12 Essential Tips When Looking For Apartments In Germany
Following on from the previous article, which gave a brief guide of the different types of accommodation available and the pros and cons of each of these, this week’s guide drills down into more of the cultural nuances. These tips and tricks sure will help you in your planning and put you a step ahead when looking for different types of apartments in Germany at the best value.
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Houses are rare
People tend to live in apartments in most parts of Germany, especially in towns and cities. Houses are only really common in villages and on the outskirts of smaller towns. If you want a house in a city, this comes at a big premium because of scarcity. If you really want to live in a house, ask yourself why? Is it because of the space? Because flats in Germany come in all shapes and sizes and often have an open-plan format and several bedrooms. Do you want a garden? Because some apartments on the ground floor can offer exclusive outside space for you, with nobody else in the block having access. Or do you just not want to have neighbours above, below or on each side of you? Well, a villa or house converted into 3 or 4 apartment units is also relatively easy to find and if you take the ground or top floor, then you’ll only have 1 immediate neighbour.
Be prepared to shell out a hefty security deposit
You will need to pay 2-3 months’ basic rent as a deposit. Ouch! Just when you’re in the middle of all the other expenses you have when relocating to another country. There are companies out there who will lend this money to tenants who don’t just happen to have a couple of thousand Euro sitting in the bank. However, if you’re new to the country with no credit history, I’m afraid looking for apartments in Germany will mean finding a deposit without the help of a loan. Budget for it because there’s no way of getting around it. It’s not completely unheard of to ask your employer for a loan and then pay it back through an automatic deduction from your payslip over the next few months. If you don’t ask, you don’t get, so what’s the harm in trying? There are laws covering the time after which the landlord must return this deposit when you move out, and what they are legally permitted to deduct for damages and wear.
Are you tidy enough for shared accommodation?
If you are planning to live in shared accommodation during your time in Germany, a word of warning when it comes to cleaning and tidiness. I lived in a shared flat back when I spent a year in Germany as part of my studies. My experience, and believe me I’m not the only one, is that Germans are definitely much more regimented when it comes to cleaning and housekeeping than Brits are, especially students! If you’re planning to live in a WG, the first questions you should ask your potential housemates are their ethos on cleaning and how they split the bills. Like most things in life, do your research up-front to avoid problems further down the line.
Ground floor and top floor flats are easier to find
Ground floor and attic apartments in Germany are generally less desirable. In fact, many Germans will exclude these completely from their search criteria. This is because the ground floor typically has less privacy, especially if the bedroom or living room window faces onto the street. Also, ground floor apartments are statistically more prone to burglary. The deal-breaker for attic apartments tends to be the lack of an elevator and the stifling humidity during summer nights. Because these apartments are also built into the eaves of the roof, if you are tall then you may find this a somewhat claustrophobic prospect.
Be decisive if you have a long wish-list
Bathrooms with ventilation are highly valued. Sounds obvious, right, but many German apartments have bathrooms in spaces where there is no window or daylight. Needless to say, a bathroom with a window is highly prized. The next best thing is one with extremely good ventilation, so as you don’t get issues with mould or damp. It’s one of the most common disputes between tenant and landlord and it is difficult to prove who is negligent.
Balconies and terraces are very highly prized in major cities. Allotted parking or underground garages are too. If these are high on your wish-list then you may need to consider compromising on location, especially in larger cities where there is a housing shortage. If compromise is a dirty word and it’s all about location, location, location, you will need to do a diligent job of hunting down available apartments, and then deciding on the spot during the viewing that you will take it and be willing to put down a reservation fee.
Everything including the kitchen sink
One of the most baffling housing-related habits is the penchant Germans have for taking fully fitted kitchens with them from their old apartment to the new one. Indeed, it is crazy on many fronts…how many bespoke kitchens would fit perfectly into a different room layout? So, why do they do this? Firstly, when looking for an apartment in Germany, long-term rented accommodation is the norm, so naturally they do not want to live in a place for several years which has a crappy old kitchen which the landlord has not kept well-maintained. Secondly, Germans love their high-tech, expensive electrical goods and thus are more choosy regarding what kitchen they install in their apartment. Now, there is usually a possibility to purchase the existing kitchen from the vacating tenant if they are not keen to take it with them to their new place. So while I would say don’t automatically disregard all apartments which don’t have fitted kitchens, this is definitely an inconvenience factor to consider during your search. German handymen are extremely expensive compared to the U.K. and the U.S., so unless you feel comfortable fitting a kitchen, it’s more hassle and expense than it’s worth.
Don’t expect a spacious kitchen
Staying on the subject of kitchens, they feel smaller than in British houses and apartments, and positively tiny compared to American homes. This is just something you’re going to have to get used to. Germans are not big cooks, at least singles and childless couples from my experience, despite them often having a very expensive set of pots and pans and a battery powered salt and pepper grinder! Despite the fact that Germans love to poke fun at the British for their food, I can honestly say I cook much more frequently than my German friends. The upside of a small kitchen usually means a bigger living room and bedrooms. It’s just how it is, so there’s no point complaining.
Check what’s included in the service charges
Smaller blocks tend to have lower service charges but make sure you look carefully into what is actually covered by them. A block of 3 or 4 apartments will often rely on a roster to clean the communal areas such as the stairwell. It is relatively little work and they may want to save on costs through not hiring a janitor. Which is fine, except the last thing I would want to do on a Sunday morning after a night out is to clean the stairwell.
And adapt your search based on what’s important to you
Beware, however, that large blocks of flats in Germany typically have higher service charges. Larger blocks tend to require more frequent maintenance and often have things which smaller blocks would not have. For example, there will probably be parking spaces which require upkeep and gritting or snow removal in Winter. The gardens and communal areas will require a professional Hausmeister (janitor) to keep them looking tidy and well-kept. Also a general rule is the larger the complex, the less of a sense of communal pride in keeping things clean and in working order amongst the residents and hence, the greater the service charges to pay contractors to do this. Whilst this is not always true, you can use this as a rule of thumb.
Is the apartment in a block which has a lift (elevator)? You may think this is great if the place you are looking at is on the 4th or 5th floor. But then if it’s a ground or 1st floor apartment, you will be paying monthly service charges for an asset that you will probably never use. Lifts and their required maintenance tend to be a biggie when you look at the Abrechnung (annual statement of account) of maintenance charges.
Do your homework on your potential neighbours
It is definitely worthwhile to check who the other residents of the block are. Older neighbours here can often be pedantic busybodies who have some comment or other they always feel necessary to share. If you look on online forums such as Toytown Germany, a lot of complaints about neighbours tend to be of this kind! If you want to live somewhere quiet, Germans in general are very respectful of this. Certainly, obeying rules is ingrained into their culture. Somewhere to avoid perhaps if peace and quiet is key would be blocks which have numerous large families and a kids’ playground in the courtyard. On the flipside, if you want your kids to be able to run around freely and not have the neighbours complaining, then Latin and Middle Eastern cultures are certainly more tolerant of this. Look at the names on the buzzers outside the block to get a picture of who the residents are.
New-build apartments have lower energy bills
Energy efficiency is something the Germans take very seriously, and for good reason. They have the second-highest electricity prices in Europe and are likely to rise further as a result of the government’s decision to decommission its nuclear power plants by 2022. Whilst older apartments with high ceilings can mean higher energy costs, new builds will save you money on heating in Winter and will keep cooler in Summer. The insulation in new-build apartments and those which have undergone major structural refurbishment is fantastic. Whether the lower energy bills justify the higher rents the landlord may be charging is usually a case-by-case decision. For a single person who is often not home and is not heating every room, it is probably less of a cost factor than the family who are home every night and have the heating on in every room all through the Winter.
Check the house rules
I mentioned it before, but Germans certainly love their rules and regulations. Each apartment block in Germany will have a set of rules called the Hausordnung. Typically these will cover all manner of things such as “quiet times”, rules on keeping pets, barbecuing on balconies, communal areas where one can hang laundry and so on. Some apartment blocks may have an allotted laundry area with washing machines plumbed in to a communal area of the cellar. If this is the case, there may be restrictions around when you can use them i.e. not during the night or on Sundays. Ask for a copy of the Hausordnung before signing your tenancy agreement. That way you can determine whether any of these rules are too draconian or restrictive.
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