Saturday, June 5, 2010

About the realty office…

DSC08345 When I need to find a new residence in the Netherlands, I make the rounds of the local realty offices to see what is offered te huur (for rent) and te koop (for sale) in their windows.  (I also cruise around the streets looking for rental signs in windows, but that is less efficient).  When something looks good, I make arrangements with the agent to see the property; they also relay offers to the landlord, handle the paperwork, and oversee the move-in.  For this, they collect one month’s rent as their fee, about 1000 euros.

The fee is a bit of an irritant, since they don’t seem to do very much for it.  Appointments to see a property take half an hour, and paper signing is brief and straightforward.  But it’s the cost of doing business in Maastricht, and there doesn’t seem to be a way around it.

But in return for that fee, I do expect them to do their job well.

This time, things didn’t go so smoothly.  The apartment is above a vacant store (soon to be filled with a restaurant), and the stairway empties directly into the construction area.  The landlord promised to redirect the stairwell, but had heart surgery in April and the work lapsed.

I dropped by periodically to check on progress, advising the agent of the ongoing problems, but nothing changed.  Finally, moving day came.  I found that my agent had gone on a six-week vacation without making the handoff to another agent.  The rental agreements couldn’t be found; the keys went missing.  The new agent couldn’t get the keys to work; the stairwell was blocked by construction, there was garbage from the workmen piled against the apartment door.  The hot water was a trickle, the doorbell didn’t work, the mailbox went missing, the final cleaning hadn’t been done, and there was a thin layer of construction dust over everything.

I have moved three times in the Netherlands, and this was just bad.  The realty office owner said that the original agent had a migraine that prevented the handoff, that the landlord wasn’t answering the phone, that there were a dozen other excuses.  I was unwavering: with their fee comes accountability for managing the transaction.  It is not my responsibility to be checking the apartment and advising them, nor to be chasing down the landlord.  I refused to pay them until the situation was corrected (I did pay the security deposit and first months rent).

Within a day, workmen were back out front, a plumber stopped by to work the water and replace the heater, the owner dropped in to assure me that things would be taken care of, the agency paid for a cleaning.  I feel like things will be right within a few weeks and then can finish negotiating a properly reduced fee with the realtor.  But the lesson is to stand up for yourself, take pictures, and leverage your payments into actions when something needs fixing.

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