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Last updated on May 9th, 2023 at 08:03 pm
House hunting anywhere can be a daunting experience. But when you are house hunting in Germany as an expat, it is a completely different ballgame. Read some of my tips on how to find a perfect rental apartment in Germany as an expat!
Last year, I found myself in the emotional whirlwind that is house hunting in Germany. It was at times quite exciting, and the others quite frustrating. If you are a foreigner from a non-EU country, there are more than just a few things that you may not be prepared for.
So here are some of the basics that you should know before or while looking for a rental apartment in Germany.
PS: If you want to BUY a house in Germany, then read this post instead!
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1) Start early with apartment hunting in Germany
Seriously. Start as early as possible.
You may not be able to find your dream rental apartment in Germany right away. And even when you do, chances are that there is a lot of competition for your dream apartment. Only a handful of apartments match all of your criteria anyway and if you start late with your house hunting, you may end up settling for one.
You can avoid this shuck-up by starting your house hunting in Germany at least three months in advance. Start even sooner if you are looking for a rental apartment in Berlin or another bigger city in Germany. You may be able to get away with a shorter search time in smaller German cities, however, some people have reported spending over a year searching for a rental apartment in Germany.
This way you will feel comfortable weeding out ‘second or third favourite’ apartments – areas with some dodgy neighbourhoods, contracts with some strange clause, or simply some potentially troublesome landlords.
We started a few months in advance and were able to turn down a few apartments before we found the perfect one that met all our criteria.
1.1) Where to find apartments to rent in Germany?
These are the most popular online house-hunting resources to find a rental apartment in Germany.
Many of the listings on these apartments are created directly by private property owners in Germany. This means you can cut out the middlemen and often allows for cheaper, quicker transactions.
Unfortunately, both websites operate only in German. The best way to get around this is simply to use the browser translator or a website like Deepl to understand basic information about the listing. For contacting the property owners I highly recommend getting help from a native German speaker though.
1.2) Where to find cheap rental apartments in Germany?
A ‘WG’ (Wohngemeinschaft) is the word for a shared apartment in German. A lot of young adults live in shared rental apartments in Germany. This usually brings down the monthly costs.
As the name suggests, the above two websites primarily list shared rental apartments in Germany, but occasionally you can also find entire apartments.
These platforms are primarily used by youngsters, and young adults meaning that more expensive listings may get less interest.
1.3) Where to get help finding a rental apartment in Germany?
Real estate agents (Makler or Immobilienhändler) are professionals who can help you find the right rental apartment in Germany.
If you are struggling to find an apartment to rent in Germany, I would recommend getting help from a local Makler.
A word of warning though, going with a real estate agent can be a very costly approach.
Often in Germany, real estate agents’ fees usually fall to the tenant, even though sometimes they are paid by the property owner. You should confirm who is responsible before signing any agreements.
Going through real estate agents is by no means the most popular or widely used way of house hunting in Germany. Most tenants in Germany prefer to use ‘provisionsfrei’ (free of commission fees) listings.
2) Be prepared for the bureaucracy
As Germany runs heavily on paperwork, be mentally prepared to be asked for several documents, even before you actually get to visit the house. The landlords or rental agencies can ask you to ‘apply’ for a rental apartment in Germany just like you apply for a job!
It is even called a ‘Bewerbungsprozess’ or an application procedure in German.
You also have to prepare a ‘Selbstauskunft’ which basically is a folder containing details about your work, net monthly income, identity, etc.
A Selbstauskunft contains the following documents:
2.1) A Schufa certificate (a form of German credit report)
You also have to produce a Schufa BonitätsCheck (credit score) to provide evidence that you do not have any pending debts in Germany. Having this certificate can improve your chances of getting your dream rental.
You can easily order your Schufa certificate online through MeineSCHUFA. It is available for 60 days for download.
2.2) Proof of rent payment (Mietzahlungsbestätigung)
You may also need yet another piece of paper from your previous landlords (in Germany) proving that you have been a great tenant by paying your rent and dues on time.
2.3) Work contract with salary details
You can ask your HR department for this document. Since it is a very commonly used paper in Germany, they would know exactly what to do.
After they approve of you as a potential tenant, then you may get an invitation to visit the house.
3) Save up for additional expenses
When moving into a new apartment in Germany, you have to pay more than just the rent. Here are some of the additional costs that you should save up for:
3.1) Security Deposit
Security deposits in Germany are about the sum of two to three months’ rent. This will be returned to you shortly after moving out, depending on the state of the property.
It is wise to take an inventory of any quirks with the apartment before moving in, including taking photos and making written notes with your landlord. This will protect you if they claim any damage has been caused while the property was in your care.
3.2) Provision’ or a ‘Makler’ fee
If you hired a real estate agent to help you find a rental apartment in Germany, you will have to also pay them. There is something called a ‘Provision‘ or a ‘Makler’ fee that can set you back about a few hundred Euros.
3.3) Cost of new or second-hand kitchen
New rental apartments or houses in Germany are absolutely empty.
By that, I not only mean that there are no bed, sofa or dining table. I mean there are no light fixtures, no mirrors, no fittings, and no kitchen.
Yes, you read that right.
You can totally expect to walk into your potential rental home in Germany and find your future kitchen to be absolutely empty except for a layer of tiles on the wall and fittings for your water pipeline.
You see, when you move into a new rental apartment in Germany, you are expected to buy your own kitchen. A completely new kitchen – from the stove to the oven, to all the cabinets and even the water faucet and the sink. Depending on your individual requirements you can expect to pay anything between €1000 – €10,000.
The good news is that every now and then, a rental apartment in Germany will come with a so-called ‘Einbauküche’ which means a fully equipped kitchen is already present in the house.
These offers are rare and very sought after- but they exist. So next time when you are searching online for rental apartments in Germany, make sure to check the ‘Einbauküche’ box in your search criterion.
Another trick is to ask the letting agency whether the previous tenants are willing to leave their kitchen behind. With any luck, you may be able to get an existing kitchen for nearly half the price of a brand-new one.
4) Understand the contracts when renting an apartment in Germany
The Mietvertrag (rental contract) here can also take you by surprise at times.
We were often informed that we can expect to commit to leasing for 24 – 36 months. This is a bit dodgy since German rental contracts only require a minimum of 3 months’ notice for both tenants and landlords.
Once you find a dream rental apartment in Germany, I would highly recommend getting your rental contract verified for any loopholes by an English-speaking lawyer.
You can find fixed-cost rental contract verification service on ‘YourXpert for less than 100 EUR!
When you upload your rental contract online, YourXpert team will assign a lawyer to investigate your contract for:
- any potential pitfalls in the contract
- any missing and unfavourable clauses
- identify any legally doubtful or improvable passages
- make suggestions for improving the wording and clauses in your favour
This contract check service starts at 84 EUR (for comparison our real estate lawyer charged 300 EUR/hr).
Also Read: How to Hire a Lawyer in Germany
Finally, be patient during apartment hunting in Germany
Be prepared for shit to go down. Well, it won’t ever go that far but still! 😉
Once we thought we finally found our perfect rental apartment in Germany – ideal distance to work, rent within our budget, and overall a big bright apartment with an inbuilt kitchen. We were also the favourite candidates of the owner to be the tenants as well. All good, right?
Well, the agency called my boyfriend during working hours to inform him that we had the apartment.
He could not answer the call right away…because he was at work! By the time he called them back in about half an hour, the apartment had already been handed over to the second favourite applicant.
This is something that we were not prepared for it, but apparently, it happens.
Protip: If you suspect that you might be getting rejections from landlords on discriminatory grounds, you can inform and defend yourself by getting in touch with the Federal Anti-Discrimination Agency.
Don’t let all this quirkiness put you off moving to Germany though.
Finding your dream rental can be emotionally exhausting in any part of the world, and Germany is no different. For me, finding a rental apartment in Germany was quite an amusing, but at times annoying experience. But it was definitely worthwhile – especially once we finally found our very own dream rental apartment in the Bavarian countryside.
Always remember: Once you have found your perfect rental apartment in Germany, make sure to educate yourself about your tenant rights in Germany.
How was your experience of house hunting in Germany? Did you have a pain in the arse landlord, an unreasonable contract or a shady neighbourhood when looking for a rental apartment in Germany? Let’s discuss in the comments!