We all know someone who wound up in Copenhagen for a random reason. Sometimes it’s love, sometimes work and sometimes it’s just because this is where their van broke down. Many don’t mean to stay, but nevertheless, ten years later they’re still here without a word of Danish, still living out of a rucksack with their phone on a pay-as-you-go plan.
Fortunately, there was nothing random about our move. We arrived with the intention, barring a very unexpected event, of being here for a number of years. It is a really good starting point – no ‘should I stay or should I go’, no agonising over whether the grass is greener here or there, just grim determination that we will grow where we are planted.
And so it came to pass that, as arrangements for our first year of accommodation came to an end, we decided to buy our own place. Yes, we bought a house. People are still surprised when we tell them, but we wanted somewhere nice to live. We’ve served our time in rentals and didn’t want to be absentee landlords in Scotland. So we sold up and moved on. It was going to be eye-wateringly expensive, but cheaper than if we’d moved to London – it seemed like a no-brainer.
However, according to Henrik Skov Nielsen, the head of international clients at Danske Bank, buying is not always a bright idea. It all depends on how long you intend to stay. If there’s a possibility that you’ll have to sell up quick, you run the risk that the market might not be the way you want it to be, and as a foreigner you are not allowed to rent out property you have bought until you have had it for five years. We didn’t ask Nielsen before we bought, so luckily we didn’t think of any of that sensible stuff.
The other thing Nielsen would have told us, if we’d asked him, is “Don’t fall in love until you’ve been to the bank.” Apparently, many are the hapless expats who fall hard for a property only to discover it is out of their financial grasp. I myself was lovelorn at one point over a pink row house. We could never have afforded it, but it didn’t stop me wandering past, stroking the windowsills and sighing.
Soon enough, we did get financial advice, and after a meeting in which our (wonderful) bank lady asked baffling questions about how much we spend on this and that, we came up with a price range and a plan.
There’d been enough dreaming and drooling over copies of ‘25 Beautiful Homes’, my real estate porn as I like to call it. It was time to hit the estate agents. This next step comes as a bit of a shock if you are not Danish and a big shock if you are North American, like my husband. This is because North Americans understandably expect estate agents to at least pretend they want to sell them real estate. They might as well believe in fairies. Most Danish estate agents seemed intent on acting disinterested. That’s a crucial difference from the US – they don’t work for you, they are paid entirely by the seller.
Open viewings are mostly on Sundays and last just 15 minutes. If you aren’t on time, the estate agent will leave. We were doing viewings by bicycle and that, combined with all the stairs and the tight timing, turned our Sundays into a kind of home-hunting Olympics. We would skid in, a second to spare, and jog round. Everywhere we found the same pendant lights, the same square black candlestick with a candle in each corner and the same white, high-gloss kitchen. Very occasionally something amusing came up, like the guy who had painted a replica of the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel on the ceiling of a very small living room.
In the end, we learnt the tricks – study the websites (home.dk is a good place to start), find out how much the property was bought for (boliga.dk) and get a nice lawyer who will do the price negotiation for you. The latter is a painful process in which everyone tries to beat each other down or up. It’s best left to professionals.
We also found our soul estate agent Kevin (if you can have a soul mate, you can have a soul estate agent). One morning he called us about a house that hadn’t even gone on the market yet. “It’s your house,” he said, and he was right. We are of course completely broke now, but no matter how homesick I might feel on occasion, we now own a tiny piece of Denmark to grow roots in.