Finding a place to call home

Moving from a culture slightly obsessed with getting on the property ladder as soon as is humanly possible, to one where renting is king has been an interesting adjustment. A lot of foreigners feel this way when they first move to Germany, but it really is A different type of renting here. Due to a lack of available accommodation my husband and I have moved six times in six years. Thankfully three short-term lets were followed by three long-term ones, but all that moving, is not something I would choose to repeat.

Consequently I have quite a bit of experience applying, viewing, being rejected and also accepted property wise in Germany. A lot has been written on The German Way about moving to Germany already, make sure to read House and home lest you end up being surprised by a lack of ‘home comforts” AKA a kitchen and light fixtures, when you move in to your first place. There are a few of us out there who brushed their teeth by the light of an Iphone for the first few days, believe me and Hyde.

Berlin, unfortunately, is not the only part of the country where finding a place to call home can drive you to distraction. Munich, Nuremberg and Stuttgart are (in my experience) also in a demand exceeding supply situation. My personal advice to anyone searching for a flat or house is to move quickly and be ready to compromise. Immobilien (property) websites, social media groups as well as the good old local newspaper and simply adverts on notice boards are all places to look for that one property that fits your particular specifications.

Our first proper German apartment, Erlangen, Bavaria December 2012 – Photo Credit -Alie C

When you have found a property that catches your eye (and that your wallet approves of) even getting a viewing can be difficult. Since there are so many people out there looking for somewhere to live, most agents and landlords limit the number of viewers. Generally on a first come first served basis, so make sure you send that email (or make that phone call) as soon as you see the advert, to give yourself the best chance possible.

Be honest, but not too honest. As a foreigner it is easy to understand why a landlord might not view me as a long-term tenant, there is always that ‘risk’ that I might move on or back to my passport country. I have to show them why I want to live there, justify why I live in Germany and prepare myself for the kind of questioning that is usually reserved for job interviews and elderly relatives. Swabians in particular are interested in your job title and how much you like the area, be ready to extol the virtues of wine and your ability to complete a stellar Kehrwoche (sweep week).

Take Erin’s advice when Applying for a wohnung, it’s a numbers game, with a healthy dose of luck thrown in. Have all your documentation ready and waiting to be able to send to the agent or landlord as soon as you decide you want a place. I would also add that dressing smartly and speaking German (even just a little) has played in our favour and helped us secure viewings and apartments.

A little Rental property vocabulary that might help you when looking at property adverts

Wohnung – Apartment (although it can also mean home)
Haus – House
WG (Wohngemeinschaft) – Shared housing
Zimmer – Room – The number of rooms advertised only excludes the kitchen and bathroom, it is not simply the number of bedrooms.
Kaltmiete – Cold rent (literally) in addition to which you will also have to pay…
Nebenkosten – Side costs, which cover heat, electricity and sometimes other costs like internet
Kaution – Deposit – Generally two or three times the monthly rent
Einbauküche – Built-in kitchen – These do exist! Some may be for sale from the previous tenants or some may be owned by the landlord and come free with the home
UG (Untergeschoss) – Underground or basement floor
EG (Erdgeschoss) – Ground floor
OG (Obergeschoss) – Any floor above the ground floor, usually numbered 1.OG, 2.OG etc until…
DG (Dachgeschoss) – Top floor

A balcony has always been a ‘must have’ for me, one that fits a pool in ideal – Photo Credit -Alie C

And finally a few more tips

Watch out for fake adverts. These are usually the ones which look too good to be true and even with property search websites taking adverts down regularly, they pop up again and again. Have your wits about you.

Always send all the information that is asked for. If you don’t have one particular document, explain why and send an equivalent. When it comes to renting in Germany there is no such thing as too much information.

Standards may be different to your home country. For better or for worse. Manage your expectations as the avocado bathroom suite and textured wall finishes are still alive and well on the German property market.

‘No pets’ doesn’t always mean no pets. The advert for our current apartment said strictly no animals, when we viewed the property the tenants had both a dog and a cat. The agent confirmed that small animals were OK and our contract reflected that, a year later we adopted a dog from the local Tierheim (animal shelter). Which leads me onto my last hint…

Never assume, always ask. As with most things in Germany don’t expect information to be forthcoming unless you ask the question.

– Alie