Housing in Copenhagen
When I signed the agreement and notified the University of Copenhagen that I was headed to Denmark I assumed I’d face a lot of challenges upon arrival. Things like visa issues, language barriers, and a drastic change in weather. What I didn’t expect was the housing nightmare that greeted me. I arrived in Copenhagen on July 20th. Four months later, after aggressively scouring available housing outlets, my search was finally rewarded. On November 29th, I moved into an apartment that should last me for the next 12+ months (and hopefully the remainder of my stay here in Denmark).
It was my well-developed, trans-continental social network that saved me. Utilizing contacts, new and old, I was able to keep an affordable roof over my head while I undertook an arduous search. Without this ace in my pocket , I would have been camped in hostels and hotels for months, spending an exorbitant amount of money with no room for my luggage. My story illustrates the importance of a social network and what a powerful tool it can be.
United States Based Trip Prep
Between 2004 and 2007 I worked for a commercial real estate company in Phoenix, Arizona. I worked closely with many brokers and their teams. In 2007 I left the company to travel Europe for 3 months. When I returned to Arizona, I took a job as an analyst with a business sales, mergers and acquisitions company. I stayed in touch with past colleagues and my social network continued to grow. Fast forward three years. I informed my boss that I planned to return to school to pursue my Masters and would be moving to Denmark. While sorry to see me go, he eagerly accessed his mental rolodex for ways to help me with the move. This is where it starts to get complicated and the obscure beauty and power of a network starts to really come to light. He recalled that one of the real estate team members who had helped with the purchase of our new building had dated a Danish guy. The head of that team and her boss was an old contact that I happened to also know, independently, through our mutual time spent at my previous job in the commercial real estate company. In an odd twist of overlapping networks, when the time came to purchase a new building my boss reached out to his friend and contact: the real estate broker from my old company. Over the course of the purchase and move into our new building, I ended up not only re-connecting with my old real estate contact, but also meeting his team, which included the woman who had dated the Danish guy and I mentioned previously. Whew, confusing right?
Back to my meeting with my boss – on the spot he picked up the phone, called, and made the connection for me. While no longer dating the Danish guy, she spoke highly of him and because she knew me offered to put me in touch with him. A few minutes later, I fired off an e-mail with general questions about Denmark, housing, phones, and language barriers. I continued my trip prep while my new Danish contact responded with great suggestions, and things moved forward.
Copenhagen’s Unexpected Rental Market
After arriving in Copenhagen I realized that not only was it going to take much longer than expected to get my visa, but housing was both more expensive and significantly harder to find than I had assumed. To be fair, the University had warned that finding housing in Copenhagen was expensive and difficult. On the flip side, they did just short of nothing to help with the process.
As someone coming from Phoenix, I was met by a whole different world. In Phoenix we have such a glut of available apartments and housing that you can sign up with an agent for free who will then show you around various apartments. The agent is compensated by the apartment complex(s) who regularly offer signup bonuses. If that fails there’s more than enough housing from private landlords available. The search for an apartment seldom lasts more than a week.
In Copenhagen the situation is the exact opposite. It’s not uncommon for people to search for an apartment for 3-6 months. Renters sign up on a mixture of free and pay sites to gain access to apartment rental listings. A listing inside the city proper in the 3,000-4,000 DKK per month ($600-800 USD) rental range typically garners between 80 and 250 e-mails in the first day! There is also a heavy preference among renters for female and Danish tenants which added an extra layer of difficulty as a male international student.
After my fifth day in the hostel I followed up with the Danish contact I had been introduced to. Luckily, he had a spare room available for a month before his tenants moved in and he graciously offered to let me use it. With a huge sigh of relief, I figured I’d be all set. After all, a month is a long time…Right?
As August drew to a close, it became apparent that my visa would not be arriving any time soon and that the one offer which had been made by a “local” dorm, was too far out of town (45 minutes) to justify accepting.
Luckily, here again my network made a huge leap forward. My host reached out to a friend of his who also doubled as his house cleaner. She was willing to host me for a month or two, but was hesitant as the apartment didn’t have doors for about half the rooms. A long time hosteler, I mentioned it wasn’t an issue for me. It turned out that she and I got along well. She was a gracious host and between our busy schedules the shortage of doors in the apartment wasn’t an issue. I can’t stress how wonderful she was to allow me to invade her apartment like that. Especially when one considers just how obscure my connection to her was.
Eventually, my visa came through as my hunt for an apartment continued. I was hampered by my class schedule and the need to use public sources of internet to endlessly scan, and then pounce on room postings. While I looked at several, nothing came through until I finally had an offer for a room on Amager near campus. It looked great. It was a guy and his two dogs. He smoked but that didn’t seem like it would be an issue. He was extremely friendly, nice, and happy to help with things.
After a week I was able to move in and started to get settled. Everything seemed to be going well until it became obvious that we had two extremely different lifestyles that were not compatible. I moved out the next day. Luckily, the female Danish friend I had been staying with came to me rescue and welcomed me back without so much as a grumble. We had a good laugh about the mis-adventure and my search began once again with renewed vigor. Contacts and my emerging network in Copenhagen shared several opportunities with me, but none panned out. Desperate to be able to unpack/get settled and with the semester coming to a close, I took a new approach. I started offering more than asking rent. It turns out that money trumped being male, and an international. Within a week and a half I had a lead on a place. It took another two weeks to finalize things before I was able to move in.
Now, I finally have what I hope will be a semi-permanent home for the remainder of my time here in Copenhagen.
It has been an adventure, and to be fair, I could have found a place much quicker had I been willing to live 45+ minutes outside of the city. As an international student, and someone who has experienced the incredible power of networks, I felt it was extremely important for my immersion, social activity, and overall experience here in Copenhagen to be in or near the University. The cost of commuting was also a key factor. Ultimately the need to be somewhat centrally located has made things more difficult and somewhat more expensive. In the long run though, it has also been well worth it.
It’s important to note that I only had the opportunity to make that choice, however, because of the incredible help offered to me through my network of friends and contacts. I owe a lot of these individuals a huge debt of gratitude and their open, helpful, and friendly nature has really inspired me to pay-it-forward and to be mindful of how I can help my friends, contacts, and their extended network.
At the end of the day, I hope this helps you all remember to never, ever, ever, underestimate the power, capability and influence your network can bring to bear.
To all those that helped along the way. Thank you.