Finding an apartment in Antwerp takes a healthy dose of patience and a ton of luck. We began our search for an apartment a few months ago, and since then there have been several moments when I was unsure if we would be able to find a place that suited our needs. I didn’t think we had such a difficult wish list: we were looking for a place that had direct tram/bus routes to work, a reasonable price, in good condition, and either had parking or was in a place where we could easily find parking — it was looking to be quite a tall order.
After scouring the newspaper and the internet, we finally found our first home as a married couple. It’s a lovely apartment with an updated kitchen and bathroom, real hardwood floors, and a roomy 70 square meters. The best part is that it is within budget! (Admittedly, the top of our budget, but still within our budget.)
However, there were many aspects of the renting process that I was completely unprepared for:
1. The Speed at which Apartments are Rented Out
If you see an apartment you like, do not hesitate to call whatever phone number is on the ad. Apartments ads are frequently very quickly as they are rented out. I waited too long to inquire on a few apartments and by the time I contacted the agent or owner the apartment was already rented out. My heart was broken several times because of this tendency.
It’s also fairly common for the owner to ask you immediately after you looked at the apartment whether or not you want to sign the contract right then and there. For the apartment we just moved into, we looked at the apartment at 9:30 am, and by 10:45am the owner called us and asked us if we could come back that afternoon to sign the paperwork. You essentially have to decide right away if you want the apartment or would rather keep looking.
2. Studio Ads are Sometimes Mislabeled
This is just something I noticed while searching for an apartment. If you’re looking for a 1-bedroom apartment, check into studios as well. Sometimes an apartment that is listed as a studio really is a 1-bedroom apartment. You can sometimes get really lucky and find a very nice 1-bedroom apartment that is usually listed a bit cheaper than other similar apartments, because it’s been labeled as a studio.
3. Very Odd Room Arrangements
Now while I agree with my husband that a bathroom-kitchen combination is very unusual, in general, it’s not uncommon to come across some very odd room sizes/arrangements. I have heard about one apartment where in order to get to the bathroom, you first have to go out onto the balcony and then through the
bathroom door because there is no door to the bathroom inside the apartment. This may be another example of an extreme situation, but I find that extreme situations are seen fairly frequently.
However, the most common instance where you will run into odd room sizes/arrangements is with a hook gebouw” or corner building. These types of buildings are not your typical rectangular row house shape, so the rooms are common in uncommon polygon forms. It’s not so much of a problem, except when you’re trying to figure out the layout of your furniture.
4. A Minimum 3 – Year Rental Contract
In Belgium the typical minimum length of time for rental contract is 3 years. Quite often you will have the choice between 3,6 or 9 years. That’s not to say that 1 year rentals aren’t available, but they’re a bit harder to come by, especially if you live anywhere outside the 2000 post code. Sometimes these contracts can be rather easily broken if you decide to moe out early and the only thing that is lost is your security deposit. Sometimes it’s much harder to break them and if you plan on moving, you might have to pay two rents for a time. Make sure you know the cancellation policy on your contract.
5. Community Costs
I have only ever rented apartments in a small midwestern college town, but another thing I did not expect when looking for an apartment were the community costs. When I rented an apartment during college, any community costs associated with an apartment were included in the rent. The only thing you had to pay on top of your rent was utilities. In Antwerpen, community costs, such as light for the hallway and hallway cleaning/maintenance, are on top of your rent. These community costs can run anywhere from €30 to €150. So a €500 euro apartment can quickly become a €600 euro apartment with community costs. Just make sure you think about those community costs when working with your budget.
I am told that on average you can expect to pay around €60 for community costs in this city.
5. Appliances and Light Fixtures Are A Luxury
“Why do you always assume that the fridge comes with the apartment?” my husband asked me one evening while we looked at apartments.
“Because it’s in the picture?” I answered, legitimately confused by the question.
I guess because I am American, I feel like you should be able to can safely assume that you apartment will have light fixtures in the ceiling, a fridge, and an oven. Most people know that a dishwasher, a washer, and dryer are huge perks, but are not always included.
Antwerp has shocked any such assumptions out of me. Just because you may see a fridge or an oven in the advertisement, doesn’t mean that it will be there when you move in. Sometimes an advertisement will tell you that you have to bring your own fridge, but not always. Sometimes when you move into an apartment, the fridge that you saw earlier will have vanished. You may also find you need to provide your own light fixtures, as it is not uncommon for those to be also missing when you move in. As it is, we currently have no light in our kitchen because the previous owner took the light with them.
Although my brother-in-law tells me it could be worse. When I was explaining how strange I find the lack of basic kitchen appliances, he told me that in the Netherlands, sometimes the previous renter will strip an apartment of the floors, meaning that when you move in you have a concrete ground and some walls.
Apartment/House Hunting Websites:
These are the three most common websites where you will find apartment ads. My advice is to set up an account and then sent up e-mail alerts for new ads that meet your search criteria. That way you don’t have to check the websites every day individually to see if any new apartments have been listed.
De Kringwinkel – This is a second-hand store where you can find everything from furniture to clothes to appliances. The great thing about De Kringwinkel is that all the appliances come with a 1-year guarantee, so you can be sure that the appliances you are buying are of decent quality. You made need to check your local Kringwinkel fairly frequently to find the perfect appliance for you, but the discount can be well worth the effort.
Expat in Antwerp – This is also a great resource to find apartments or furniture. Fellow expats are frequently moving away and often will post their stuff for sale at a discounted price. People sell anything from kitchen utensils to computer monitors.
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