Posts for Tag: house amsterdam living

Story of a house - part 4

I slept better than the night before. After all, this was the beginning of a – hopefully – calmer day. I arrived at the office around 9.15 and my first action was to call Mr. J1 and tell him that I was pretty sure that I didn't want to do business with that Mafia guy. He took it pretty well, as I took the oportunity to ask him if he had more apartments available for my price range. He said that he had a small studio near the Pijp and that I could visit around 17.00 that afternoon, if he could get the keys from the owner on time, and I couldn't feel better putting all that "family" business behind my back.

The rest of the day went pretty smooth, with the occasional email exchange with another lady (other agency, a real one) trying to figure out a way for me to get registered at the Gemeente so I could be eligible for an Expats-only, government endorsed, apartment in WesterPark.

At 17.00 I took off to see the studio in the Pijp. I took the tram and, only on arrival, I realized that he had not replied mentioning if had the keys from the owner yet. The events of the past few days were starting to take a toll on me. This was not normal; I usually don't miss appointments, much less make up any. I went back to the office and, after approximately 30 minutes I get a call from Mr. J1 once again pushing for me to accept the Mafia deal. In retrospective I think I might have been a little harsh in the way I replied to him, but I was really tired of this whole story by now. He then proceeded to say that I could still visit the studio in the Pijp that evening, around 20.45. I agreed.

Arriving at the studio's address was somehow stressful. I had imagined a car pulling over the sidewalk and a couple of members of the "family" grabbing me and "convincing" me to accept the apartment. My friend Luis tried to reassure me, but no one on earth would get me into the studio's side of the road before I could see Mr. J1 arrive alone to show it.

Another guy arrived in the meantime, as if he was there to visit the studio as well. We joked that he was also in with them. Somehow I could not find myself to laugh. A few minutes later Mr. J1 arrived and, with him, Mr. S. We waited for a while before visiting the studio, because the current tenant seemed to have been caught in a bad time. At first we thought he might have been there with a girl, but later we understood from his eyes that it seemed to be a question of weed, sorry will, power.

The studio was comfortable, bigger than most studios in Amsterdam. The other visitor was still wondering whether he was interested or not. I promptly said I was and the visit ended shortly after. The owner would now take the information he had about the both of us and decide who would become his tenant and who would not. I was to send Mr. J1 a copy of my work contract to send to him, next morning, and so I did.

The next day however, after sending the required copy, I had no news from Mr. J1 regarding that studio. I called him to know if the owner had made up his mind and he replied that he was out on a business trip, so I would have to wait until the next day. Apart from more mails exchanged with the other agency lady that day was too, pretty uneventful.

On Friday morning, after getting to the office and having had my daily caffeine shot (did I mention this was a very stressful week?), I received a phone call from Mr. J1. Apparently the owner had returned from his trip and decided that I could keep the studio in the Pijp. There was only one tiny, tiny detail: I could not register at the address. Mr. J1 offered that I could register at his place instead. Oh my God, where on earth am I? Of course not. This was obviously not my reaction, but I told him that it could cause me some issues with the taxes, or something other that I was not currently aware, and declined the studio. He then proceeded to ask me to wait until Tuesday, when he would receive more apartment offers and, if he had nothing for me then, he would give me the commission back (where have I heard this before?).

So I waited through a weekend of partying, drinking, rocking, and rolling. In the meantime, I also agreed with the lady from the other agency that I would go with her to the Gemeente on Monday morning and we would try to get me registered at a temporary location, so I could fill the requisite to be eligible for the apartment at WesterPark (the newly renovated one, remember?).

(to be continued...)

Story of a house - part 3

Still not sure about the time of the appointment with the owner and, at the same time, trying to keep my anxiety to a minimum, I called Mr. J1 after lunch to confirm it. It was at 16 in the afternoon. A while after the phone call, I received another one from him, asking if I could make it around 15, instead. I was partially happy, because I would not have to endure another hour of suffering and could just walk my way through the tension.

I arrived at hotel X around the appointment time. I could see Mr. J1, from distance, entering the hotel and, as I walked in, I was greeted by all 3 of them and invited to take a seat in the hotel's lobby area. There, we waited about 15 minutes for the owner to show up. During that time I kept listening to them talking in Dutch, trying to make some sense of it in a hope of picking up something that would show this was a scheme. Either my understanding of the language was still very raw (and it is, I know), or most of what they talked about was somehow related to houses, rentals and, in general, stuff about their profession. From times to times one of them would briefly explain what they were talking about, and it all seemed to make sense to me. But what do I know? For all I knew they could have the conversation rehearsed in their heads and be just performing an act for me to see.

The owner showed up at last. His general appearance was that of a typical mafia middle man: short hair, unshaved, and the mannerisms of "the family". He started by saying that we would require a copy of my ID, which Mr. S forgot to bring from his place. As he walk to the hotel's reception desk to take the copy, I followed him and asked if I could have a copy of his own ID as well. He froze: "Why do you want a copy of my passport?", he said, with the looks of someone who has a lot to hide. I said "Well, since we are about to sign a mutual agreement, I think it's only fair that both of us get a copy of each other's IDs or passports, don't you agree?". He replied that I could not have it, with the same guilty look on his face, explaining that he was not the owner, that they were "a company" and that this company was the owner of the apartment. I insisted that he gave me, at least, his last name so I could know who I was dealing with, to which he also refused to comply. "You can call me F", he said, as he smiled in complicity with the receptionist lady. I was shocked. There I was, in a mafia hotel, about to become legally attached to "the family". We rejoined with the others and he proceeded to explain that he would take my ID and show it to the other members of the company, after which they would decide whether I was eligible to rent the apartment. Needless to say I was in shock by now. Me and the other 3 left the hotel and I stared at them with the most worried face I could come up with. They tried to reassure me, in particular Mr. J1, and kept saying that everything would be OK, and that they would make sure that everything was legal and correct. I was not happy. I started my walk back to work, under a lot of rain and wind, getting soaked each minute that passed. This day was not going well.

When I arrived, I was crushed. The world had turned upside down. The guys I thought were scamming me were actually the less of my problems, now I was about to get connected to "the family". Thoughts of wanting to leave the apartment and a couple of guys with guns showing up, explaining that I should consider it, kept crawling through my head. I called Mr. J1. I needed to let him know I was really not comfortable with this Mexican novel, at all. He tried once again to calm me down: "I know how you must feel. I don't think that's the way to do business either, it's definitely not the way I work. You can come to my office and we can check in this government website who is the owner of the apartment, so we can later check if the contract is correct or not". Once again, I left work to face the rain and wind.

The trip by metro to Mr. J1's office was pretty smooth. When I arrived, I was greeted by a lovely Persian cat which also seemed pleased to see me. I was offered some tea, I imagined, to calm me down a bit, and engaged in a casual conversation about agencies, ways of working in the Netherlands, other cultures' habits, basically small talk, with the occasional reference to my case in particular. He reassured me that he would check that everything was perfectly legal and that I would end up with a correct contract and the keys to the apartment. He suggested that we asked for the keys, checked the apartment again, and only then proceed with the payments (the deposit plus the first month of rent). I agreed. We left his office and drove through Amsterdam to pickup the other 2 fellows from their original "office", or should I say bedroom?

We were once again back at the hotel. This time, a bit more certain that Mr. J1 was the real deal, in terms of a real estate agent, and that he would look after my interests, I was ready for Mr. F. We sat down in the same table we had occupied earlier that afternoon, and he explained that everything was OK, that I could become the tenant of the apartment. Then he explained that I would need to pay the deposit and first month of rent, to what I replied that I would like to have the contract first. He retorted: "It's not like you met us on the street. I work here. If you have problems you can always find me here". This guy was getting on my nerves. I told him: "I didn't meet you on the streets, maybe you work here, but I don't know you. You wouldn't even give me your last name, or a copy of your passport". He tried to counter my statement but, watching my body language basically saying "Nothing you can say can refute this" he moved on to another - even more stupid - approach: "If you buy something at Albert Heijn, you don't get a copy of the clerk's passport, you get a receipt". While I must confess that this made me laugh inside, on the outside I had a dead serious look when I told him: "I'm not buying groceries, here. I'm renting an apartment. This is a lot of money". He said something like "Why are you suspicious of us?" and, as I replied "I am suspicious by nature", Mr. J1 interrupted by suggesting that if we could know the name of the company that owned the apartment and check if everything was OK before signing and paying, then that would be OK, right? Both me and Mr. F nodded in agreement.

We ended up settling that he would take my details to the company, they would write the contract, which would take a couple of days, and then they would give me an unsigned copy that I could use to check the validity of his claims. So, by Thursday I would know that everything was OK. We said goodbye and Mr. J1 again reassured me that everything was going to be alright and that, if at anytime I didn't feel comfortable with this, I would get back the money I had already paid as the agency's commission. I felt better. Not good, but a little better.

I went back to work, as Luis was still there, and we went out for some food at Burger King. We brought it into the office, I told him the rest of the story, and we discussed it in light of the recent events. It was not worth it. I had to decline this offer. I was not about to set sail in the mafia boat. I decided that I would sleep on the subject, just for the sake of closure and the next morning I would call Mr. J1 and tell him that I did not want to do business with this guy. We stayed at the office until closing time and then we set off to go home by foot.

Somewhere along the way, feeling miserable, I decided to cheer us up by joking with Luis that the events of that day would make a great story to tell girls; all we needed to do was add some fist fights to it, like 5 guys came after us and we took care of them all. We both laughed. A couple of streets ahead I noticed 3 guys, standing on one of the canal's bridges, who seemed to be discussing something together, or maybe passing something among themselves. It's not unusual to see people passing joints around in Amsterdam, so no big deal. They opened a way for us, two on the left, and one on the right who started to walk our way, picking up the pace so he would match our current speed. We accelerated a bit and he moved to my left, slightly behind me (I was standing left of Luis at the time). He gave me a small push which took me off balance for an instant and I almost rammed into Luis. I turned and asked what the hell was he doing, to which he replied "Hey, I just wanted to ask you something". I should have 5 Euro for every time I heard that one before. Luis promptly said that we had to go and we turned our backs and started walking again. Did I mention it was pouring and windy, and that this road had no lights whatsoever? No? Well, now you know. Needless to say that there were close to no people traveling there, not even cars. So, at that point, I uncovered my head to be able to see behind me more clearly and I noticed he was still chasing us. We kept walking and, at some point, he grabbed my left arm from behind. I reacted immediately, shaking and pushing his arm, forcing him back 2 steps to the sidewalk, while I yelled as hard as I could: "Let me go, sh**. What the f*** are you doing???". This seemed to have caught him a little off guard and he stood still for 1 or 2 seconds to assess the situation (meaning, to see if anyone close enough had heard me yell). During this fraction of time we started walking faster and moved to the middle of the street (yes, where the cars were supposed to come in our direction). I asked Luis "Do you want to make a run for it?" and, as I looked back, the 3 guys started running after us. Strangely enough, after an emotional roller coaster day like this one, I was not nervous at the situation. I turned to Luis and just said calmly "Luis... run", which he did.

He had this brilliant idea of starting to run in the direction of the cars that were coming towards us, to get their attention to what was happening. Apparently it worked, because as I gazed back while running, the guys were standing - considering whether or not to pursue the chase. A couple of streets ahead we were still running, but we had lost them for sure. I was laughing, because I could do nothing else.

As we arrived at Luis' place we could not believe what had happened. I, for one, was in deep emotional shock. I spent one year in this country, constantly bragging about how safe it made me feel and, in one day, the dream faded to reality. So much for perfect places to live. This episode only made me more certain that I would not become a mafia tenant the next day and, so, it was with some relief that I went to bed that night.

(to be continued...)

Story of a house - part 2

So, where to start, when there is so much to say? I think I'll start from the beginning...   Remember I mentioned, in a very subtle way, that I found a new apartment at Leidseplein? Well, as it turns out, the guy from the agency, Mr. S, and I agreed that I would go to his office on Monday (14th Jan 2008) to pay the agency commission (apparently, as he mentioned, there was another agency in the process and he didn't want to mix things with the owner) and then on Tuesday to the owner, to pay the rent, the deposit, and the expenses with the contract. I went to the bank on Monday, during my lunch break, to request a credit card (I need one to rent a car, apparently) and I deliberately "forgot" to withdraw the money for the payment of the agency's commission. I just was not in the mood to pay that before I had the contract in front of me, ready to sign. I was going to tell the agency guy that I just forgot. Period.   I arrived at the supposed office around 19. When I got to the number he mentioned I was prompted with 3 doorbells, none of which properly worked. A phone call to Mr. S and he was opening the door in 2 minutes. I got up to the third floor, following the agency guy, and when I get there what do I see? I see a bedroom. Not an agency office, a bedroom. One would assume that I would get suspicious that something didn't feel right. One would assume correctly.   I entered the room and was greeted by another man, Mr. J2, who introduced himself as Mr.S' colleague of profession. Finding the whole situation extremely fishy (who wouldn't?) I starting poking around, asking more questions than I think they were expecting or ready to answer at the time. It turns our Mr. J2 was from Surinam, spent a couple years in Brazil, and could speak a little of Portuguese (a tiny little, I might add). I explained that I was not comfortable with paying right now and that I would come back the next morning to do it. Did I mention that, when I visited the apartment, I wrote down Mr. S' motorcycle license plate, right after I handed him 200 Euro as a deposit for the house (so he would "hold" it for me) and not checking if he had signed the fore mentioned document? Maybe I forgot that detail. Anyways, there I was in a bedroom looking at the ridiculousness of the whole situation when Mr. S, in his anxious way to go ahead with the transaction, said that I could see the contract right away, though in Dutch. Those who know me know that my Dutch skills are practically non-existent and, as such, I promptly requested a copy in English, as I would not sign anything I could not understand. He agreed, but said that only his colleague, Mr. J1, had contracts in English and, as such, I agreed to wait a while for him. After a couple of minutes we decided that the next morning would be better, as Mr. S was not completely sure what time Mr. J1 would arrive.   Leaving the office – sorry, the bedroom – I rejoined with my dear friend Luis near a street where, according to Mr. S, the other agency involved in the process was located. I had to see for myself that at least some part, of what looked like a complete charade, was real. I could not accurately recall the number of the door. I knew it was either 35 or 53, so we checked both. Number 35 seemed abandoned while number 53 looked like nothing. I'll explain: there were shades on the glasses, inside, so nothing could be perceived from the streets. No clue whatsoever.   We decided we should get some dinner and discuss the subject over a meal and went to eat at an Italian restaurant nearby. After pizzas and some drinks, Luis had an idea: "Why not go to the police with the data you just collected? Maybe they can figure out something". It was indeed a great idea. I immediately asked the waiter for directions to the nearest police station, which he kindly provided us. It was hard to find; on the way there we had to ask another passerby man on where to go, but finally we got there.   On arrival, our first sight was an individual being moved from a police car to the police station. Interesting, I thought. The police lady inside was very helpful: I told her the entire story, to which she listened with great interest and attention. After I finished, I presented her with the facts that I had collected so far on these three people, the addresses, the motorcycle license plate, and everything else I could remember. She replied that she would try to look that information up, and then she vanished for about 15 minutes. When she emerged from behind the door, she explained what she had found: All addresses were plausible, meaning that it was possible that they were actually for renting, or business places. The names and descriptions were, obviously, too scarce to allow a proper search and the motorcycle, while not registered in Mr. S' name, had not been reported stolen. I was shocked. I was expecting some kind of answer, positive or negative, but an answer. And there was none to be found there. I said goodbye, thanking her for all her help, after some advice of caution, and nothing else.   Suffice to say that I was all but happy. We went back to Luis' place and I was restless. I searched the Internet for references to the collected data: phone numbers, addresses, names, etc. I found a phone number for one of the addresses and decided to take a shot. An old man's voice answered the phone. I asked if a housing agency worked at that address, to what he replied "no, it's 49". I would later realize that the man probably meant that I was calling number 49 instead of 53 but, at the time, I understood that he said the agency was on number 49. Restless as I was, I decided that I would go out and take another look at the street where the supposed agency was, even if it meant having little or no sleep that night. We arrived after maybe 20 minutes (after dropping by Mr. S' street to make sure he had not fled with my 200 Euro and, yes, the motorcycle was still there) and began to perform a more thorough investigation of the sites. Number 35, as it was pointed out by a lovely old Chinese lady next door, was a school. No agency here. As for number 53 again no luck: The windows were shut from inside like some other agencies I've seen before, so it was dubious whether there was something there or not. Neighboring stores, however, had no knowledge of anything operating there. My tension just built up even more.   We went back to the house and began tearing apart the possible outcomes of our interaction with Mr. S the morning after. From 2 vs. 3 fights, to weapons, to kicking his ass and demanding the 200 Euro back, all scenarios were carefully considered. We were ready for next morning. The plan would be to get him to sign the receipt then explain that I would not pay the commission except at the signing of the contract, on the afternoon. Needless to say that the night was slow to pass and some meditation was required on my part to get to sleep properly. But in the morning, we were ready to go.   One of the things I was required to deliver was a copy of my ID card, so we would use that to our advantage. We arrived at his place around 9.10, just in time to basically lie that I had gone to the bank and that it was still closed, hence the reason for not showing up with the money. After explaining that, I proceeded to ask him how the 200 Euro thing would work out: Would I get them back once I paid the commission? Would they deduct the value from it? He replied that it would get deducted from the deposit that I would later pay the owner. I proceeded to ask him politely if he wouldn't mind signing the receipt, which he concurred, and then I noticed a detail that caught my eye: Instead of just signing and shutting me up (like I'm guessing most con artists would do) he first filled in the missing written value (two hundred Euro) and only then signed the paper. I saw some residual piece of truth somewhere during that moment. He then mentioned that his colleague, Mr. J1, was arriving shortly with an English contract that I could take a look and that I needed a copy of my Id. It was the cue I was waiting for. I said that it would be nice to have also a copy of his Id. His face froze. He was speechless for a while but immediately tried to excuse himself from it, as I kept pushing and pushing to get one of his identification documents out of him. He finally agreed to give me his driver's license and me and Luis took off to copy both. Finally some sense of security, as small as it was.   After an eventless run to the copy store, we came back to the apartment. Mr. J1 arrived shortly after and it was a bit relieving to see him, as I had already interacted with him in my previous house searches. We started working on the contract, after reading it and correcting some minor inconsistencies, and agreed that I would pay the commission now and sign the contract later in the afternoon, with the owner present. As a trust symbol, most definitely after a conversation with Mr. S, while Luis and I were out for copies, he handed me his passport. We then went back to the store, to copy his passport, then to the bank, where I paid the commission to Mr. S (and got a receipt, signed this time) and, after some babbling on his part, got back the 200 Euro of the deposit, ripping that first receipt to shreds, obviously. And there I was: Commission paid and a 16 o'clock appointment at a hotel which, according to them, was also the property of the owner of the apartment. I was as restless as the night before; I had just paid 1000 Euro to these guys and all I had were some document copies (documents that could be fake), a passport (which could also be a fake), a license plate, some addresses, and some phone numbers. Needless to say I was not OK.   (to be continued...)

Story of a house - part 1

It was a Sunday morning like many others. Cars driving on the street outside, birds being fried on the power lines, old women tripping, falling, and breaking their coccises. A normal morning.

Maybe it was the thought of getting done with my latest job assignment - and the associated prospect of getting some more money in the bank - or maybe I was just not in the mood to stay in bed, but I got up and started working hard, like I had not done in a while, at least not on a weekend day.

After three Nutella sandwiches and my daily Centrum pill, around 14.00, I received an email from a housing agency I had contacted just one hour before, telling me some details about that apartment. My face remained quiet and rested, as I replied to another among the millions of housing emails exchanged over the last 5 months. Five minutes later, another email, another reply. And ten minutes after that, once again the same. Work went by fine, a lot was accomplished that morning.

In the meantime my host awoke. We agreed to postpone lunch to a concept we made up on the site, which we called snunch, or lunchack - a combination of lunch and an afternoon snack. Around 18.45 another email, this one mentioning the words "visit to the apartment" for the first time. I was dazzled. Visits on a Sunday? Wow. I agreed to visit at around 19.45, one hour after the email.

Arriving at the site I could not believe my eyes. Damn, an apartment at Leidseplein - almost the heart of Amsterdam - this is crazy! After freezing a bit out in the cold, a couple shows up; they were also there to see the apartment. Damn - I thought - this can't be good. I just hope I was the first to reply. The agency guy shows up at last, riding a great looking motorcycle (gotta love them ;)) and we started the visit.

The apartment was somewhere in between my first and my second apartments in the Netherlands: Bigger than a studio, smaller than most one bedroom apartments. Still, it felt cozy and big enough for me. Plus, it had a garden, how cool is that? As soon as I got back to the agency guy I told him I thought it was excellent and that I was definitely interested. This triggered some kind of tribal response on the, so far inert, couple that was still discussing something I could not quite figure out what (have to learn Dutch, I know). Looking at the weird expression on my face, the agency guy promptly translated what they said to be something like "we are going to decide if we are interested, we will be back in 30 minutes". I thought to myself "what?" and, as they left, I continued to press the agency guy with the idea that I was really interested. At some point he basically gave up on the couple and told me to drop by the agency the day after. Case closed.

So the short story is: I have found a house, on a Sunday at the end of the afternoon, after 4 months looking for one during the day, every weekday. Plus I found it on my lucky day number, 13. How's that for fate?