I must preface by explaining that I adore HGTV’s show, House Hunters International. Although I typically do not consider myself to be much of a romantic or even sentimental person, while watching this particular show I sometimes feel my heart physically ache as the scenes unfold amongst quaint cottages, beautiful landscapes, and exotic cultures. Upon second thought, I suppose my love for House Hunters International should be of no surprise really, considering that it encapsulates two of my greatest passions: travel and houses. Oh, and also nosiness regarding other people’s choices and lifestyles ;).
Anyway, when I learned my family would be moving to Denmark, immediately I began perusing Danish real estate and in my mind I couldn’t help but imagine the house we might live in: a charming thatched roof cottage by the sea? A paragon of modern Danish design melded with American comfort and practicality?
Enter “perfect’ house no. #1: Old Farmhouse in the Country
Even thinking about this house now, weeks later, I long for it in a way that only a young American woman can long for a quintessentially quaint, thatched roof cottage from the 1800s. However, upon visiting said cottage, John and I soon realized an immediate downside: it was in the middle of nowhere. We would have no neighbors to associate with, no neighborhood kids for our children to run around with. Also problematic were the low ceilings in the old part of the house. (John claims they were exactly 6’1” tall because that is how tall he is and his hair was literally brushing the beams.) The kitchen was small, the ancient oil-burning furnace was scary, but I was in love! This place came furnished which is awesome for us coming with no furniture or anything at all for a house. As we continued our tour of the farmhouse, things just kept being better. The owner is a friendly, older woman who spends most of her time in France. She told us that the rental price (which was below budget) would include a tiny attached flat which was currently being let, but whose tenants would be leaving in September. We would have a perfect place for guests! Last, the owner took us to see the barn, which was huge, and FULL of piles of gorgeous antiques and heaps of splendid furniture and home decor. The owner explained that she used to own a much bigger house so she was storing her extra stuff here, but I was welcome to go through it and use whatever I wanted in the house. What? Did I hear that right?!?! For a house-loving, HGTV-watching person such as I, this was like a fairy tale! I got into the car with John after our visit and started gushing about how much I loved the place. He immediately began hemming and hawing about the isolated location, the random other tenants that would be there for a month or two, the ancient boiler, the absentee landlord and how he would probably end up having to work on all the ancient pipes and heating systems, the need for two cars, blah blah blah. Most of all he was unhappy about the low ceilings and how if he even so much as walked with a bounce in his step he would bang his head on the rafters. I considered my husband’s bumped head a small price to pay for such charm. Besides, I liked the low ceilings as they made me feel tall (I am 5’3”) . “And what about the barn full of treasures!?” I challenged, thinking there could be no rebuttal for such amazing-ness. “What, you mean her hoard?” was John’s response. So evidently there was a rebuttal for such amazing-ness.
Anyway, we never quite crossed the farmhouse off the list, but the decision was made for us when we didn’t act quickly enough and it was rented out to a “nice Scottish gentlemen.” Boo hoo! I would have probably gone ahead and rented this one, but as they say, compromise is the key to a happy marriage…
“Perfect” Option #2: Modern Luxury
This one we never even got a chance to see! We had stalked it out online before our visit, but it was rented two days before we arrived for our house-hunting visit. Would have been ideal inside and out. Very spacious by Danish standards: 188 m2 or just over 2000 square feet. Four bedrooms and three living areas. Modern, fancy (to me) kitchen. A fireplace, two full bathrooms, including one with a separate shower and large soaking tub (I did not realize at the time how uncommon it is here to have a bathtub). And on top of it all, a big peaked wall of windows with a view of the fjord! It was over budget but so what? I still wanted it—perfection in all its glory:
So the reality of house hunting in the Ringkøbing–Skjern Kommune of Denmark resembled little of my HouseHunters-International dreams. We discovered tons of incredible and even well-priced properties for sale, but few for rent. Most of the houses we looked at had at least one rather extreme flaw, each lending itself to an easily re-callable nickname. Here were some of our options:
“The Noisy House” also known as “The Danger House”: located on one of the busiest streets in Ringkøbing, this house was also across the street from the Train Station and tracks . Just to add a bit to the danger, the narrow driveway was a steep hill right around a blind corner, so backing out was a terrifying experience and a true peril to any of the many cyclists whizzing around the corner. In addition, the place was full of flaking lead-based paint and there was water in the basement. Other than those minor things making it quite dangerous for a family with four small children, this house really was swell!
“The Smelly House”: This house was ideal in neither location nor size. However its worst drawback was the strong smell of manure outside. We were told the smell was only there “eight months out of the year”. Ummm. Okay. This one was also neighbor to a pack of outdoor kennels full of barking dogs.
“The Train House”: This house was six feet from the railroad tracks–enough said.
“The Smoky House”: This one was a real bummer because it met all our needs, but smelled like a family of 14 had been chain-smoking in there for at least a decade.
Although the search was tough, I do have to mention that the Ringkøbingcommunity really went out of their way to help us in our search. Even the guy who sold us a car was trying to look for a house for us, haha. A colleague of John’s came up with a viable option which sadly didn’t work out due to a conflict with our kids’ schools. There were in fact a couple of decent options but which we ultimately decided against due to budget or location concerns. I also joined a Ringkøbing Facebook group and got a few good tips (one of which we ended up choosing). So a big thank you to the friendly people of Ringkøbing :).
Now back to my House Hunters International style saga:
Narrator: “So which one did they choose?”
None of the above!
We chose:…“The somewhat small, slightly smoky house!”
We had our reasons. We decided to put on our #adulting hats and choose the one that we thought would be the most practical and the easiest on the kids transition-wise. This one is located on a safe street in a quiet neighborhood with other kids. Within walking distance of parks, and lots of cool outdoor spaces to explore. Easy cycling distance to John’s work so hopefully we will only need one car. The house is well-maintained with all appliances included. A big selling point to us is the friendly and involved landlord. He used to work for Vestas and has been very accommodating. At one point someone did smoke inside the house, which was/is a huge turn off for me, but the landlord is going to replace all the carpets, repaint the whole house, and use an ozone machine inside–really hoping it works! Another drawback to this one is that it is 10-15 minutes from the Alkjaerskolen (school where the kids will be attending a special language immersion program). It is, however, easy walking distance to the local village school, which I toured and was quite smitten with. I am hoping that once the kids “graduate” from the language program at Alkjaerskolen, they can transfer over to the local school. Living in 1300 sq. ft and sharing one bathroom among six people will be an adventure in and of itself. I am sure there will be exciting posts to come on this topic!
John has piped in to say this is the part of the show where we stage an awkward-looking get-together with our new friends who all just so happen to be English-speaking expats ;). So to all my English-speaking readers, “Cheers to our Denmark Adventure!”