Buying our van, in Europe.

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Real estate prices on our home town of the Gold Coast are currently at an all time high making it incredibly difficult for anyone of our age to buy a first home (whilst still purchasing avocados regularly) situated close to the beach. Neither of us were willing to trade in our coastal lifestyle and venture inland in order to obtain property so we decided to join the van life movement instead. We’ve already got a three man tent, so technically this is our second home – on wheels! Here’s how we went about purchasing it.

Our friends had previously done a similar trip and bought a van to travel around Europe two years ago, so their passed on knowledge was invaluable in helping us to do the same. We contacted Donna, who is the lady behind “Turner Cars & Campers” (http://www.dutchcampervans.com). Turner Cars & Campers is based out of Utrecht (a city in central Netherlands, about 1 hour via train from Amsterdam) and sells second hand vans and camper vans to foreigners. Unfortunately at the time Donna didn’t have any suitable vans listed on her site that fit what we were looking for. Consequently, we started doing our own vehicle search on “Marktplaats” (https://www.marktplaats.nl). Marktplaats is the equivalent of “Ebay” or “Gumtree” in Australia and it allows you to search, compare and purchase second hand vehicles directly from the owner.

Considering I don’t understand or speak one single word of Dutch it was a little difficult and time consuming navigating the site, however with persistence, patience and most importantly Google translate, I got there in the end! Using Marktplaats you are able to personalise the search to fit exactly what you are looking for in terms of price, vehicle make, vehicle age etc. which reduces hours of unnecessary scrolling! Vehicles get listed (and sold) regularly so it does pay to check daily and it is advisable to start your search several weeks prior to your intended arrival in the Netherlands.

When searching, we were looking for vehicles which had the following.

FEATURES:

  • Enough height to stand up in (or a pop top to enable this)
  • Couch that converted to a double bed
  • STORAGE!
  • Kitchenette: sink with running water, gas cook top and refridgerator
  • 5 speed manual > ensure it reaches 100km/hr
  • Front seats that swivel
  • Curtains for the windows
  • Added bonus that our van has a retractable side awning and bike racks on the rear

At the same time we started searching Marktplaats, we contacted Donna at Turner Cars & Campers via email to set up using her “Finders Service”. Once we found the van we were interested in buying on Marktplaats using the finders service we were able to have Donna directly contact the seller in the Netherlands, arrange a time for her to go out and inspect the vehicle with a mechanic as well as take additional pictures and notes which she then emailed back to us. Originally our van was listed for E7000 and was “price non negotiable” however after Donna inspected the vehicle with her mechanic, she was able to reduce the price to E6750, as the timing belt will require replacing soon. Donna placed a cash deposit on the van on the day of inspection and then once we agreed on purchasing the van, she completed the sale once we had transferred the entire funds via internet bank transfer from Australia. At the time of purchase, we still had several weeks until we were arriving in the Netherlands so for a fee (of course..) Donna was able to store the van until we arrived.

The following is a breakdown of the overall costs.

COST:  E 8560

  • T4 Volkswagen Westfalia California (1994) : E 6750
  • Finders Service: E 150 (phoning and making contact with the seller)
  • Inspection: E 150
  • Fuel for inspection: E 25
  • Collection of the van from Beekbergen to Utrecht: E 100
  • Storage of van: E 35
  • Insurance: E 600 for 6 months
  • Registration: E 450
  • (NB: As a non resident purchasing a van overseas it is very difficult to get registration and insurance, unless you have a family member or friend that is willing to register it on your behalf to their name and residential address)
  • Netherlands Road Tax: E 300

It was rather daunting transferring such a large sum of money to a person on the other side of the world, who we have never met before however we are fortunate that our friends had previously used her service and could vouch that she was indeed a real person, and secondly did provide what she claimed to on the internet. Several blog posts written on the internet have reported Donna’s lack of timely communication however fortunately we had no issues with her responding to our emails and providing adequate information, in a prompt manner. Recently the web site did undergo reformatting however it appears to be left half completed and many of the vehicle pictures are now difficult to see clearly due to the poor quality and format size. If purchasing a van listed on the site, it is advisable to get additional photographs sent via email. For now our fingers are crossed that our home on wheels lives up to expectations and photographs!

In the future, once we have finished our adventures and decide to give up van life we intend to sell the van privately using Marktplaats or through social media and word of mouth. However, if this is unsuccessful, Turner Cars & Campers will also help you resell your vehicle for a lower percentage of the cost price.

Stay tuned to meet Rover!

X

PS. Donna did indeed end up being a real person and Rover was more or less like the photographs however the inside mechanics were not as great as we were led to believe. Before we set off on our van life adventure we took Rover to a mechanic in Amsterdam to get it checked out and ensure it was safe to drive and not going to blow up 100 km down the road! The mechanic confirmed that the timing belt needed replacing, as we already knew however apparently so did plenty of other things. The list was exhaustive and we were exhausted as we communicated through google translate and hand gestures that we had zero dollars in the budget to spend on repairing the van. Reluctantly we ended up forking out the money (after bargaining down E 1000) and agreed to get the van repaired. Retrospectively we’re so glad we did and it turns out that functioning brake pads are essential.

I’ve spoken to other people who have also used the finders service and had the exact same issue as above, so if you’re intending on doing the same it’s something to be mindful of however maybe unavoidable considering Donna plays the “middle man” person. If anything I would recommend having a budget put aside to use on unexpected repairs for the van and then therefore if a trip (or two) to the mechanic is required you’re not digging into your holiday money and can avoid disappointment whilst continuing to eat and drink!

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