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How to Survive Renovating Your Home in the Netherlands

Pirates and merchants. That’s the phrase one expat uses to describe Dutch builders or any related service provider. You know the type of issue – ridiculously high quotes, shoddy work or unreliable service. Or all three. Since last July I have to say I have come to understand this point of view.

How To Survive Renovating Your Home in the Netherlands

Do Your Homework: aka Find the Right People for the Job

At the end of July last year we got the keys to our new house on the other side of the Netherlands. In the months leading up to moving day we were busy behind the scenes getting quotes and possible suppliers for a number of building and renovation jobs and services.

We knew we were in for a bit of a building project and needed to hit the ground running so we tried to line up the likes of a builder, a stone floor specialist, insulation company, a kitchen company, a bathroom specialist, new windows – that sort of thing. The list was long and the preparation work was exhausting.

And we were trying to line up jobs to be done in the east of the Netherlands from the west of the country. Now you would think, small country – how hard could that be?

Turns out any chain you speak to are actually franchises with no co-ordination with other branches elsewhere in the country. Companies like Hornbach don’t work ‘nationally’ so our details were passed to a branch located in the east and to this day we are still waiting for them to contact us…….

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We found a kitchen we loved with a supplier in Zoetermeer – delivery and fitting was all possible in the east of the country, but it turns out with quite the price tag added.

The same kitchen supplied by a company in the east of the Netherlands was €5,000 cheaper.

Let that sink in.

Pirates and merchants.

We spoke to a couple of local builders. We had a couple of quotes for some of the jobs we needed doing as a priority. One builder’s calculator seemed to be stuck on €3000. It didn’t seem to matter what the job was, it would cost us €3000. Even jobs that in reality actually cost us a few hundreds euro.

Pirates and merchants.

Learn That Even with Homework and Quotes You Can Hire the Wrong Guys for the Job

And then there was the floor. The ground floor of our new house has a natural stone floor but it needed some TLC. It needed to be cleaned, re-grouted in places, polished and sealed. And we found a company to do it. Or so we thought. The job would take three days with two men – a father and son duo.

First alarm bell rang when the son sent the total bill by email a week or two before we got the keys to the house and before even contemplating starting work. He explained that he was being helpful as the bill could be sent to the bank for the bouwdepot.  We let it slide and did nothing further with the bill.

Day one the son showed up mid-morning alone with an array of equipment which he unloaded from his van and placed in our living room. He also handed over a hard copy of the bill. Before he did anything.

He eventually admitted that they actually hadn’t done most of what they had promised to do……..

He then went out into the garden for a smoke break. Quite a long smoke break. And then he came in and cleaned the living room floor. And then he cleaned it again. And again. In between cleaning rounds there were smoke and lunch breaks – you know ‘whilst the floor dries’. Mid afternoon he left saying he would be back the next day at 8.30am to clean the rest of the floor whilst his father did the grouting work in the living room.

10.30am the next morning the duo showed up. There were many more smoke breaks, a bit more cleaning and an unremarkable amount of grouting carried out in one room. And then mid afternoon they left, saying they were done and that they were off on holiday the next day.

There was what I can only describe as dried up mud on the floor in the hall and the toilet. The floor was dull and dirty looking instead of ‘looking like new’ as promised. Grouting had been removed from various parts of the floor – a result of the cleaning process – but not replaced and we discovered that the floor was as porous as it could be. No seal on the floor meant that everything that fell on the floor soaked in and left marks – which is what we discovered when someone carried something oily and dripping to the outside bin.

The son emailed on return from his holiday about the unpaid bill. He eventually admitted that they actually hadn’t done most of what they had promised to do but that they planned to come back and do it. But all our furniture was now in the house and the job was no longer feasible so he was told to sling his hook.

Pirates and merchants.

It May Take More Than One Try to Get a Job Done

Then we had an array of insulation companies trying to convince us we should hire them. It was a circus; one company promised the impossible, another left perfect holes in the brick work for the wasps to make nests in. The company we chose postponed the first appointment at the last minute but has now thankfully done the job.

Sometimes Half a Job is as Useful as a Chocolate Teapot

Replacing the windows was also fun.

At the beginning of October new windows and doors would be fitted. The day before the planned work we got to hear that whilst the frames were ready the glass was not. The kitchen windows had to be replaced so that the plastering could be done before the new kitchen was fitted. So the new frames went in and the existing glass went back into some parts and cardboard filled the rest. A month later most of the other windows and doors were fitted – for some reason one window remains to be done. We are now waiting for a glass polisher because some of the glass is scratched, but not scratched enough to be replaced. (Update as of October 2018 we are still waiting for said polisher to show up, even after multiple discussions and promises!)

Pirates and merchants.

Sometimes You Have to Do a Company’s Job For Them But They Still Want Paying

And then we have the kitchen. We chose a kitchen company in Lobith. It was all rainbows and unicorns with our chosen kitchen until it came to the delivery and fitting. The delivery date slid slightly and we only found out because our builder contacted the kitchen company so he could schedule the preparation work that needed to be done in the kitchen. Then we called the kitchen company with a question about a cooker and almost as a ‘by the way’ it was announced that the kitchen would be delivered to our house at the end of that week because the storage at their company was full  – but it wouldn’t be fitted until the following week.

We were still busy painting the kitchen and getting it ready so the kitchen could be placed. We were furious but there was no movement on the part of the kitchen company – to make matters worse the owner was rude and obnoxious, threatening with a delayed fitting of the kitchen if we didn’t co-operate.

It was all rainbows and unicorns with our chosen kitchen until it came to the delivery and fitting.

The long and short of it was that all decorating work in the kitchen and dining area was put on hold as our house was used as a storage unit.

Then the kitchen was fitted. For the most part. Our builder needed to do a few things and up until last week we had problems with some drawer fronts and as I type the tap is leaking.

Pirates and merchants.

Professionals Get it Wrong

And last but not least there was the radiator drama. The installation company has been a little erratic with turning up when stated. Lines were drilled into the dining room walls (as per the installation company boss’s instructions) for new radiator pipes one day, only to be redone the next day by another installation company worker. They had been drawn wrong.

The wrong size radiator was ordered for the new bathroom but the error was only discovered once the holes had been drilled in the BRAND NEW wall tiles. A new radiator would take a few weeks to arrive so I ordered a new one online which arrived the next day. The installation company fitted it. Sort of. They came back to secure it all properly after the builder intervened.

And the holes in the tiles? We could use those to maybe put towel hooks in suggested the bright spark at the installation company. Our builder sorted new tiles at the expense of the installation company.

Hiring a Fabulous Aannemer is the Solution

But there is a silver lining to this home renovation tale and that is our aannemer, our project overseer, builder, contractor and all-round klusjes guru. He’s a star and his work is fantastic. Without him I may have well ended up in a loony bin. The only issue is that he’s really busy (as are all good builders as the housing market has picked up) so things are not happening as quickly as we’d like. But we’re getting there!

5 Golden Tips for Surviving a Home Renovation in the Netherlands

How To Survive Renovating Your Home in the Netherlands: 5 Golden Tips | Turning Dutch Blog


7 thoughts on “How to Survive Renovating Your Home in the Netherlands”

  1. Been there, done that. How about a plumber who didn’t bother to look at the plans and fitted a new sewer pipe up the wall of the kitchen rather than inside the newly built wall cavity? But wait, it gets better… When he came back to re-do it he managed to run his chop saw through both the hot and cold water pipes (which he had installed earlier) and ended up flooding the new kitchen.
    “It’s life ,Jim, but not as we know it.”

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Hi Amanda, Would you be willing to share the name of your aannemer (aka your saving grace?) Was he local or does he work in the Amsterdam area? Sorry to read about all your challenges. Glad you are on your way with a good project leader! I am familiar with construction nightmares from projects in other countries! I am not surprised by your comments, but will likely embark on yet another project, this time in NL. I have the liquor cabinet stocked;) Cheers, Allison

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Good story! As an interior designer I have come across all of these situations. 5 Golden tips is a bit modest. Iin order of importance I would suggest the following:
    1. Prepare well. Get inspiration and local information on products as well as on installation, builder/handyman. The more information the better you’re prepared for what is coming.
    2. Express yourself! You may not have the time or capacity to explain in words the simplest ideas regarding technical matters, let alone on style or taste. And you can never be sure that the listener makes the right interpretation. An image can speak volumes. Collect as many as you can (and keep them on you all the time including your floor plan)!
    3. Work with a plan! Write everything out. Note down your plan, including things to avoid.This way the information endures and you will not get side tracked.
    4. Patience. This will prevent you from making costly mistakes and can save you a lot of money in the installation phase.So what if it takes longer.
    5. Create a budget (keep to yourself). It is unwise to start a project without having an estimate of the cost. Note that you will always overspend.
    6. Speak to builders, plumbers, carpenters, etc. And speak to locals, friends, relatives and colleagues. Do not chat online, but speak by phone or in person.
    7. The quick question. Overwhelmed by details and you may have a question or two gnawing at the back of the head. Make sure you address it Colombo style (euhhh, just one more thing…..).
    8. You can come across an overseer in the above process or keep interact with like-minded people to ventilate your project’s progress.
    9. Get quotes is important. To compare quotes is another thing. Double check that you have the right (amount of) work included.
    10. Ask about the planning, hours and needs of the people that work on your project and ensure that they work in a continuous flow.

    Any coffee will do! Good luck!

    Liked by 1 person

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