Daydreaming about… Our New House

heart balloons

Happiest of Fridays, friends. I have some wonderful news and in a rare twist, it’s not about travel. Yesterday, Jaro and I became homeowners. For the first time. I’m so proud of us. It has been a scary, stressful, exciting experience and, in the end, we couldn’t be happier about how it has turned out. After a few months of uncertainty and every type of “wrinkle” and “hiccup”, which were all totally out of our control, it is a tremendous relief to know that this little house is ours.  We can get in there in 30 days. The final countdown is on. 

There’s a lot of places in the world I want to see. But right now, there’s no where else I’d rather go than… home.

xxx

P.S. You can read more about our househunting here and here.

{photo via}

Advertisements

House Hunters: The Portland Edition (update)

(You can read part one here.)

We bought a house. After three lightning-fast weeks of house hunting, we offered on a house and it was accepted. RAISE DA ROOF. Okay not really, let’s keep the roof in place until we get through inspections.

if you’re able to continue reading after my corny intro, here’s the brief story. I have to admit something to you: It was our second attempt. I didn’t write about our first offer because the whole thing (from first seeing the listing pop up to knowing we didn’t get it) happened in a span of 24 hours. We felt so dejected. So lame. Therefore, we immediately rationalized how it was not actually meant to be our house. You sort of have to to get over the grief. So instead of letting disappointment linger, you say well, it didn’t have a built in dishwasher anyway. Or, the basement was weird. I mean clearly, in hindsight, that was not our house.

This one is. I just know it. For the sake of simplicity (and privacy, this is a public space after all), it ended up being a race and in the end, we won. It was meant to be. Ours. The night we found out, we drank champagne to celebrate that someone took pity on us took us seriously enough to accept our offer. That alone is.. baffling. And… affirming. I guess we are cut out for this after all. Now we can take a deep breath and relax. Yay.

Next up: inspections. We are required to have several and possibly more if anything looks suspicious. That is slightly terrifying since the house is approximately… three times as old as I am. Just keeping things interesting around here.

Thanks for all the support.

xxx

An Expatriate Guide: International House Hunting

Let me preface this by saying it is WAY overdue. I had started writing it back when we were apartment hunting in Stockholm and things… well… things changed and we didn’t end up there. I think it could still be useful, and so I’m sharing it anyway.

Amsterdam

In case you’re new here… hello. My husband and I went through the process of moving abroad once (almost twice) and it was a HUGE learning experience. If you are faced with the same opportunity to move abroad, God help you. Kidding, guys. I’ll help you! Moving to a new country, in the mix of all the excitement, can also be stressful. Having survived a major move from Chicago to Amsterdam just over a year ago (which I excitedly documented here and here), we were totally naive, but stumbled through the process and ended up with a great result. We want to share what we learned, so that maybe we can be helpful for someone else. Here be my tips:

  1. Understand your perspective. It is much different to visit a place as a tourist versus a soon-to-be resident. It’s important to distinguish the two. Don’t focus on being close to the tourist attractions necessarily, but rather areas with livability based on your lifestyle and interests. Sometimes that overlaps with touristy stuff and that’s okay too.
  2. Do your research. Learn as much as you can about different neighborhoods by reading through online expat guides, local blogs, etc. Know someone that has lived there? They are probably your biggest resource. Even if they don’t share your taste, it’s helpful to talk with someone who is living there and understands the area from a dweller’s perspective. Expat bloggers can be especially helpful, provided the writer is responsive.
  3. Get an “overall feel.” This is kind of vague, but walk around. Drive around, if walking is not practical. Go to as many distinct neighborhoods as you can, see if they match up to what you researched. Eat local food. Check out some shops. Grab a drink at a neighborhood pub. Turn down that residential street. Can you see yourself living here? What are you liking about it and also not liking? Hopefully, you can do this in a visit before the actual move, so you have time to reflect on what you experienced.
  4. House search all over the city. See as many as possible. Even though we initially preferred one specific area, we saw apartments all over the city. You know why? So we could say with confidence that we were focused on the right area for us. As much as cities are different, they are the same. Most cities have a touristy area, as well as a high rent district, a hipster-ville, a downtown, and just plain old undesirable areas. What did you like/not like about where you have lived previously? Is that still relevant to your current life stage? Living priorities might be different if you are young &/or single or older &/or have children. We happen to like “hipster-ville” so that’s where we ended up.
  5. Think about your surroundings. You know what they say in real estate: Location, location, location. As an expat trying to settle into a new country, this is especially important. You need to feel comfortable and safe. How important is it to you to be within easy walking distance of bars and restaurants? What about public transportation? Or the grocery store? The bank? Does that park on the corner look safe or full of drug addicts? Seriously. Imagine yourself walking home at night.
  6. Know what you need versus what you want. Say you find an area that seems to fit you & your lifestyle. You’re halfway there! With the homes in that area, be flexible on dropping amenities down the priority list. When we attempted to move to Stockholm (which ended up not happening after all), we thought we “needed” a dishwasher. Guess what. Many places in Europe, even those with brand-spanking-new kitchens, don’t have them. You know where I’m going with this. As we were house hunting in Stockholm, it quickly dropped down to a “want”. Besides, Jaro can be dishwasher (but seriously, how do people survive without a dishwasher?). Same for gas stoves, closets, large bathrooms, etc. Be open to living simply. You might even find it surprisingly refreshing. …Unless you are sacrificing A/C in a hot climate. In that case, I feel sorry for you.
  7. Be firm with your agents. Relocation rental agents, as we learned, have a job. It’s not to guess your preferences, it’s to get you settled as quickly as possible. Don’t cave in if you don’t feel good about it! When in Stockholm (again, a blessing in disguise that we didn’t get a place), we almost went with a beautiful apartment in a neighborhood that just wasn’t right, but caught ourselves and realized we’d regret it. I know this depends a lot on your situation and whether you have guaranteed temporary housing, but be honest and direct with the rental agents to keep them focused on your needs.

This method worked for us and we find ourselves following it as we attempt to buy our first home back in the U.S. After reading back through this list, it is not necessarily specific to moving abroad. Is this helpful? I’m curious, what are some other tips for helping others house hunt abroad?

xxx

{image of Amsterdam taken by me}

Stockholm House Hunt, part ett

Hey friends. We got back from our Stockholm house hunting trip last night. I’ll spare you the suspense: It was a big BUST. We did not find a home that was suitable for us. After examining seven apartments in total, we just could not commit.

Prior to this house hunting trip, we had visited in July to understand the city a bit, done lots of research on the neighborhoods, scoured Swedish online resources about apartments both for sale and for rent. All to get a feel for the market and what to expect. Let’s just say that in an expensive city like Stockholm, we set our expectations at an all-time low. For comparable rent to our Amsterdam pad, we needed to sacrifice both size and amenities. Now that makes me laugh. Those of you that have visited or seen our Dam apartment know that we’re spoiled. It’s huge. Probably close to 150 square meters. We have a dishwasher, in-unit laundry, gas stove, two bedrooms, two bathrooms and pretty much a dance floor/bowling alley. It has been the perfect place to entertain; hosting visitors, throwing parties and nice dinners was our favorite. We also have fantastic neighbors, our street is lovely and we are near everything. It’s actually the best.

We were very open-minded as we started this new house hunt, knowing we couldn’t have the same luck as we did in Amsterdam (which I wrote about here and here). So let’s find the humor in our failure! Here are my takeaways:

  1. First of all, I cannot believe how some people live. I’ll try not to make this a generalization about all Stockholmers, but we saw several apartments that were absolutely disgusting. Don’t they know strangers are going to be inside their place hoping to rent it? It was almost impossible to see past all the trash and clutter. Case in point, kitchen #1:It’s a good thing you can’t see my face. 
  2. Not all Scandinavian design is beautiful. Case in point, bathroom #3:There is no way I would shower in there. It looks like a shower you get murdered in.
  3. Some bedrooms are actually not. Case in point, spare bedroom at #4:Where the naughty kids are sent to bed.
  4. You don’t have to set it up the same way as the current tenants. Case in point, living room of #5:What on earth is going on here.

We only saw one nice apartment we could see ourselves living in. Meatloaf may have said two out of three ain’t bad, but one out of seven is really bad. Terrible. The deal breaker was that it sat on the northern edge of town, in a quiet area full of families with small kids. We aren’t there yet (and won’t be for several years, thankyouverymuch). While we know we have to sacrifice size and location, we won’t budge on location. We want to be in a lively ‘hood.

So what now? Time to face reality. We have to increase our budget by about 5,000Kr. We have to be flexible about “nice” amenities like dishwashers, in-unit laundry, balconies and, most sadly, spare bedrooms. We have to keep looking.

Come November when we head over for good (oh God, two weeks from now!), we’ll be in temporary housing until we find it. It will be worth it. It’s all just taking a little longer than we hoped.

At least we know autumn in Stockholm is beautiful:

xxx