House-hunting in Leuven was quite an experience! We went out with our realtor for 2 consecutive afternoons trying to find a place. The short version: success!!!
If you’re interested in the longer version, stay tuned. The first day, we toured unfurnished apartments (and one great townhouse). Our intention was to rent furniture for the duration of our stay. And buy light fixtures for the ceilings. Fun fact: light fixtures do not stay with the apartments unless they are rented out as fully furnished. They just have wires sticking out of the ceiling or sometimes a bulb is stuck on the ceiling with no fixture around it.
Todd and I decided that the first place and the last place we toured were our favorites from that day. The first place was on the 7th floor of an apartment building, which is pretty unusual. Most of the buildings are shorter than that, as you can see from my photo of the view down from the balcony of that one:
I liked the wood floors there, but there was no dryer, and the small shower stall would have required us to use a shower curtain. I kept envisioning it sticking to my legs if I were trying to wash my hair… (It’s okay if you think I’m crazy. I’m pretty sure Todd thinks so, too). The other challenge is that the third bedroom was tiny to the point of being about the same square footage as my walk-in closet, but long and narrow instead of wide enough for more furniture than a desk. The location was fantastic as it was close to the center of town. It was an older apartment, but I really enjoyed the warm coziness of the wood floors and the brick-tile backsplash in the kitchen. If you care to view it, you can click the link here. I can’t save any of the photos from the web site and I didn’t take any of my own.
We then went to tour 1 listing and saw 3 instead. We referred to these as 2A, 2B, and 2C. I cared a lot less for these as they were either brand new or majorly renovated and everything was white. The walls were white and so were the large tiles in every room. They were also incredibly loud. I’m sure furniture would help with that, but two kids in the space would NOT help with that. All 3 of these options were on the same block, two were in adjacent buildings. The “fun” part on these was that they overlooked the prison yards across the street. That would have made for some interesting people-watching (and probably homeschool discussions on laws, as well), but I couldn’t get past the white tile…
The next place we viewed had darker tile floors. It had a nice balcony area, but the floors were too dark for me and the kitchen felt a little too close for me. Dark woods, black appliances, and dark floors just felt a little depressing. And then there were the bedrooms. The rooms themselves were all a good size, but they had a fun architectural feature. All of the bedrooms had vaulted ceilings, so the wall on the outside was standard height, but the wall along the hallway went all the way up to follow the roof line. At the top of those interior walls, each bedroom has a window. When you walked into the hallway, there were windows on both sides of the very high walls – the windows into the bedrooms and the windows to the outside. The idea was to let in more natural light into the bedrooms, but the challenge is there’s no way to block that light in the mornings.
The last place we viewed that day was a townhouse. I’m going to try to explain this one, but it’s hard to put into words. It, too, had a ton of white tile, but the bathroom set-ups were glorious and it had a warmer feel to it. I think maybe I just prefer “existing” to “new,” but I already knew this about myself. This one, you enter at street level and immediately walk upstairs. There’s another tenant on the ground floor. The bedrooms are on the lower floor. They all look out with large windows into a tiny (6’x6′) patio area. So you can look in on each other… It was kind of funny. Two of the bedrooms had full bathrooms inside and the third bedroom had a sink. The upper floor was the living space, which was wide open to include both the kitchen and the living room. The challenges with this one were that the laundry area was all the way in the basement (translation: carry laundry up/down 3 flights of stairs for every load). It was a great option for hosting guests, though, because of the way the bedrooms had connected bathrooms.
On the second day, we toured 2 furnished apartments and one unfurnished house.
The first place we visited was furnished. It has more modern furniture than we’d choose ourselves, but when they say “furnished,” they mean that even the kitchen drawers are stocked, so we have plates, cups, silverware, and cooking utensils. And light fixtures. It has wood floors, a great kitchen floor plan, a microwave, and a large (by European standards) refrigerator. Then we discovered an entirely separate fridge in another room hidden in a closet! Todd and I stepped out of the sliding doors in the living room to see what we could see from the deck. IT OVERLOOKS THE LIBRARY NEXT DOOR!!! As Todd said, “we’re done here, aren’t we?” Why yes, yes we are. Winner, winner, chicken dinner!!! It does have some interesting quirks: the master bathroom has a bath/shower and a sink. Notice what’s missing? The WC is down the hall. And that same master bathroom also has no door. Here’s the link if you’d like to check out the space – note that the windows of the building you see (in pics where you’re looking at the deck) are the windows of the Library building. We are also about 1 1/2 blocks from the rear of St. Peter’s Church, which shares a square with the historic Town Hall at the heart of town. It is mere steps from several places to eat or drink, numerous bookstores, and only a couple of blocks from grocery stores.
The second place we toured was too dated for us. And the third had five bedrooms and a million floors, so it was far more space than we’d have filled.
Our current expectation is for Todd to take the car to work most days. The kids and I will get around via bicycle or by foot. I’ll have to do another post about the bike routes there. It’s awe-inspiring for someone who lives in Austin where the cyclists are so plentiful.
So if you stuck with me to the end, here are some things that are different from looking for housing in the U.S.:
1. The light fixture thing. The kitchen appliances stay with the space, but the light fixtures don’t. Todd and I both found that fascinating.
2. Listings are only made with one agent. In the U.S., once a place is listed, basically any realtor can show it to you. In Belgium, however, the other realtor must meet you there to provide the key. They don’t do lockboxes on doors.
3. All of the places we visited had tons of huge windows to let in all the natural light they could manage.
4. We had to confirm that each of the places we toured included a parking space because parking is quite different. Depending on where you park, you either need to pay to park via app/text from your phone (which doesn’t seem to work if you use a U.S. number) or you have a little card you place on your dashboard to note what time you parked. In some places, there are sensors under the cars and you’re only allotted up to 45 minutes to leave your car there before you are cited. So a parking space is a handy feature.
5. One of the reasons for the huge windows is because that is how they load and unload the furniture! The lifts in the buildings are very small. Most have a capacity for up to 4 (non-large) people. In order to furnish the apartments, the movers will bring an elevator that attaches to the outside of the building and will then load/unload the furnishings through the windows or the sliding glass doors on the balconies. As I think through that process, it seems like it would be much easier for the movers than negotiating hallways with furniture.