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Will working from home change where we choose to live?

Kenneth Leenders, chief executive of Expat Mortgages, sees the benefits of a house in the country Offices are shut once more, and while some people find innovative places to work from park benches to hotels, for others taking calls in the broom cupboard at home has driven them to distraction and they are looking for a house with more rooms.

According to Kenneth Leenders, chief executive and partner at Expat Mortgages, the housing market is booming but also changing during the Covid pandemic. Instead of feeling they need to be within an easy commute of the office, people are increasingly weighing up the advantages of getting more for their money, further away.
“Many expats and internationals who come to the Netherlands want to live in or near to the city centre because they want to enjoy the fast life and energy that comes with it, or often more importantly because they want to live close to the office and save time travelling,” he says.

“But due to corona, we have been forced to spend most of our time home and noticed how important ‘space’ could actually be. Whether this is the space inside (a comfortable, quiet working space) or outside (a nice garden to enjoy the weather and fresh air), we started to appreciate what we have… or it became more clear what we desire.”

Although banks were predicting that the housing market would take a hit by the end of the year, actually the opposite has happened. NVM estate agent association figures show that house prices went up by 11.6% in the third quarter of 2020, the greatest year-on-year jump in 20 years. At the same time, 14.4% more homes were sold than the same time last year.

Up until recently, Statistics Netherlands (CBS) figures have showed that as the Dutch population expanded to more than 17 million people, the greatest growth was round the four big cities of the Randstad, Amsterdam, Rotterdam, The Hague and Utrecht. But Leenders believes that the experience of being forced into a new way of working will drastically alter the office world in future so that we all spend more time working from home – and be less likely to live in the city.

“I strongly believe that we will not be going back to how it was: it is proven that a great deal of our work can be done online and I believe many employers will see the benefit of this in the long term,” he says. “Not only for the employers themselves (saving costs) but also for the employee (more flexibility and productive hours) and even the environment (less use of polluting transport).

“I also believe it will change our way of thinking about our home situation if we are expected to work from home 50%-60% of our time. Will it really be that important to live and work in the city? Or will we appreciate the extra space, lower price and more quiet home environment an hour and a half away from work? Many of us will ask ourselves these questions, leaving open the possibility to move out.”

Expat Mortgages has helped many expats and internationals buy a home in the Netherlands and in recent years has seen more and more choosing to live in the suburbs or outside cities. When you look at the figures, there’s a clear argument: right now, house prices in Amsterdam are €5,790 per square metre on average, twice the cost of the €2,892 per square metre you’d typically pay in the rest of the Netherlands.

Leenders points out that travel is also relatively quick in this compact country. “Our experience shows that a significant amount of expats and internationals move to the cities because they were used to this in their home country or the previous country they lived,” he says.

“But big cities around the world are mostly much ‘bigger’ than is the case in the Netherlands. Living in and working in London could still mean travelling an hour and a half to work, while living and working in Amsterdam or Rotterdam could mean travelling for a third of that time. We inform people about this significant difference and motivate them to expand their borders and look more outside of the city, where prices are lower and their investment could even be more valuable.”

His experience is that employers should think about this too. “We try to help employers that are attracting expats to the Netherlands to manage expectations before their new employees move here, and make sure that they will not get disappointed when they find out the supply is lower and the prices much higher than they expect,” he says.

Although predictions of a fall in house prices from the banks have not happened, Leenders adds that now is a good time to buy for people who are sure they want to stay for a time. “Our clients say that this is their chance: where there are normally 40 viewings, there are 20, and instead of 10 bids, there are five. Clients who have just been looking for a couple of weeks are getting their offers accepted. It is extremely busy!”

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