Top 10 tips for securing accommodation in Germany
Securing the perfect little pad for when you first arrive in Germany can be tough, especially if you haven't mastered the language or are trying to find places from abroad. As renters in Germany benefit from excellent tenancy rights, landlords can be skeptical about who they rent to as it is very difficult for landlords to terminate a rental contract if they are not happy with the tenant. We've put together 10 simple tips to help you get started.
1. Treat the process like a job application
When making applications for accommodation in Germany, it is important that you show potential landlords what a great tenant you would be. It is normal to include details such as occupation, age, smoker status and any pets you may have. In the UK we would normally just request a viewing but the German market is more competitive and therefore you should treat each application more like a job application. It may be a good idea to draft a standard email to paste into each application.
2. Find the websites that work for you
Depending on the length of your stay and your monthly budget, you will find some websites more helpful than others. A 'WG' is a very popular form of German flat share, great for students and young professionals but it's actually rather common for old adults to stay in a WG too. You can find these sort of accommodations on https://www.wg-gesucht.de/ but be aware that some flats will only want very specific types of people, so look for an apartment with people of a similar age and lifestyle to yourself. You can also find studio apartments on WG Gesucht.
For those with a higher budget the following website may be great for expats: https://www.immobilienscout24.de/Suche/de/nordrhein-westfalen/duesseldorf/wg-zimmer?enteredFrom=result_list
Alternatively you can use sites like Airbnb, Expat Facebook groups or ebay.
3. Timing is everything
Unlike the UK, German Landlords will generally not tolerate any period of unoccupied property. Many landlords will expect you to begin paying rent from the date that the property is available. Some landlords will allow you to move in a week or two later but moving in over 2 weeks after the available date is very unlikely to be accepted, especially in big cities. This may lead to you having to spend a week or two in a hotel until your accommodation is available, or paying rent a few weeks before you are able to move in. Ideally you want to find accommodation that is available within a few days of your moving date.
4. You may feel like a foreigner for the first time
Many young German WG occupants may be looking for fellow Germans who can join in with all their social activities and keep up with the conversation. If you have learnt German as a second language it is unlikely that you will be able to keep up with them and they may simply not bother replying to any of your messages. The good news is there are plenty of German landlords who enjoy renting to expats, especially British ones. There are also plenty of international WGs where occupants are looking to improve their English and would jump at the chance of having a Brit join them. It is also a lot easier if you are able to take over accommodation from fellow expats as their landlord is probably used to dealing with their tenants in English.
5. Get a German buddy
If your German isn't great you may struggle to communicate with potential landlords or they may disregard your application because it is full of grammatical errors. You will also find that all documentation and contracts are in German. It is really useful to have someone on hand who speaks a very high level of German, preferably a native speaker to help you understand what you are doing and to possibly represent you when speaking to landlords.
6. Viewings from abroad
It is standard practice in Germany for tenants to go and view the property and meet with the landlord before entering into a contract. This gives the landlord a chance to work out if you seem like a responsible and decent person to rent to. This also shows the landlord that you are serious about renting their property and that you are not wasting their time. If you are lucky your employer may pay for you to spend a few days in Germany before you move and you can book a few different viewings for this time. However, if you are a student or are self-funding your move this may not be feasible. Ideally you could send somebody who is already living in Germany to view the property on your behalf. If signing the contract without attending a viewing is your only option then make it clear to the landlord that you are serious about the property and ready to move in. Obviously you need to be very careful about entering into contracts with people you don't know as there is a real risk of fraud and it does happen. Landlords may like to do a video call with you; genuine ones may be a little slow to reply and may be skeptical. If a landlord is overly keen then this may be a sign of fraud, so make sure you do your research.
7.Beware of upfront costs
As with the UK, the German market also requests significant refundable deposits which can sometimes seem extortionate. It is important to clarify with the landlord what is payable when, and on which exact date this balance will be refundable. In some cases it may even be possible to negotiate a slightly reduced deposit if the landlord thinks you are a trustworthy person. There are also sometimes furniture costs to be paid upfront which I have outlined below.
8. Beware of the missing kitchen
One big difference between the German and UK market is when it comes to furniture. In Germany your entire kitchen is often considered to be furniture. Therefore if you rent an unfurnished flat be prepared to completely assemble an entire kitchen and install white goods. Obviously this varies between properties so it is important to check.
Fully furnished flats are not as common in Germany but sometimes they can come up trumps. Often there is a granny flat attached to a family home that comes complete with bedding, towels, dishes and everything you could ever need but these will often tend to be a bit old fashioned. There is often another section of the market where the previous tenant has spent thousands of Euros furnishing the apartment and now wants the new tenant to buy the furniture off of him. If you do decide to take the flat and buy the existing furniture from the old tenant, you can then either take the furniture with you when you move, or are stuck with the job of trying to sell it onto the next tenant when you move out. This situation is quite common in Germany but it is not a good option for expats as you don't want to be stuck with furniture that you can't get rid of, should you need to move home suddenly.
9. Research the local area
It's really important if you are new to a city that you understand the area that you are moving into. You can look at crime rates but a good tip would be to look at what kind of businesses are in the area. Companies like Starbucks do a lot of research and tend to concentrate their stores in more affluent areas. You can also look at Supermarkets, stores like Penny and Netto tend to set up in lower income areas whereas Edeka and organic food stores tend to set up in more upmarket areas. This is not always the case but if you know nothing at all about the city it is a good place to start. It can also be a shock to Brits that the areas surrounding the main stations or Hauptbahnhof can attract a lot of anti-social behavior so are best avoided, for safety reasons.
10. Remember to register
The UK is quite unique in the way that we can just move house without much record. We tend to monitor occupancy with things like council tax or electoral registers. In Germany and many other countries you are required by law to attend a local council building or town hall and complete a registration process. This varies between states but the kind of documents you will need include your passport, accommodation contract and sometimes documentation of employment. There are sometimes documents you can print off and take with you to speed up the process and sometimes a document from your landlord will be required. If you are not sure, take any documents you think may be relevant and the staff there will generally be able to help you or advise you on what forms you are missing. In my experience I have always found the staff to have excellent English and have been very helpful... even if they don't always seem friendly. In the new post-Brexit world, you will need to register with the foreign office as a non-EU immigrant.
By now you may be feeling overwhelmed but once you have found somewhere to call home the whole idea of living abroad will feel a lot more real. It can be difficult at first but after a while you will get the hang of it. It is just a numbers game and it is perfectly normal to apply to dozens and dozens of places before you find a landlord who is interested in renting to you. If you are worried you can share your experiences with fellow expats on social media groups and they will know of other expats who may be leaving Germany and may have an apartment that would be perfect for you. In the end you will find your new home and everything else will be a distant memory.