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Germany: The Apartment Search

Most expats decide on renting an apartment instead of buying one. Although this might be the more convenient solution, there’s a lot you should know before renting an apartment in Germany. In our guide, we cover all essential questions on house hunting as well as rental agreements in Germany.
Online ads and local papers are still the best source for real estate in Germany.

Real Estate Ads in Local Papers

Most local German newspapers have a classified ad section dedicated to rentals and real estate (Immobilienmarkt) in their Saturday/Sunday issue. It is definitely worth having a look at the offers, simply to get a general idea of local real-estate prices. You should not hesitate to call the landlord even of you need a little help from a German native speaker to do so. After all, competition for interesting apartments is high, especially if they are not offered by real-estate agencies and thus come without extra fees for the agent.

Abbreviations in Ads

Another obstacle is the mass of abbreviations used in newspaper ads. Please have a look at the table below. Keep in mind that “empty” apartments come without furniture, household appliances (sometimes even without a kitchen), and carpeting, unless the former tenants are willing to leave them to you, usually for a payment in cash (Ablöse).

  • AB       Altbau                            old building, erected before 1945
  • BK       Balkon                           balcony
  • EBK     Einbauküche                  built-in kitchen
  • EG       Erdgeschoss                  ground floor
  • GH      Gasheizung                    gas heating
  • KM      Kaltmiete                       net rent (costs for utilities and maintenance not included)
  • NK       Nebenkosten                 utility / maintenance costs
  • Qm     Quadratmeter                 square meters
  • SZ       Schlafzimmer                 bedroom
  • WC      Toilette                          toilet
  • WM      Warmmiete                   rent, including utility costs, often heating, but no electricity
  • WG      Wohngemeinschaft        shared apartment
  • WZ      Wohnzimmer                 living room
  • ZH       Zentralheizung               central heating
  • 1 ZKB   1 Zimmer, Küche, Bad   apartment with one room, kitchen and bathroom excluded

Don’t be surprised to read about “half a room” in these ads! This neither means that the room is shared nor that two walls are missing. Many classifieds refer to apartments with rooms smaller than 10 square meters “half-rooms”. Therefore, a 1 ½ room flat has actually two rooms, one of which is rather small but could still be used as an office for instance. In real estate ads, bathrooms and the kitchen are not counted as rooms at all.

Apartment Search Through Word of Mouth

It is always advisable to let your friends and colleagues know that you are looking for an apartment. In Germany, it is quite common for tenants who plan to move out to suggest a potential new tenant to their landlord. For the landlord, it may be a lot more convenient to consider their suggestion instead of contacting an agent or placing ads in the paper.

Cooperatives (Wohnungsgenossenschaften)

Cooperatives (Wohnungsgenossenschaften) are not to be confused with Wohngemeinschaften (flat-sharing). The latter is very common among students and young singles, who simply rent an apartment together to split the costs. Cooperatives, however, are subsidized organizations that administrate several apartment buildings and rent out apartments.

Cooperatives consist of their member-tenants and the administrative body. Their apartments usually come at a reasonable price. Some cooperatives focus on providing housing to individuals and families with a low income. To qualify, you need to present a statement from the town hall which entitles you to rent a subsidized flat (Wohnberechtigungsschein). You can contact a cooperative at any time. They will put you on their waiting list and get back to you as soon as an offer becomes available.

Online Ads

The amount of commercial real-estate sites on the German internet is overwhelming. These sites full of classified ads are also an easy way to find the websites of individual real-estate agents, and their listings are a good starting point to get an overview of the local market. Moreover, the advantage of online ads over ads in local newspapers is that they are always up-to-date. Here is a small selection of some popular real-estate homepages in Germany:


We do our best to keep this article up to date. However, we cannot guarantee that the information provided is always current or complete.