Expat Life
February 21, 2023

Why expat housing has nothing to do with real estate

The answer to my questions was confirmed by helping expats the last two years: finding a home for an expat has nothing to do with real estate. Here are 4 reasons why:

1. They are looking for a new home, not just a new apartment

It always amazes me how during the process of finding a home the conversation changes from functional to emotional. At first the conversation is about the requirements, a 50 square meter 1-bedroom apartment, with a separate toilet and a kitchen with dishwasher. After several viewings the conversation has switched and we’re talking in terms of if the house is homely and if it has the right feel.

Square metres, dishwashers and furniture all lose when the house just doesn’t feel right. Suddenly they’re no longer looking for a new place, but for a new home. Somewhere they can feel safe, at ease and be themselves. Somewhere they can see themselves being alone, inviting friends, having a first date or just doing what they want to do. It’s something intangible that makes you feel at home. Something you can’t explain in functional or practical terms. That’s why I have stopped looking at and thinking of housing in terms of real estate and trying to find them the most beautiful, grand or best value for money apartments, but instead I’ve started looking at the bigger picture. What makes people feel at home and how can I help them find their home.

2. It’s all about feeling connected

Remember that couple living upstairs who invited you for dinner and are now your friends for life? Your boss who matched you with your now soon to be fiancé? Or the owner of the delicatessen who always had a hilarious story to tell about his customers? You still wonder how he is doing.

These are the kind of stories I’m hearing about more and more in our network. The people that have a great time in their new city of residence are the people who get connected with others. Whether it’s through work, sports, meet-ups or neighbourhood serendipity, people make you feel welcome and that you belong. That’s why I believe you should focus on connecting people instead of placing them in an apartment. Making sure they’re in a place where they can start meeting people and build their network helps them feel connected. Whether it’s through connecting them with social and likeminded people in their neighbourhood, other expats in our network, or activities in the city. Nothing beats a smile when our clients talk about meeting new people or making new friends.

3. We are facilitating their lifestyle

Most people we help are passionate about their work and therefore spend a lot of time on it. In this case work comes first, which means that they want their lives to be as easy as possible before and after work. Lifestyle convenience and efficiency are things that are more important than having a 2nd bedroom or a balcony facing east. That’s why I think it’s important to make sure you find out what their lifestyle is going to be like. Ask them the right questions and find out what they will be doing, wanting and looking out for. What is convenient for them and will make their life more comfortable? Is it being accessible by public transport for family and friends? Being thoroughly informed about rules and regulations because they travel a lot? Having sporting facilities (park, gym, etc.) around to stay fit? Being in a vibrant area because they’re outgoing? Being close to work because they will be at work a lot? And so on.

4. Living the experience

Last but not least is living the experience. When I ask the people I’ve helped why they chose Amsterdam, they reply by saying that they love the city, the people and the culture. They often say that they’re not sure how long they’ll be here so they want to make the most of it. I’ve learned that the experience is something that differs per person but is not so much connected to their new home as to the city their home is in. Some like to submerge themselves in the culture by learning the language and visiting museums, others by going out every weekend or buying a bike and getting lost in the city. Their homes are just the starting point for every adventure, like Carl in ‘Up’.

What do you think? What are your thoughts on what expat housing entails? Did you experience anything different?