Ruben Feenstra (39) grew up in the Zuidas area. When he was young he spent a lot of time playing tennis on the courts that made way for the current offices and apartments. These days he helps expats find suitable housing and he advises various parties on the kind of living space expats are looking for. After fifteen years in this business he’s become quite an expert.
“This area means a lot to me as it’s been my playground for such a long time”, Ruben says. “You could find me on the tennis courts here every day as I played top-level tennis from age 10 to 21. So you can imagine this place is full of nostalgia for me.”
When he was twenty-three, Feenstra called time on his tennis career and started working for Rotsvast Amstelveen, a real-estate agency specialized in long-term rentals to expats. Six years ago, Feenstra and his business partner Ewoud Cossee took over Rotsvast Amsterdam-Zuid and Amsterdam-Centrum.
Budget for housing
Rotsvast rents apartments and houses to expats looking to stay here for a period of one to five years. “Not too long ago expats would stay for five to seven years, but companies are rotating staff quicker between countries. What used to be one period of five years has now been cut into two sections of 2.5 years.”
When he was twenty-three Ruben Feenstra started renting apartments to expats
Another big chance is the other party he is dealing with. “Fifteen years ago, our clients were mainly multinationals looking for living space for their employees. These days the rental market is much more transparent due to websites such as Pararius. It is more and more common for employees to arrange their own housing using a budget allocated by their company. On the other hand we do a lot of advisory work for home owners wanting to rent out their property and for investment companies building apartment blocks.”
Advising property investors
Ruben likes his advisory role. “In this market an investor or developer needs to offer a competitive product. This means we can work with nicer rental properties that are better tailored to the needs of the market. And that makes our job more dynamic and fun.”
He talks to other parties about development and lay-out of a property or an apartment block, what kind of services should be offered and what people expect for their money in a particular area. “We love working together with leading property investors. For example, we’re involved in 50 high-end design apartments at various A-locations in town belonging to investment company Prowinko.”
“We also participate in the De Terrassen complex in Amstelveen, a new development with 134 luxury apartments owned by the RJB Group. De Terrassen is tailored to expats and will open in July this year. We manage the whole rental process of these projects together with Eefje Voogd Makelaardij. We’re really happy working with them. We complement each other and it’s a fun clash of company cultures.”
The building management department of Rotsvast is going to take care of all services for De Terrassen. “That involves the entire daily management of this complex but we’ll also be the point of contact for other property owners. At the moment, we have three people working full-time to manage services for around 300 apartments. Sometimes we are asked to fix a vacuum cleaner that doesn’t work because the bag is full or we get a call in the weekend urging us to please come over and explain how the dishwasher works”, Ruben says with a smile.
After fifteen years in this line of business, Ruben knows what expats want. There is not a big difference between expats and locals but there are a few cultural things to take into account. “Japanese people want a bathtub in their house; they won’t even look at a property that doesn’t have one. Indian and American expats are genuinely surprised that Dutch houses have so few bathrooms and toilets. The Japanese want a rice cooker, Indian expats need a powerful blender to make curry.”
‘Japanese people won’t even look at a property that doesn’t have a bathtub’
Another big difference are the housing prices. Generally, housing for expats is more expensive although the difference is getting smaller. “The apartments of the new projects we work on are in principle available for everybody. We see more and more often that Dutch young professionals are willing to pay 1,800 euros for 60 sq.m2 (645 sq.ft) if this means they get a nice apartment in a good location. Whereas ten years ago, only expats would pay these prices.”
Ruben sees a bright future for ‘his’ Zuidas. “You can see the dynamic changing. In the early days there was not much to do here and at night it was pretty dead. But now there is a good mixture of different functions, which makes the whole area much more vibrant.”
When it comes to the appeal the area has for expats, Ruben doesn’t worry at all. “I’ve rarely spoken to a client who didn’t like it here. The living conditions are great. Dutch people are open-minded and they all speak English. The quality of living is high: there are lots of green spaces and excellent facilities. Housing in Amsterdam is relatively affordable, even though the perception among locals is that real estate prices have gone through the roof given the 50% increase in the last six years. But there are at least 30 thirty cities worldwide that are more expensive than Amsterdam. An Australian banker who has lived in cities all over the world recently said to me: ‘For the quality of your city, your prices are a joke’.’’
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