The Netherlands: A dam good place to live

The Dutch capital attracts Brits with a love of partying and a nose for investing, says Graham Norwood
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The Independent Online

In the scale of what's cool and what's not, the city of Amsterdam is sub-zero - and that applies to its flats and houses, too.

The capital of the Netherlands has been voted Europe's most fun place to live by viewers of MTV. Its 1,280 bridges and small 730,000 population make it easy to get around but it's the ultimate party place too with more than 600 nightspots - some of which house 3,000 revellers at a time - not to mention 1,400 coffee shops and that red light zone.

"There are plenty of British buyers already but we always like more," says Martjin Peters of A&P estate agency. "A lot are expats who've rented for a year or two and like the lifestyle. They often have jobs in Utrecht , 30 minutes away by car, but love Amsterdam nightlife so they buy a place here and have an easy commute," Peters adds.

One example is Gregory Mason, 27, who has sold a flat in Camden, north London to buy a house in the bohemian Amsterdam suburb of Jordaan, where he runs an IT consultancy.

"It's no contest. The city's as good as London for culture, clubs and work but it's 50 to 75 per cent of the price and it's more metropolitan. Most of all, it's more relaxed," he says.

Estate agents say the British may be party animals but they're shrewd buyers too. "They look at a home as an investment. They know they must buy in a good location and if they've sold in Britain where prices are high, they can often buy premium properties," according to Paul de Yong of another Amsterdam agency, Broersma.

The Netherlands is proof that booming housing markets can enjoy soft landings. Up to 2001 Amsterdam in particular saw some of Europe's largest property price rises - up 10 per cent each year from 1990, fuelled by low interest rates and a move towards owner-occupation in a country where most homes used to be rented. But then came September 11 and since then price rises have slowed as the Dutch economy has weakened. Now the housing market is static with a few price drops.

Now, a large three-bedroom loft in a converted newspaper office at Nieuwezijds in central Amsterdam is €775,000 (£529, 872) from Broersma ( www.broersma.nl or 0031 20 305 9777). The same agent is selling a house in the central Leidesegracht for €995,000 (£680,343).

More economical, but still central, is a small apartment at Binnen Oranjestraat for €399,000 (£272, 599) while a tiny studio at Zieseniskade is just €199,000 (£135,943) - both from A&P, 0031 20 330 0468. Amsterdam can offer a chic setting even if the property itself is not so glamorous - A&P is selling a one-bedroom apartment in a modern block at Esmoreistraate for €155,000 (£105,886) but it overlooks a canal and park.

The system of buying a home in the Netherlands differs fundamentally from the UK. Many sales are "KK" or Kosten Koper - that is, the buyer pays all costs. These usually include 2.5 to 3 per cent of purchase price in estate agency fees and up to 6 per cent in stamp duty. But most estate agents (or makelaar) are multilingual and almost 90 per cent are in a professional body, so redress is easy if something goes wrong. Over two thirds of all homes for sale in Amsterdam are advertised on www.funda.nl.

It is straightforward to get a mortgage in Amsterdam - Dutch law obliges lenders to treat all EU citizens equally with locals - but you need at least a 20 per cent deposit. Buy to let mortgages are available too, although the vagaries of the rentals market prevents Amsterdam being fertile ground for landlords.

"A property that was renting out to expat corporate tenants for €2,500 a month about three years ago, would probably be €2,000 a month now. But many firms no longer pay a high allowance for renting. Therefore, if a landlord buys an expensive property he relies on the expat paying personally as well as using the allowance" cautions Peters. Of course, ultra-cool buyers don't look for a flat or house at all and instead search for one of the 2,500 houseboats lining the canals. Buying one isn't easy: only 200 or so go on sale annually and most are sold privately rather than through agents.

If you have €215,000 (£146,859) you can buy Pablo, moored at Lijnbaansgracht on Jordaan canal ( jez@comcast.net or 001 310 413 0307). It's just been refurbished by music manager David Shorey, who lived on it for two years with his partner and a Bulgarian rock band.

"One feels the wind blow and the gentle surge when big ships go by a few canals over. No one is above or below you. Each time one steps outside it's like stepping out of nature, right into the middle of the Jordaan," he says.

How very Amsterdam - and how very, very cool.

Hot spots

* Centre: the city's prime area with four- or five-storey canalside houses costing £1m.

* Jordaan: a working-class neighbourhood of small houses, gentrified in recent years.

* Eastern Docklands: largely derelict until the late 1980s. Now 10,000 new homes exist in zones inter-connected by bridges.

* Oud Zuid: the Hampstead of Amsterdam - traditional large Dutch house styles predominate.

* Amstelveen: south of city suburb with prices up to £750,000. Plenty of parks and top shops.

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