Downturn Stalls Sales as Amsterdam’s Island Oasis Matures

22 Nov

AMSTERDAM — Toys and children’s bikes are usually strewn along the streets of IJburg, proof that families have flocked to the neighborhood being built on islands of dredged sand in the IJ, a lake southeast of the city center.

Two of the three planned islands are finished, and construction is to start on the third, Centrumeiland, or Central Island, in 2017.

“We have to carry on developing IJburg, not for tomorrow’s demand, but for the demand that will arise the day after tomorrow,” said Maarten van Poelgeest, Amsterdam’s alderman for planning. He noted that the city’s population had risen to 790,000, up from 743,000 five years ago.

(The name of the lake and the neighborhood are drawn from the Dutch letter rendered as “IJ.”)

Linda Vosjan and her partner have been living in IJburg since June 2003. They now have two daughters, ages 7 and 9. “IJburg has so many other children for them to play with,” said Ms. Vosjan, 43. “That’s such a great advantage.”

Of the 6,010 households in IJburg, 3,060 — or slightly more than 50 percent — are families with children, according to data from CBS, the Dutch bureau for statistics. The proportion for Amsterdam as a whole is 24 percent.

“I think one’s neighbors are very important,” Ms. Vosjan said as she sat in her living room, which was decorated with party garlands from her recent birthday. She said she enjoyed the many canals that had been dug through the neighborhood, and she sometimes uses a kayak to get around.

The house itself is not so much beautiful as it is comfortable and efficient, she said. “And it’s mainly built of brick, which means it hardly needs maintenance,” she added. Most of the houses have contemporary styling, with flat roofs, and are built of brown or red-brown brick. Along Ms. Vosjan’s street, most have garages.

She paid around €300,000, or $384,700, for the family’s four-bedroom house, then added a room on top of the second floor.

This month is the 10th anniversary of the completion of IJburg’s first houses, and a lot has changed since then. The lingering effects of the global economic decline has made it difficult for owners to resell their houses, and stalled some plans for the purchase of larger homes.

At least 420 of IJburg’s more than 3,000 owner-occupied houses, or 13 percent, are now for sale, compared with 8 percent of such houses for the whole city.

Toine Heijmans, 43, has not been able to sell his four-bedroom house on Haveneiland, one of the neighborhood’s islands. It has been on the market for 11 months, and he never expected to have such a hard time selling when his family bought it eight years ago.

“Back then,” he said, “we were receiving notes in the mailbox from people who had walked by” and wanted to buy the house.

“We bought the empty building for €350,000 and a few years later it was worth €650,000,” Mr. Heijmans said. Now the 170-square-meter, or 1,937-square-foot, house, which has a south-facing garden, is listed at €499,000.

The average sale price per square meter in IJburg is €2,765, according to a quarterly report from the real estate agency Gerard W. Bakker. The average in Amsterdam as a whole is €3,239.

Mr. Heijmans said he was in no hurry to sell because he and his family enjoyed living in IJburg. “I would like to live directly by the water,” he said. “But we are not buying a new house before selling the old one.”

That situation — owners unable to sell and delaying new purchases — is one factor prolonging the slump in the Dutch housing market, said Steven van der Weijden, an agent with Hallie en Van Klooster, a real estate agency with offices on IJburg’s central street.

Consumers also lack trust, he said. “The bad news from countries like Spain and Greece didn’t help trust, and neither did the collapse of the Dutch government in April,” Mr. Van der Weijden said. “Many of our customers say: ‘I’ll wait until we have a new government.”’

A coalition government was sworn in Nov. 5. But Prime Minister Mark Rutte said recently that a tax benefit allowing homeowners to deduct mortgage interest, which had encouraged some to buy more expensive homes than they might have done otherwise, would be slowly reduced in coming years.

The effects of a mini baby boom are also complicating the housing market in IJburg, Mr. Van der Weijden said. “Many residents here bought their house in more or less the same phase of their lives,” he said. “Now that they are having one or several children, they all want to move to a bigger house at the same time.”

And many of them, like Dylan Joziasse, want to stay in IJburg.

Mr. Joziasse, 37, is one of the two owners of N.A.P., a restaurant and bar overlooking IJburg’s sailboat-filled harbor. He is renting an apartment in the area, and now hopes to buy a house. “I love the elements on the island. The wind blows harder here, but when the weather is good, it’s nicer here too,” he said.

For residents who treasure IJburg’s exposure to nature, the neighborhood is something of an undervalued oasis. But a complaint from Amsterdam residents is that IJburg is too remote, Mr. Van der Weijden said. By bicycle, one of the city’s most common transportation methods, it takes a half hour to 40 minutes to get from IJburg to the city center.

“But once people have moved to IJburg, they don’t want to leave,” Mr. Van der Weijden said. “There’s water everywhere, it’s green and the houses are spacious.”

Gepubliceerd op de website van de New York Times op donderdag 22 november 2012 en in de International Herald Tribune op vrijdag 23 november 2012

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