Recently, I received an exciting job offer from an organization in a city about 2.5 hours away from where we currently live. More often than not, people do need to broaden their horizon to new cities to grow in their careers. It often means relocating to a new city- which can be exciting and daunting at the same time! This new life hacks in Germany article is to highlight the techniques I used to successfully find an apartment within 2 months!
When I first searched for "tips and tricks to find apartments in Germany", I was presented with articles that ranged over many years all pointing towards the common fact- it's difficult to find an apartment that you love, that fits in your budget and that's furnished. However, my experience has been quite the opposite. Both in Karlsruhe and now in Fulda, we have been able to successfully find apartments of our choice, in localities we liked and within our budget! But before I describe how I managed to do that let's look at what makes the German rental market so competitive.
More developed countries like France and Germany have lower homeownership rates as compared to frontier countries like Lithuania or Slovenia. Only about 51.5% of Germans own homes as compared to 96.4% of Romanians!
Despite continuous government efforts to increase the number of property owners, most Germans prefer to rent. The German rental market is highly regulated- this means that renters are provided with a wide range of protection. It is a tenant's paradise! However, a few tenants cause trouble by not paying the rent regularly or refuse to leave premises even after the completion of the rental contract. This makes it difficult for homeowners and hence, homeowners choose their future tenants cautiously.
In my opinion, this fear in the minds of property owners is the most pressing concern which makes it difficult to rent in Germany. It is this which we shall address first.
Just like every other activity in Germany, visiting an apartment (Wohnung besichtigen) also requires an appointment. Many homeowners appoint brokers to help them find tenants and many don't- either way- during these appointments you as a tenant would be required for the following:
Selbstauskunft or Self Declaration: A form stating details about you and your family, your annual income and place of work, how long you plan to stay, etc. You need to fill this to the best of your knowledge.
Einkommensnachweis or Proof of Income: The last three months payslips. Sometimes, you may also be asked to provide the SCHUFA or Credit certificate. If you do not have payslips because you are new to Germany, you can also show your job contract that mentions your income.
Keep the above ready even before you begin shortlisting apartments. It goes without saying, you may also be asked to present your visa or Aufenthaltstitel as an identity proof.
As evident from my previous description, we currently live about 2.5 hours from the new city. Hence, it was next to impossible for us to travel there every now and then to visit an apartment. This meant that I created an exhaustive list of criteria that enabled me to shortlist apartments and finalize a single day of the visit when I would cover all the prospective apartments.
Like India, Germany too has websites where one can search for and shortlist apartments. The one that I found most helpful was https://www.immobilienscout24.de/. Sometimes the organization you are going to join can advertise your requirements on the local website or newspaper. If a company advertises about its future employee, it automatically gives house owners a trustworthy individual and/or their family to look forward to.
It is recommended to note the criteria you are looking for in your new home. Make sure you have a good idea about:
The living area you need. Unlike in India, German apartments are described as rooms and kitchen (not bedroom, hall and kitchen). Example: 2ZKB means 2 rooms, one kitchen and bathroom. These 2 rooms can generally be used as per your desire and not necessarily as a bedroom and living room. Make sure you have enough rooms for your family.
Concepts such as
Kaltmiete: Cost of renting just space.
Nebenkosten: Auxilliary costs such as heating, cable, electricity, parking space, etc.
Warmmiete: The total rent or more importantly the total money you shall be shelling out of your pocket every month.
Kaution: The deposit which you shall pay at the beginning of your tenancy.
Mietvertrag: Rental contract- these are of two types. Unlimited (unbefristet) or limited (befristet). Read about the pros and cons of both before deciding which type of contract works out best for you.
Daily commute: The distance from your workplace and how long you are willing to travel every day. Make sure you read about the public transport in the city. Karlsruhe, for example, has excellent S Bahn connectivity and hence we never faced any problem travelling from our home in Durlach to anywhere!
Location of Supermarkets, Pharmacies, Drug Stores, Child Care and/ or schools from the apartment. These will be very important once you start living and you would not want to spend more time than necessary accomplishing these tasks, especially if you do not own a vehicle yet.
What kind of furnishing do you expect- finding a fully furnished flat on rent, especially in larger cities like Berlin, Munich, Hamburg, can not only be difficult but also expensive. If you plan to stay for a long time, you could opt for an unfurnished flat with a fitted kitchen (Einbauküche) and buy the rest of the furniture. Of course, check out the initial investment you may need to live comfortably before deciding for this option.
Once you are fairly certain of your criteria, start searching for apartments. Immobilienscout24 offers an option to contact the homeowner if you would like to visit the apartment. Make sure you introduce yourself impressively- because as I mentioned early on- homeowners would like to rent their apartments to people whom they can trust. A good first impression goes a long way! It always helps if you can strike a conversation in German as it shows your inclination to blend well with your new neighbours.
A few important points to remember
Brokers generally charge a commission from the homeowner. As a tenant, you don't pay any brokerage unless you have specifically signed a contract with a broker to help you find an apartment/home.
Always visit the apartment before finalizing.
Transfer the Kaution only after signing the Mietvertrag.
It's a good idea to sign on a Personal Liability Insurance or Haftpflichtversicherung to protect you and your family against any damages that may occur during your stay in the new apartment.
Rental contracts begin either on the 1st or 15th of every month. Make sure you plan your move accordingly.
If you have signed an unlimited contract, you are obligated to provide a three month written notice period to your landlord if you want to vacate the apartment. Make sure you take this into consideration if you are moving from one apartment to another.
Don't forget to make your apartment into your home! As a tenant, you are generally allowed to make cosmetic changes to your apartment as long as you repair/ renovate these to reinstate the apartment into its original state at the time you leave.
Like everything else in life, this phase too has been a learning experience for me. I learned important aspects of the rental market in Germany and its impact on individuals and families.