Friday 21 February 2020

Full service: when a serviced apartment fits the bill

When I landed in the Netherlands 10 years ago, it was a surprisingly soft landing. Pregnant and disorientated, I was very grateful for the comfortable beds and cosy, white bedding in a swish block of serviced apartments.

A decade later, this building in Amsterdam Zuid still feels perfectly cool, modern and inviting and Corporate Housing Factory is now a locally-managed company with more than 200 serviced apartments in seven locations.

From the new and super-sustainable Hoge Duin in The Hague – just open – to New Amsterdam where I once stayed, there’s nothing anonymously ‘corporate’ about these streamlined, short-stay homes. From business travellers on a short Dutch secondment to families looking to settle, the serviced apartments in Amsterdam, The Hague, Rotterdam and Eindhoven offer a comfortable, convenient and cost-efficient base for newbies in the Netherlands.

‘We get a lot of nice emails from guests saying they will always remember their short period in Holland,’ says Eva Valkhoff, marketing and communication manager. ‘We are a small company, and they like the personal service, especially the meet and greet, where we show the apartment, make recommendations and answer any questions they have.

‘All our communication is in English, we have a service desk of people ready to help 24/7 with a lot of local knowledge, and close connections with third parties such as expat centres.’

Serviced apartments are available to rent from a week to six months.The typical guest is a business traveller, on a short-term assignment, but the Corporate Housing Factory also sees increasing numbers of families starting off at a serviced apartment before moving to a permanent home, and ever younger workers who prefer an apartment to a hotel.

‘You get a lot more space here, the rates are in the end often cheaper and all our properties are really centrally located and close to big transport hubs,’ says Valkhoff. ‘We have designer furniture and everything from Quooker taps to HEOS home entertainment systems, but you still get the perks of a hotel, the weekly cleaning, linen change and in a lot of properties, a health club with a gym, swimming pool and personal check in.’

Walking into a one-bedroom apartment in New Amsterdam today – past a manned reception – the aesthetic is clean, neutral and unfussy. This isn’t a place where you’ll wrestle to find a space with scores of unnecessary cushions or pointless bric-a-brac. But if you want to find a good knife or relax after a long day, all the facilities are waiting for you.

The 30 members of staff at the Corporate Housing Factory have a key role to play, by ‘test sleeping’ in every building.

‘When new properties open, we have proefslapen,’ says Valkhoff. ‘We check everything. With a new apartment there are always little things – like the showers need to be flushed otherwise the building dust gets into the drains, or we notice little things like there’s a pair of scissors missing. One of my directors just stayed in one and said we need better tea cups! Things like that.’

The company helps provide a smooth arrival, from arranging airport pick ups to welcome packages with wine and stroopwafel biscuits – if a company requires this – and it can also help guests find information on subjects from neighbourhood amenities to the nearest bank.

‘People ask about international schools, and we sometimes recommend looking at The Hague even if someone is working in Amsterdam,’ says Valkhoff. ‘People often don’t realise the Hague is actually very close as the distances they are used to are so much bigger than in Holland.’

The company is expanding steadily, responding to a demand for internationals and English speakers, she adds. ‘A few years ago you might not easily have found a job as an English-speaking person whose Dutch wasn’t perfect, but now a lot of companies have English speaking vacancies and they don’t care so much if you speak Dutch or not. But people do face language barriers, and we can help with that.’

One thing you’ll have to do your own research on, however, is on who might be living in a Corporate Housing Factory building with you. Valkhoff is the soul of discretion, but whispers: ‘There are a few Dutch celebrities!’

Five top tips from the Corporate Housing Factory on how to have a soft landing in the Netherlands:

  1. Stay in a serviced apartment!
  2. Go to your city’s expat centre
  3. Get a bicycle
  4. Learn some basic Dutch words
  5. Download essential Dutch apps (such as OV9292, Appie and Buienradar for travel, grocery shopping and the weather)!

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