What every expat needs to know about housing in Germany - Anja Angeli

What every expat needs to know about housing in Germany

When faced with the prospect of moving to Germany, one of your first concerns of course will be about where and how you will live. Your biggest priority will be to know how housing in Germany differs to what you have experienced before. Let’s take a look at the top things that every expat needs to know about housing in Germany.

Your home is one of the most crucial factors in the success of your new life as an expat and you want to make sure you feel at home, so you want to be prepared for what you will find. With prior information and research you can make your move much less stressful. So here are the essential things that you need to know about housing when you are moving to Germany as an expat. 

The most important things to consider when looking for a property in Germany:

Be prepared

One of the biggest surprises is that rental properties are leased completely unfurnished. So not what you would consider as unfurnished, maybe without sofas and tables, no - completely bare: appliances, light fixtures, kitchen cabinets, bedroom closets etc. 

You might find that now and again there are kitchen cabinets left in a kitchen, but this does not happen often. On the positive side, the rent is lower and you can choose what kitchen you’d like to have, but fitting a kitchen is an effort you not necessarily do not need when you are busy with all the other tasks of moving. Nevertheless it is feasible and you should consider apartments without a built-in-kitchen ("Einbauküche") as an option to broaden your choices.

Be quick!

It is worth making some time to really think about what you need from your new property, because when you are looking for housing in Germany, you have to be quick! The speed at which properties move, particularly in urban areas, is a recent phenomena for everyone, whether they are new to the German market or not.

Due to the fast-moving property market, when you do find something that you want, you will have to be decisive. Be prepared to make compromises – everyone, locals as well as expats, have to when they are looking for a rental property in Germany. If you see something you like, make sure that the vendor knows that you really like it and are serious about it. Then snap it up.

If you don’t – it will most likely be gone! One secret tip for Expats - never mention that you might be moving in 1-2 years, a time frame of at least 3-4 years is most desirable for landlords, especially private ones. Since a recent change in law they have to pay the real estate agent fee or take care of the renting out themselves - so no wonder they want long term tenants.

Some knowledge of the language

It will also help things along if you are able to speak some basic German and have your application documents at the ready too.

Some private landlords won’t be able to speak English well, so they may worry that they won’t be fully able to communicate with you.  

Conversing in a little German will reassure the landlord that they won’t have any problems when it comes to communicating with you. They will also appreciate the effort that you have made. The application documents that you will need are: your employment contract, statements of income for the last three months, passport and if you have references. Put it together nicely in a folder, maybe with a picture and a few nice sentences, it will increase your chances!

How to look for apartments or houses in Germany

The biggest place to find properties is on the internet. Top floor apartments are the easiest to find, but they can get a bit warm in the summer and air-conditioning is not a common feature.

Things to consider:

  • German rental contracts are notoriously detailed – a ‘masterpiece’ of German rules and regulations. Thus, it is a good idea to enlist some help to go through it. 
  • Two crucial things to check are that it is an unlimited contract with a legal cancellation period, which is usually three months. It is also a good idea to check whether anything has been listed in the remarks section.
  • Rental prices vary from city to city, but generally the bigger cities are more expensive. One important thing to consider is that your rent will be around 30 – 40% of your net income.
  • You will also have a by now so called “second rent”, the "Nebenkosten". This “second rent” will cover your utilities, such as water, heating, garbage, insurance etc.
  • If you are living in a Swabian area of Germany, you may even find a little sign hanging on your door with the words "Kehrwoche" on it. A Kehrwoche sign on the door means that it is your turn to clean the communal areas!

There are a lot more nuances to finding your new home and settling-in. Besides coaching expat partner I have relocated many expats to Germany and can support you with all the crazy hurdles and challenges of moving to and settling-in to Germany. Do you have any experiences you would like to share? What were your strategies to find a good place? Please let us know and thank you for sharing!

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