With about 40,000 highly skilled internationals, Eindhoven has a reasonable claim to the title of “the Netherlands’ most international city.” And if you’re an expat, Meerhoven is Eindhoven’s most international destination neighborhood.
The majority of its roughly 11,000 residents are highly skilled internationals who’ve come to this high-tech hub to work at ASML, NXP and other ultra-high-tech companies in the semiconductor sector. It’s so popular it’s been tagged “Expathoven” by locals.
The story of Meerhoven is a story at least in part of an expat-driven renaissance, where residents tell Dispatches that internationals buy 80 percent of new homes. There’s at least one realtor, Rieks van den Berg from AB Makelaars, who twice a year drives busloads of incoming expats around Meerhoven, showing them houses. That’s a dramatic turnaround even from five years ago.
An expat-fueled turn-around
When the Great Recession hit the Netherlands in 2008, this 15-square-kilometer (6-square-mile) district on the northwest edge of Eindhoven was over-built. Homeowners needed to sell but couldn’t put their houses on the rental market. Even then, many houses sat vacant, say our Dutch friends including real estate agents.
When the global economy recovered in 2015, highly skilled internationals began pouring in, first renting, then buying, homes that are affordable compared to other innovation centers such as Amsterdam, Paris and Berlin. Moreover, Meerhoven pretty much has it all … a self-contained city with vast amounts of open space (considering it’s in the crowded Netherlands), trees, water features, sufficient retail, an expat-only health care facility and attractive homes. And all this is next to the airport, and only 3 kilometers from centrum.
It even has its own expat community website, the Meerhoven International Platform.
MIP posts news about local international events and issues, community services, transportation info, health and wellbeing and education info including school holidays.
“We will be the biggest expat community in Eindhoven,” said Congli Dong, who coordinates the Meerhoven International Platform. A Chinese national, Congli moved to Meerhoven with her husband in 2015 from Eindhoven centrum. Living in the city center, she said, she didn’t know anyone. In Meerhoven, the expat community is much tighter. “They want a change. They want to make a neighborhood for internationals.”
In Meerhoven, she said, she’s surrounded by friends from Italy, China and India:
“My friends all live here, and they came because of recommendations from other friends. Realtors don’t even have to advertise. It’s all word of mouth. The houses are all easily sold. Meerhoven is more to international tastes, I think. The houses are very new and spacious, not compact like old Dutch houses.”
Her friends work at ASML, Philips and other big companies. In fact, Meerhoven has drawn families from the four corners of the earth – Indian, Taiwanese, Chinese, Russians, Bulgarians and Poles, most of whom are IT workers, managers or engineers.
The majority of units are in multi-story apartment complexes. There are also connected multifamily housing units with garages and gardens, and two blocks of multi-story freestanding homes.
A drive-through and walk-around reveals Meerhoven to be three things – very contemporary in style, very tranquil and very green. The tranquil part is surprising, because Meerhoven backs up to Flight Forum business park and indeed, to the airport itself. But it’s tricky to figure out how to actually access the community, which limits transit traffic.
It’s also surprisingly green, surrounded by acres and acres of (for the moment) undeveloped land.
Internationals have reshaped Eindhoven for decades
Meerhoven also has the advantage of being one of the city’s newer planned communities, but far from its first.
Over the course of its 121-year history, the electronics giant Philips built humble housing for its workers near its early lightbulb factories and other facilities.
During boom periods, the company had to import workers not only from nearby Dutch and Belgian provinces but from Southern Europe and North Africa. Philips built entire neighborhoods, with a total of more than 1,500 units, according to the book “Urban Innovation Systems: What Makes Them Tick?”
Construction in Meerhoven started in the late 1990s, about seven years before the global real estate meltdown. As a planned community, it has green space, bike paths, walking paths and good transportation connections via integrated bus lines to the center city.
“The schools are good. I think that’s the most important element for the young international parents,” Congli said. Eindhoven’s city government coordinates with local resident associations and even helps fund Meerhoven International Platform as it competes for talent with Rotterdam, Düsseldorf and other cities.
“I think Eindhoven is special. It needs so many talented people,” said Congli. “The talent from Eindhoven isn’t enough. They need to create a good living environment for families of people coming here for careers.”
As an expat, this has been amazing to watch, and to hear about from real estate agents. But, there is a small, but increasing, amount of pushback, with most of the criticism about the influx of expats driving up housing prices. There’s the occasional newspaper headline such as “Expats storm Eindhoven’s housing market.” And the earning power of highly skilled internationals has, to some degree, upended the real estate market here.
In fact, we searched for houses and apartments for sale or rent in Meerhoven and found very, very few listings. On our trips there, we saw exactly one “for sale” sign other than at the Meerzicht Complex where apartments range in price from 235,000 euros to 675,000 euros.
Online, we found few real estate ads that didn’t have “Verkocht” (Sold) over the image of the Meerhoven property.
We did find this 4-bedroom house for 350,000 euros. It’s about seven years old, with 142 m2 (about 1,500 square feet) of living space and four bedrooms
When we talked with residents, they told us another expat community is forming in Blixembosch, where there is some new construction. But some of those homes are selling for 500,000 euros-plus.
The interesting thing is, ASML – Eindhoven’s largest employer – is on pace to hire an average of 250 people per month and Brainport, the Eindhoven region’s economic development agency, just announced an international talent recruitment effort.
The question becomes, will Eindhoven’s housing market be able to cope, or ultimately get overwhelmed by its popularity as with so many other innovation centers across Europe?