Internet Access Once More

Yesterday, the ISP’s network engineer dropped by to work on the lines to the house. Last year, when we went through the same when we moved into our old apartment, the whole process took about a month. Somebody came by to check out the line, discovered that parts were missing, another appointment had to be made, the sidewalk dug up, new lines laid, first guy came back, and so on, and so forth. This time, fortunately, it was done in about an hour. A simple matter of threading a line through a pre-existing hole, hooking up an adapter for ethernet, and then connecting the modem.

So, once more, we finally have Internet access. Sadly, it’s only DSL, though. Apparently, there are fibreoptic lines in Franeker, but only for the new construction in the south of the town. We’ll need to find out if there’s any petition we can sign on to to try and get fibreoptic over where we live. Either way, beggars can’t be choosers, and we’re here with Internet access. The next step for this project is to measure up the house and work out where we’ll be laying the ethernet cabling, but that’s also somewhat dependent on where we’ll end up finally putting all the PCs. For now, though, we can try to work out general access for each floor.

At least right now, we’ve hooked our Raspberry Pi back up so we can have our self-hosted cloud solutions back. Our larger server will come later (with the added project of moving all our cloud services from the Pi to the server box). There’s so much still to do, but every day is a step closer to what we want our house to be.

More unpacking

Even though we moved last only a year ago, I’d forgotten how much work moving is. This weekend, we cleared more things from the living room, and cleared a bunch of boxes. We’ve set up Tracy’s working space, so she can start again next week. My working space will be more temporary for the week, as I will have to stick to moving my laptops around. The office, sadly, is still a large collection of boxes right now, as we’ve set Tracy up in the living room.

It was more urgent to set up Tracy’s workspace, as she needs a solid computer setup to do her revisions. Sure, you can do that with only a laptop if needed, but the laptop we have for her is quite bad, and working with only one screen is quite tricky (she has to reference a lot to properly revise texts). I, on the other hand, have an office at work for me and the Secretary of my committee, so I can work from there just fine. It’s only my recreation at home that would suffer from not having a full set-up, as I’d be limited in the types of PC games I can play, and drawing, designing, and so on is just easier on my desktop setup.

Tomorrow, I’ll be working from home for the first time in this house, as we’ll be waiting for the installer to drop by. We’ve already had some issues with them (our ISP assured us that they did this type of installation, whereas they denied that and cancelled our appointment on Friday), so I want to be on-hand to deal with whatever issues we run into. It’ll certainly be a challenge, because the mobile connection we have hasn’t been good enough for full audio/video streming so far. Potentially, I’ll try to host a hotspot from my work phone to see if having parallel connections will do us better. Fortunately, my employer is pretty darned good about all these types of benefits, and don’t particularly complain unless people really go crazy on these systems.

Being without a lot of this type of recreational activity has made me appreciate it more, though. While it’s been great cycling around, taking quiet time in the garden, enjoying exploring our new town, I have certainly missed some other forms of entertainment as well. One thing I wasn’t expecting is how enthusiastic I’ve been getting for playing some TTRPGs; it’s been quite a long while since I’ve been excited about playing and particularly running something. For a while, the feeling of social obligation overshadowed the enjoyment I got from playing RPGs, but it’s starting to come back to me, and that’s really nice.

Update

Last week, Tracy and I moved to our new house in Franeker, a little place in the north of the Netherlands. We’re still surrounded by boxes, tired, achy, but happy that we’re now actual homeowners. That has, however, had quite some consequences on our life right now beyond us feeling exhausted and achy.

We have, at the moment, no Internet access, sadly. Well, that’s not quite accurate; it’s better to say we have no fast internet access. Apparently, the previous owner never had much truck with fancy modern advances like telecommunication. The only thing we have here is some coax-cabling, which I haven’t seen outside of radio communication purposes since the late ’90s. So, we’re having to get our ISP out here to install an access point for the modem to connect to. We’re also going to be dropping from 1gig up/down fibreoptic cabling to a 100 up/30 down DSL line. Yikes. In the meantime, our ISP has given us one free mobile access weekly pass, as our mobile subscription is with them as well. It’s a fairly decent connection with which we can browse the web reasonably. We can even stream some video, though I’ve noticed that telecommunication is really spotty to the point of it being completely impractical (the usual constant gaps and breaks in communication, freezes, and so on).

As a result, both RPG sessions that were to happen in this week were unable to work out. I was to play in the first session of Nobilis yesterday, but had to bow out; the group started without me, which makes perfect sense—delaying sessions often lead to a swift end of an RPG campaign. It’s a pity to have to miss that first session, as so much crucial group building happens right there, but there was no feasible way to properly join in at this moment. Even if we did have the internet, I have no real space to put down my laptop right now to join in without also bothering Tracy immensely.

The second RPG that was preventing from starting up was my Burning Wheel game. We were to have had the first session two weeks ago, as I figured to make a start before the move. Sadly, one of the players had a death in the family, so naturally we pushed it all forward until they felt ready to play again. They expect to be ready for it in a few weeks, so we’ll hold off until then. Particularly since they also had trouble participating in Session 0 (they’re visually impaired, so the table referencing that is needed for character creation in Burning Wheel wasn’t practical for them), I do want to make sure they’re there for the first session.

Mortgage Offer Signed

Yesterday, Tracy and I got some more paperwork from the financier. Fortunately, we hired a mortgage advisor to take care of everything, so all we get now is just some paperwork to sign with most of everything worked out already. Yesterday’s paperwork was the official offer for the mortgage from the bank, which means that, practically speaking, we are now fully set. Once these steps are done, we’re waiting for the actual signing on August 24th, and the house will belong to us—hooray!

Next up will be working out the actual move itself. Time to start packing, working out lists of what to take care of (forwarding mail, throwing out an old sofa, and so on).

Another Step Closer to Owning a House

Today we got the word from the house valuation—a crucial step in getting the mortgage approved. The maximum mortgage you can get in the Netherlands is not just determined by your own finances but also by the value of the house you’re intending to buy. If you bid over the market value of a house, you have to pay for that difference out of pocket. Alternatively, if you’ve underbid and the valuation shows the house was worth more, you can still only get a mortgage up to the actual bid. Apparently, the regulations are both to protect buyers, sellers, and the market in general as well as to combat money laundering through real estate.

So, today, we got the house valuation report which confirmed that our bid matched the value of the house; i.e. we should be able to get a mortgage that covers the buy. Another hurdle passed! The only thing left is to get the actual financing, and the rest is paperwork!

Mortgage Broker

Yesterday, we passed another milestone in the process of buying a house: we formally hired a mortgage broker to deal with the process from hereon out. We had signed the bill of sale last Friday, and earlier that week we had an engineer inspection done on the house, just to be sure. So, with all that done, it was time to formally hire our mortgage advisor and get into the final stages of buying this house.

The engineering inspection, fortunately, showed that the house was in pretty good state. Of course it had some wear and tear, as all older houses will, but overall it was in good stead. Basically, there were only three real points of concerned: firstly, the fuse box was one of those older ’50s models that has the individual fuses; secondly, a board on one of the windows in the back (the side that gets most of the weather) was rotten; and, lastly, there was some damage on the chimney stack that needed repairing before it could cause damage. All in all, pretty decent. There were some other minor things, such as some mortar that needed replacing, and some potential asbestos in the tiling inderneath the hallway floor, but that’s nothing too surprising or worrying.

Signing the bill of sale was nerve-wracking but banal at the same time. It was a nervous moment, because at that time you’re really solidly committing to seeing the process through. Technically, under Dutch law, we still have until the end of tomorrow to make use of a buyer’s remorse clause – an opportunity to cancel everything without any consequences. However, of course we want this house, and everything looks fine, so why would be? As nervous as the moment of signing was, it was also incredibly bureaucratic: we both had to initial every single page of the contract and sign at the end, doing everything in duplicate.

Both of those things allowed us to take the next step, and yesterday we spoke with our mortgage broker to start the financial part of the process. We really like the one we have – of all the people we called and mailed to ask about this, he was the only one that invited us over to the office, and spent as much time as we needed to explain everything in an orientation meeting (i.e. before we even committed to anything or paid him!). His indication is that, as long as the valuation of the house comes out to what they put it on the market for, everything looks good. It may be a little expensive, but what’s great about this office is that they will now take care of everything. Any mail, question, or thing that happens from hereon out, we forward to them to deal with.

Given how procedural, administrative, and legalized the process of buying a house is, I’m very happy we went with a mortgage broker. It feels like every little bit takes quite specialized knowledge so as not to be tripped up by anything problematic. It’s such a relief to know that now it’s pretty much out of our hands. We’ll sign some documents that are all prepared by other people, and at the end we’ll have a house.

There’s one last hurdle to overcome, though. As I mentioned, the mortgage broker is now sending somebody over to value the house. Our maximum mortgage is determined by that valuation – if it ends up as less than the asking price of the house, everything falls flat. Fortunately, we have a provision in the bill of sale that means if we cannot get a mortgage for the price, everything is off without consequences. So, sometime next week, by virtue of that valuation, we’ll essentially hear whether we’re getting the house or not. Fingers crossed!

The Process Of Buying A House Continues

We’ve now received the bill of sale (the koopovereenkomst in Dutch), that further solidifies the process. Before this process, I was vaguely aware of how buying a house worked but going through it now really drives home how ritualistic it all is. We first made the offer, which had to be accepted. Afterwards, we are communicated a formal message that an agreement has been reached. Next, the bill of sale is forwarded, which forms the basis of talks with a mortgage broker. The following steps are to acquire a mortgage, set up a meeting with a notary, and finally a final tour of the house with the broker before signing with the notary.

It’s a highly risk-avoidant procedure, where every step has multiple escape hatches to stop the process in case any little thing is wrong. However, every step we complete of this arcane incantation brings us closer to finalizing the ritual of consecrating the grounds. The next step will be the most precarious: securing the mortgage. From our talk with the mortgage broker, it shouldn’t be an issue at all. Still, though, there’s a bit of doubt for me; what if – just what if? – some time thing that I wasn’t aware of becomes a bigger problem? I’m sture it’ll all be okay, but it’ll be nicer once we have the key in our hands, you know?

Nevertheless, we’ve started packing. Almost exactly a year after we packed to move to this apartment, we’re now packing up to move to our very own house. We’d never actually even fully settled into this apartment. We’d never gotten around to painting it yet and because of the COVID-19 restrictions, we hadn’t been able to buy a new couch yet, to name but two examples. Last year, we were in quite the rush to pack, as we were moving while I was still working, giving us very little time to pack together. This year, however, I have far more free time, as we should be moving right in the middle of my summer holiday. so, we’ve also decided to take things much easier and pack little by little.

It’ll be a tough move, and money will be extremely tight for a month or so, but it’s an exciting journey so far.

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.