I have landed on the plain lands of the Netherlands last week (and when I say plain, I mean I’m still playing the game ‘spot the hill’ with no success, even after a week of walking around), and I am really delighted to actually be able to confirm that most Dutch people speak English!! This is lifesaving for a student who only knows ‘hallo’ and ‘danke je wel’ in Dutch, and especially for one who can barely find its own way in her hometown, not to mention a completely new city.
Maastricht, the little city I had chosen for my year abroad, is absolutely stunning! One of the oldest cities in the Netherlands, the city where the EU treaty was signed almost 25 years ago, a city with fortresses and lots of old buildings – as an IR and history student, you can imagine that my heart skips a beat every time I mention that I’m actually a student here!
And I swear I would have enjoyed my first week in Maastricht even more than I did, if it wasn’t for my estate agent. In an attempt to save some money, I have chosen to look for private accommodation, instead of comfortably renting a room in one of the university’s guesthouses. Now, in the long term this may seem like a good option, but in the short run, this also means you have to deal with the horrors of possible scams. The Netherlands seems to have a problem when it comes to housing – it is really hard to find a room as a student, and I have met lots of people who were still looking for one after the courses started, or have had to deal with all sorts of scams (ranging from: false drug accusations from landlords to a spontaneous key change). My luck was not that bad, so by the time I arrived in Maastricht, I had a room rented already. The ‘fun’ began on my first day here, when I went to pick up my key and the estate agent said that the previous tenant didn’t move out yet (although I had a contract signed with them for the full month!), therefore, they don’t have the key. As you can imagine, this resulted in a long and difficult conversation, them apologising for the ‘misunderstanding’ and me sleeping on a mattress (kindly donated by my new housemates), in an empty room, for two nights.
But I am one of the lucky students, who now has a room. I know it is maybe too early to think about this (or a bit too late for those who have had to find a room in Leicester over the summer), but if you are thinking about moving abroad and choosing private accommodation (or even renting a room in the UK), I would strongly advise you to:
- do not send any money over until you are sure (or at least as sure as you can be) that the room/landlord/agency actually exists;
- google the pictures of the rooms that you find advertised; some scammers use pictures from the internet to sell non-existent rooms;
- always ask for the ID of the landlord and all his/her contact details; for agencies, look up on Google Earth the address where they claim to have their office;
- if you are not sure about certain parts of the contract, ask for explanations – don’t be embarrassed to do so, it’s better to do this than commit to something that you don’t understand;
- take pictures of the house when you move in; some landlords will try to claim that the house was in better condition when you arrived, and use this as an excuse to keep your deposit;
- if you are not able to go for a viewing, ask the landlord/agency if they can at least arrange a Skype viewing; most agencies won’t agree with that, but it’s worth trying;
- always keep a record of your correspondence with the landlord/agency; if you are talking to them through phone, ask if they can record the call, or if they mind you doing so; if you write them emails, save all of them.
I hope these tips are useful. Did any of you have any problems with landlords or estate agencies in the past? Any other useful tips you could think of?
I hope all of you are excited about the start of the new academic year! I’ll keep you updated on my experience in Maastricht and wish you best of luck. 🙂