full mortgage (unlikely, since the mortgage broker worked through everything in our first talk), then we can’t afford it. And who knows what else can go wrong.

However, if nothing goes wrong, then we may have just bought our first house. Our house. A house in a quiet town that’s conventiently close to work. A house with a garden that we can grow crops in. A house that we can build furniture in. A house that we can make really cool. Every day the idea is becoming a little less scary and a lot more awesome.

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