A year and a half ago, I moved from my one person apartment next to a student flat to a roomier apartment in a dullish suburb. I had high hopes: no loud parties, no hearing people move all the time, no “I have no idea who my neighbors are, as nobody ever introduces themselves anymore and they also keep moving all the time”, no “meeting your drunk and stoned neighbors for the first time at 3 am when asking them to please be quiet, as people need to work tomorrow”. I was ready for a new, quiet, life.
Not once did it cross my mind that these days, in the type of neighborhood I would be moving to, remodeling is a near constant process.
Apparently, the big advantage of living in a rent controlled, low income apartment amidst other rent controlled, low income apartments next to a student flat turns out to be that nobody ever remodels anything. Nobody. Sure, there’s the occasional nail being hammered into a wall, or IKEA closet being assembled when somebody moves in, but that’s it. People who are eligible for these rent controlled, low income apartments obviously don’t have money lying around. And if for whatever reason (upwards mobility, inheritance, winning the lottery) they do end up with a significant amount of cash, they’re just not going to spend that money on remodeling their rental. The housing coop also never remodels anything if they don’t have to. That B-stock kitchen from 1992? “Looks fine!” they say, as you show them the doors that don’t close properly and actually never have, ever. The “You should be thankful to have a roof over your head, you Brokey McBrokerson!” is implied. Not that they manage to keep that roof non-leaky, but that’s a whole ‘nother story. #SwimmingpoolInMyLivingroom2018And2019
Things are very different in the world of those with a considerable amount of money. In the last year and a half, hundreds of thousands of euros have been spent on needlessly remodeling already perfect apartments in my tiny 10 house street alone. How I know that they were perfect already? While I claim not to have hobbies, I actually do have one (1!) hobby: Funda. It’s the biggest real estate listing site of The Netherlands, for both rentals and houses for sale. #nospon So I know exactly what all those apartments that “really needed to be remodeled” after being bought looked like. They looked perfect, because they had already been remodeled before being put up for sale.
That’s another difference between the world of people who qualify for a rent controlled, low income apartment and the world of people with considerable amounts of money: in Low Income Land, “ready to move in” means that the apartment is not filthy, that there aren’t any holes in the wall and that the walls are white. In Considerable Amounts of Money Land however, “ready to move in” means “This apartment is ready to be featured in a luxury home magazine”. The floors, kitchens and bathrooms are of the kind I have never encountered in real life. I used to always wonder why we have so many stores selling floors, kitchens, and bathrooms in this country. “I mean, at some point everyone must have a floor, a kitchen, and a bathroom? How often do you replace those anyway?” Looking back, I can’t believe how naive I was.
Recently installed floors that have been walked on by 30 people at most and that could very well have lasted for 15 years, are ripped out and thrown into a dumpster. Brand new kitchens nobody has ever really cooked in get demolished three months after they were installed to be replaced by a new kitchen that looks exactly the same to me. Interestingly enough, the fancy new bathrooms don’t get replaced that often. I guess it’s because “replace a fancy new rain shower by a fancy new rain shower” is just too weird even for these remodel-loving high earners.
Having spent a sizeable part of my life in Low Income Land, I find that I don’t have much patience for this “Remodeling perfectly perfect apartments to suit my taste better”-thing. I can’t help but think it’s privileged bullshit, and that they, well, should be thankful to have a roof over their heads. And also, once you can spend 700.000 to 800.000 euros on an apartment (which with all extra costs rounds out to about a million dollars), I’m quite sure that you’ll be able to find a place that already completely suits your style from the just-remodeled apartments currently for sale. Especially considering they all look the same anyway.
I think the need to remodel recently remodeled apartments is just the human equivalent of marking your territory by peeing on the side of the couch. The fact that a significant number of the “to suit my taste”-remodelers move quite soon after the remodeling and styling of their “was already perfect to begin with, because recently remodeled”-apartment is done, to a new recently remodeled apartment that they then start remodeling again, is proof of this theory to me. “What do you care how their spend their own money?” you might say. And while it is true that it is their own money, I find this enormous waste of money positively disgusting, especially seeing that so many people live in abject poverty.
Apart from that, it’s also a huge waste of materials and natural resources. Even if it was a prerequisite for entering Considerable Amounts of Money Land that you had to rip out and replace brand new floors and kitchens, why aren’t these materials being reused? I mean, I’m quite sure lots of people renting from the housing coop would love to replace that B-stock kitchen from 1992 they’re now stuck with. I am also quite sure that there are loads of people who would love to replace their floors. I do see a couple of kitchens and floors available on Marktplaats (basically a cross between Craigslist and Ebay – Ed.), but in this neighborhood I’ve seen most of them end up in the dumpster. It’s probably less of a hassle than to find someone to donate or sell it to, and they don’t need the money anyway, I guess? But even if that were the case, why don’t they recycle their materials? As I write this, I realise that that might be because both the floors and the kitchens are made of non-recyclable mixed materials, and that throwing them in the dumpster is the only way to dispose of them. Which then begs the question why we are still mass producing these types of materials in 2021.
If you thought the trifecta of “enormous waste of money”, “huge waste of materials/natural resources”, and “environmental pollution” was already bad enough, there is an even bigger horror that comes with the constant remodeling: chronic noise disturbance. It starts with weeks and weeks of tearing, ripping, wrecking, and hammering. Then the apartment is put up for sale, and it’s quiet for a few weeks. As soon as the apartment is sold, the tearing, ripping, wrecking, and hammering resumes.
There are times at which they start a remodel on a new apartment while the “first” apartment is still being remodeled. As a neighbor you only find out about this when the noises don’t only come from the apartment on the left, but also from the one on the right. And sometimes also from the one on the other side of the street. If you’re unlucky, you’ll be suffering from continuous noise disturbance for 5 consecutive months. And not only does nobody ever announce these big remodel projects (because fuck your neighbors apparently), there is also hardly ever anyone able or willing to answer basic questions like “How long is this going to take?”, “At what time do the workers start?”, and especially “At what time do the workers leave?”. Which is really strange, as knowing what is happening makes the process more bearable.
Now you’re just stuck with the noise, and there’s nothing you can do about it. Despite google telling me that noise disturbance caused by remodeling in particular is a huge problem here in The Netherlands, there are no laws that anyone has to adhere to. Every city can write their own local laws, and the one in Amsterdam simply states that “you’re not allowed to cause a severe disturbance”. How do you quantify that? Right, you don’t.
Not only are you completely dependent on what the remodelers decide is “not a severe disturbance”, when you complain you also often get gaslighted into thinking it’s really not that bad and that you’re overly sensitive, and should “move to a shack in the woods, far from the city”. First of all, we don’t have shacks in woods here. Actually, we don’t even really have woods here at all. And second of all, we’re 17 million people on a stretch of land that is hardly 4 car hours long and 3 car hours wide: EVEN IF WE HAD FUCKING WOODS WITH SHACKS IN THEM, THEY WOULD BE EXPENSIVE AND I’M QUITE SURE THERE WOULD BE SOMEONE BUSY REMODELING THEM. Sorry for yelling.
The other “advice” people like to give is to buy a detached home. That’s cute and all, but anyone living here knows that there’s exceptionally few of them (because again: tiny country, lots of people) and unless you’re a career criminal, an investment company, or a Boomer who profited from the housing boom, there’s no way you can afford one. Awesome.
As for now, things have quieted down again on my street: all the apartments have been remodeled, sold, and remodeled again. I’m just going to enjoy the peace and quiet until the whole damn cycle starts back up again.4