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Housing in Germany
Everything You Need to Know about Finding a New Home
Finding accommodation in Germany can be a real challenge in popular cities like Berlin and Munich. Germans generally like to rent accommodation, with approximately 50% of people living in rental apartments. This could mean that you will face even more competition for any apartments you like the look of—remember that salaries are generally high in Germany compared to other European countries, so you cannot necessarily outbid locals to get the property you want.
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Finding housing in Germany is one of the most essential parts of the moving process and, therefore, it can also be the most challenging. This guide explains the different options available to you, from renting accommodation (which tends to be more popular among both expats and locals) to buying a new property.
If you do decide to buy a house, this guide suggests the best ways to find property for sale and takes you through additional costs to consider, such as property tax. If you’re looking at houses and apartments for rent, you’ll find lots of information about short-term rentals as well as invaluable tips on what to look out for when signing an accommodation agreement.
As well as explaining renting and buying, we briefly explain the different types of houses available in the country. This guide also goes over how to set up a utility bill payment and an internet and phone connection for your new home.
Renting a House or Apartment
Housing shortages in popular German cities, especially Berlin, could present a problem If you are looking at how to rent houses or apartments in Germany.
Naturally, first-hand knowledge of the city and its neighborhoods (or thorough online research of Germany’s cities and their rental processes and rules) will help. And if you plan to move to Germany before finding somewhere to live, which is not recommended, the sharing economy provides monthly furnished rentals where you can stay until you find something more permanent. You can also get home-finding advice from relocation experts at InterNations GO!.
Moreover, when renting an apartment in Germany, make sure you have proper access to public transportation (if you plan to rely on it) and that nearby parking is available if you will drive a car. Furnished apartments are the exception in Germany, while apartments in general are usually the domain of students.
Different types of property and location will affect average rent and house prices in Germany. Some cities, such as Munich, Hamburg, and Cologne can be very expensive, whereas others, like Leipzig, Bochum, and even the capital Berlin, offer a choice of well-priced apartments. Unfortunately, demand is causing Berlin prices to rise.
There are all different types of houses to suit every lifestyle, such as bungalows and apartments that might be better for the elderly, and detached houses, farmhouses, cottages, semi-detached properties, and townhouses. Moreover, some people live in caravans, and even motorhomes are quite common in Germany.
You can find more about the requirements and documents needed for renting in the following section of this guide, titled “What Documents do I Need for Renting?”
In addition, you can find out about about agency fees, rental contracts, and deposit requirements in the following section, called “Real Estate Agencies and the Rental Process in Germany.”
Germany: The Apartment Search
Whether you’re searching before or after you’ve relocated, there are several resources rich with information and services related to finding accommodation in Germany. Before you move, you can find German property websites, usually available in multiple languages. Once you’ve arrived, there are hot properties to spot in local newspapers and magazines. You can also talk to real estate agents, friends, and the home-finding experts at InterNations GO!.
Real Estate Ads in Local Newspapers
Most local German newspapers have a classified ad section dedicated to short-term and long-term rentals and real estate (Immobilienmarkt) in their Saturday or Sunday issue. It is definitely worth having a look at the offers, simply to get a general idea of local real estate prices.
Don’t hesitate to call the landlord if you have not yet signed on with a real estate agency. 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 Explained
To make things easier for you, below is a list of abbreviations used in real estate listings. Keep in mind that “empty” apartments come without furniture, carpeting, or household appliances (sometimes even without a kitchen) 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|
|KM||Kaltmiete||Net rent (utilities payment and maintenance not included)|
|NK||Nebenkosten||Utility / maintenance costs|
|WM||Warmmiete||Rent, including utility costs, often heating, but not electricity|
|1 ZKB||1 Zimmer, Küche, Bad||Apartment with one room, kitchen, and bathroom included|
Don’t be surprised to read about “half a room” in these ads. Many classifieds refer to apartments with rooms smaller than ten square meters as “half rooms.”
Therefore, a half room flat actually has 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.”
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.
Wohnungsgenossenschaften are not to be confused with Wohngemeinschaften (flat-sharing). Cooperatives 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).
The amount of German commercial real estate sites on the internet can be overwhelming. These sites, full of classified ads, are also an easy way to find the websites of individual real estate agents, whose 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 usually up to date.
Here is a small selection of some popular real estate websites in Germany:
One of the things to know is about 50% of Germany’s population lives in rental apartments as opposed to their own property.
The availability of temporary rentals strongly depends on the area where you want to live. For instance, renting an apartment in bigger cities will probably involve higher average prices.
How Much is the Rent in Germany?
In general, average rental prices in Germany are reasonable and are around 5% lower than in the UK, for example. The average rent in Germany is about 1,300 EUR (1,400 USD), taking into account all types of rental properties, whether it’s a furnished or unfurnished flat or house.
To be more specific, a one-bedroom apartment in a German city center costs around 700 EUR (770 USD) per month, while the same apartment outside the center is around 530 EUR (570 USD). Moreover, a three-bedroom apartment in a city center in Germany is around 1,350 EUR (1,500 USD), while one outside of the city center is just under 1,000 EUR (1,100 USD) on average.
The minimum house rent in Germany varies depending on location and size. However, in Berlin, you can get a very basic three-room (not three-bedroom) house for as little as 900 EUR (970 USD), while you can get a more attractive four-room house in cheaper Leipzig for 850 EUR (920 USD). Remember, there are bargains to be had everywhere as long as you shop around.
What Documents do I Need for Renting?
If you’re moving to Germany, you should prepare yourself to become an expert at filling in forms and organizing various bits of paperwork. It’s no different when it comes to renting. The process of finding the perfect place to live isn’t just about having the right forms filled in—your prospective landlord might well go over your details, such as your finances and credit history, to see if you’re a trustworthy and reliable candidate to rent their property.
You’ll need the following required documents for renting in Germany as a foreigner:
- Your ID or passport.
- A Mietschuldenfreiheitsbescheinigung—a document to prove you don’t owe previous landlords money. Your potential landlord might not ask for this but it’s best to have it if possible.
- Three recent pay slips to prove you’re earning enough to pay the rent. Proof of adequate savings may be accepted.
- Bank statements from the last three months.
- Mieterselbstauskunft—this is an application form giving the prospective landlord more information about you, such as your date of birth, how many people will live in the property, and what you do for a living.
- SCHUFA-Auskunftor Bonitätsauskunft für den Vermieter—a SCHUFA-Auskunft (credit report) shows your prospective landlord your credit score. If you have only just moved to Germany, you won’t yet have a SCHUFA record. In this case, your bank statements showing a regular income and that you’ve paid rent and bills on time could be an acceptable alternative.
Real Estate Agencies and the Rental Process in Germany
The most convenient way of renting an apartment is to hire a German real estate agent (Makler) who will take care of everything. The Makler provides a variety of services, including offers for empty lots, houses, and apartments for rent on a long or short-term lease. In Germany, each and every offer is only accessible via one single agent or company, whether for rental apartments or property. Therefore, you might be asked to sign an agreement beforehand.
The real estate company will ask you to confirm that anything concerning their rental apartments has to be done directly with them and not with the apartment’s landlord or owner. This agreement also obligates you to pay the agent fee (Provision).
The fee cannot legally be more than two months’ net rent (Kaltmiete) plus 19% VAT. This is a considerable amount, but it is not to be confused with a security deposit (Kaution), which you have to pay in addition to the real estate agent’s fee. This, on the other hand, could cost you up to three months’ rent, and can be paid over three months—any amount higher than the equivalent of three months’ rent is illegal.
Rental Process Fees
|Name of Fee||Description of fee|
|Provision (agent fee)||For a real estate agent’s services|
|Kaltmiete||The fixed rent amount before utilities|
|Kaution||The security deposit|
If the agent belongs to a professional association, such as Ring Deutscher Makler or Immobilienverband Deutschland, it will be mentioned on their business card and website. Although such membership is by no means a 100% guarantee of their trustworthiness, it is usually a good sign.
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Buying Property as a Foreigner
For those thinking about how to buy a house in Germany as a non-resident, it’s not only a solid investment, but provides a place where they and their family can spend the rest of their lives. Unless they are required to move, most people in Germany will never abandon the house they bought or even built themselves.
Generally, buying a home is possible for foreigners and there are no restrictions. However, there are some downsides for expats who have decided on buying property in Germany. For instance, financing the move is more difficult when you intend to stay for a rather short period, as buying a house is regarded as a long-term investment. This also influences the high commission rates and other costs for real-estate agents.
Please note that you can’t buy a house in Germany to get citizenship, become a permanent resident, or get a visa. However, you can buy a property without having a German residence permit.
House Prices in Germany
If you’re considering all the requirements to buy a property in Germany, you should be aware of the average prices to expect for different types of property, in different parts of the country.
Munich is the most expensive place to buy a house. Apartments cost around 5,900 EUR (6,400 USD) and family homes about 4,200 EUR (4,500 USD) per m2. In contrast, Hanover has apartments at about 2,200 EUR (2,400 USD) and family homes for about 2,000 EUR (2,200 USD) per m2.
In terms of prime real estate, Frankfurt has seen the second biggest increase in prices in the world. According to real estate consultancy Knight Frank’s Prime Global Cities Index, which measures changes in prices of luxury residential properties in “key global cities,” prices in Frankfurt for prime real estate rose 10.3% in 2019.
Berlin Housing Real Estate Costs
- 100m2 is about 350,000 EUR (380,000 USD)
- 150m2 is about 485,000 EUR (485,000 USD)
- 200m2 is about 700,000 EUR (760,000 USD)
Frankfurt Housing Real Estate Costs
- 100m2 is about 420,000 EUR (450,000 USD)
- 150m2 is about 675,000 EUR (730,000 USD)
- 200m2 is about 840,000 EUR (910,000 USD)
Cologne Housing Real Estate Costs
- 100m2 is about 360,000 EUR (390,00 USD)
- 150m2 is about 640,000 EUR (690,000 USD)
- 200m2 is about 880,000 EUR (950,000 USD)
Buying Property in Germany: How to Prepare
The process and steps for buying a house in Germany take a considerable amount of preparation. There are no “for sale” signs in the front yards, so you cannot just go knocking on doors and hope to buy the property directly from the owner.
Instead, houses and apartments are mostly sold by agents. Even if the offer is listed in a newspaper or online, it is very likely tied to a real estate agency. If you want to avoid buying property in Germany via a real estate agency, you should look for ads that include the words “Privatverkauf” or “von Privat” (private sale).
The weekend issues of local, regional, and even national newspapers, as well as online resources, are a good starting point to find a variety of real estate offers. We recommend getting a general overview of the local market, as real estate prices vary from city to city and even neighborhood to neighborhood. Buying property in Germany’s east can be a lot cheaper than in popular cities, like Munich or Hamburg. Our city guide gives you specific information about housing in Berlin, Germany’s “poor but sexy” capital city.
Getting a Loan
If you are not a German citizen, the amount of money you can loan to purchase a property might be limited to 55 to 60% of its value. Germans can get a loan of around 80% of the value of the property they want to buy. Also, to get a loan, or mortgage, from certain banks, you have to earn at least 20,000 EUR (22,250 USD) a year and monthly re-payments cannot surpass 35% of what you earn in a month.
Before making a commitment, you should evaluate the market for the best mortgage deal. If you plan to live in Germany permanently, and you become a part of the home-for-life culture, it might be the last home you have.
A lot of Germans prefer to rent and if they buy, they buy for life, so there are not as many properties on the market as in countries, like the UK. However, this means there will be less competition when you see a home you want to buy.
Buying Property in Germany: Other Real Estate Sources
Apart from a vast number of private agents or real estate companies, a lot of banks, especially the local Sparkassen (savings banks) offer properties for sale. This can be advantageous when you plan to finance your new home.
You’ll inevitably come across real estate agencies when scanning the newspaper ads, but you might as well contact them directly to have access to all of their current offers. Just search for Immobilienmakler (real estate agent) in the phone book or use the database of the German Real Estate Association (Immobilien Verband Deutschland). Here, you can find tax advisors, public notaries, surveyors, and other experts. Alternatively, you can get help with contracts and other accommodation paperwork, from InterNations GO!
One thing to know when calculating your rent budget is that in Germany, utilities are usually included in your rent total. In rare cases, you will need to contact utility companies yourself. What is important here is the distinction between Kaltmiete (rent without additional costs) and Warmmiete (rent with all covered costs).
The Warmmiete includes the basic rent for the flat itself as well as additional costs (Nebenkosten) for waste disposal, property tax, chimney-sweeping, and some German utilities, like water or heat (Heizkosten).
Water in Germany
Costs for the water supply in your new apartment are usually included in the monthly rent (Warmmiete) or the Hausgeld for homeowners. Your landlord or the property managers base their German utilities estimate for your water bill on the potential annual consumption of your household. If your actual consumption is unusually high, the additional charges will be raised the following year.
In certain rare cases, paying for your water supply in Germany is not a part of your rent or homeowners’ fees. You have to get in touch with the local water supply company (kommunale Wasserwerke) in order to set up an individual contract. When dealing with German utilities, it is always useful to know the name of your local water supplier. Look up their website and bookmark their hotlines for emergencies, like strange changes in water pressure.
The quality of the water itself is mostly very high. Lots of cities do not even need to add chlorine to the local water supplies to meet the rigorous standards for drinking water. You may safely drink straight from the tap. But a water filter often comes in handy as the water in some regions has a high degree of lime. This is also why domestic appliances like kettles, dishwashers, and washing machines may need a little more maintenance than you’d expect.
Gas and Electricity in Germany
When you move into your new home, you also need to get connected to electricity and possibly gas for cooking and central heating. Costs for gas may be covered by the Warmmiete, while it is rather unusual for electricity costs in Germany to be included in the additional costs.
More often than not, you will have to set up an individual account with your utilities provider. In an apartment block or a building with multiple flats, you should always ask the landlord or property management which company supplies them with gas, electricity, internet, and even cable TV, and choose your supplier in Germany accordingly.
However, in the most common scenario, the previous tenant will have deregistered with their German utilities supplier, and you’ll have to register anew with the provider of your choice. Since the deregulation of the German energy market in the late 1990s, costs for gas and electricity are still among the highest in Europe, but there is now more competition among energy providers from large international companies, like e.on, to the smaller German utilities providers, such as SWM in Munich.
Choosing Utility Providers
Take your time to compare utility providers for gas and especially electricity, with regard to prices, services, and environmentally conscious offers that support renewable energies. Remember that choosing your supplier wisely can have a significant impact on your cost of living. Consumer advice websites, like billigstrom.de and check24.de, can help you with your choice.
To change your account details or to open a new account, there aren’t many required documents to worry about. The utility provider usually needs your:
- meter number (not to be confused with the appliance number on the side of the meter);
- meter reading;
- date of transfer (i.e. the date when you move in or when your rental agreement starts);
- exact address;
- name and bank details of the current occupant;
- proof of residence (depends on the supplier).
The registration process needs to be done in writing or by submitting your information on the company’s website.
Meter Reading and Electricity Supply
Once a year, the energy provider sends their maintenance staff to read the meter. Your monthly bills are calculated via an estimate of our household’s gas and electricity consumption. Following the actual meter reading, the company or the landlord will adjust your energy bills accordingly.
In Germany, the standard electricity supply is 230 volts–50Hz AC. Please check whether your electric appliances need an adapter or transformer to function properly. Moreover, German electric sockets are made to fit the TYPE-F plug or the TYPE-C plug, which you should take into account before bringing your household appliances to Germany.
Heating in Germany
If your flat is heated with gas or if your heating costs are generally included in your Warmmiete or Hausgeld, the information from the previous paragraph on electricity and gas applies.
Few apartments and houses in Germany still come with individual heating fueled by oil, coal, briquettes, or even firewood (Ofenheizung). In these cases, the rent does not cover your heating costs. You have to buy the fuel at DIY stores and fire up the stove yourself. You should keep in mind that these old-fashioned heating systems can be quite unsafe and it is often difficult to regulate the heat.
Waste Disposal and Recycling
Recycling is taken seriously by the German government and as a result, the population. Reusing materials is a big part of the country’s efforts to be more environmentally-friendly. In addition, costs for waste disposal are included in the Nebenkosten (additional charges) of your Warmmiete or in your homeowners’ fee.
Ask your landlord, the caretaker (Hausmeister), or property manager, about which types of bins are provided. You should separate your household waste into paper, glass, organic waste, and residual waste, and there are different bins for white, brown, and green glass. Lots of households separate tins, aluminum, and plastic bags as well. The waste bags are collected by municipal services every two to four weeks.
In addition, certain types of waste should never be put in the household rubbish at all.
- Bulky items: furniture and large electrical appliances are categorized as bulky waste (Sperrmüll). They are picked up by garbage disposal companies, but if not, you should contact them directly and arrange a date.
- Clothes: you can dispose of used shoes and clothes in one of the large containers placed around towns and cities across Germany, or donate them to charity organizations like the Red Cross.
- Chemicals: anything that contains toxic substances or chemicals (e.g. paints and pesticides) has to be taken to specials depots (Wertstoffhof)run by local garbage disposal companies.
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Internet and Mobile Phones
Knowing how to get a sim card in Germany is important for when you arrive. You need mobile phone access when you’re looking for jobs in Germany, or if you travel there for a fact-finding trip.
Buying a cell phone in Germany is easy, especially when compared to acquiring a landline or internet access. There are a huge variety of cell phone service providers and rates in Germany. Sales staff at mobile phone shops are always ready to offer advice, although they might not speak English. They can also quickly sell you a cell phone and data or a payment plan.
If you live in a single household, you can go without a landline and rely completely on your internet and cell phone. Some internet and landline providers include a second number, others offer a mobile UMTS internet connection and flat rates to other mobile phone networks or landlines.
Different Cell Phone Providers and Deals
In Germany, two types of rates for cell phones are available. While one is based on regular monthly payments, the other is a one-time pre-payment which can be renewed whenever you want.
Using Your Phone on Arrival
Some expats who move to Germany want to hold on to their SIM card from home to receive calls on their original number. However, this can get expensive due to fair use limits, or greater fees due to having a non-EU SIM. If you are afraid of missing important calls, ask the provider in your home country if a temporary redirection to your cell phone in Germany would be possible. This comes at a price but might still be the cheaper option.
You should also keep in mind that your mobile device from abroad may not work in Germany. European countries generally use the GSM standard of frequencies between 900 MHz and 1800 MHz. Some other states use different frequencies, though. If your phone is customized for those, it won’t work in Germany. Check your mobile phone’s manual to see if it supports these frequency bands.
Pre-Paid Cell Phone Services
Pre-paid mobile phone services are usually available without a new device. This is an easy way to get connected quickly if you already have a functioning cell phone. The first payment is made when signing a contract in a shop or when ordering the service online and activating your new cell phone number.
Other than that, there is no additional basic fee. Your new number will stay active for a while even without further payments. You can then receive incoming calls for up to 12 months, even without balancing your account.
It is also possible to obtain a new cell phone in Germany together with a number and a SIM card. You may have to order your mobile phone separately, with prices starting at about 8 EUR (8.70 USD) per month for 2 GB of data, and unlimited calls and texts.
Keep in mind that most phones bought with a pre-paid SIM card are locked. This means that the phone can only be used with a SIM card from your network provider. The SIM card can still be used in any unlocked cell phone in Germany.
If your device is not locked and you don’t make many outgoing calls this is probably the cheapest solution, temporary or not. In the past, pre-paid services used to have higher rates than long-term contracts. With new pre-paid service providers popping up all over the place, this has changed. Many of them offer considerably low rates and flexible payment options.
Long-Term Cell Phone Contracts
If you frequently use your mobile for outgoing calls, a subscription model may be the best solution for you. The good news is that you can get a new phone for a bargain when signing the contract and lots of providers offer flat rates for text messaging, calls within the same network or to landlines, and mobile internet.
Subscription prices start at 10 EUR (11 USD) per month. If you consider buying a subscription contract, please remember that the duration and notice period is usually 24 months.
Mobile Phone Rates in Germany
Most providers offer various deals from long-term contracts to pre-paid cards with different conditions. However, not all providers in Germany offer supplementary features.
Mobile Phone Supplements
Some mobile phone providers offer supplements with their long-term contracts. In addition to your usual service plan, you can get a mobile internet flat rate for your cell phone. These companies can also provide you with a so-called surf stick that can be attached to your laptop’s USB port and connects it to the UMTS network.
If you are not a frequent internet user, this may be an alternative option to internet access via a telephone landline in your flat. Some providers also offer landline telephone flat rates, allowing you to reach other landline phone connections for free.
Cell Phone Rates
There are quite a few mobile phone rates in Germany and they change frequently. You are charged between 0.01 and 3.00 EUR (0.011 and 3.30 USD) per minute to call the US, depending on the provider. To call other EU countries, you can get a 12 EUR (13 USD) a month add-on, or pay around 0.24 EUR (0.26 USD) per minute.
Consider signing up with the networks and providers your friends use because calls within one operator’s network are often significantly cheaper.
The website telespiegel.de offers an up-to-date overview of rates for long-term contracts as well as pre-paid cards in Germany. As the name suggests, pre-paid cards are paid in advance. When you sign a long-term contract, however, you receive a bill every month.
No matter if you choose a pre-paid card or a subscription model, you need to register your contract with your ID card and address. There are also some shops, e.g. The Phone House, that act as agents for different providers and can give you advice on offers that suit your specific needs.
Cell Phone Providers in Germany
The entire mobile phone network is owned by four companies (Netzbetreiber):
In addition to this, there are providers that rent the networks and sometimes offer better rates than the Netzbetreiber. Some of the most popular are:
- 1 & 1
- Fonic (cheap rates for calling abroad)
The Internet in Germany
As in most countries around the world, internet usage has increased significantly in Germany. Social media platforms have gained popularity and are increasingly used for marketing purposes.
Access to the internet in Germany via free public WiFi (in libraries, bookstores, and coffee shops) has become more frequent as well.
High-Speed Internet Connections
Over the past few years, broadband internet in Germany has become relatively cheap and easy to acquire. Internet junkies have profited from intense competition in the German telecommunications market.
Telephone and internet access are mostly offered in the same package at varying monthly rates. These rates depend largely on the internet speed you opt for.
Internet Access via Cable TV
In some areas of Germany, both telephone and internet access are available via your cable TV connection. While you need to have access to cable TV in your household, you don’t have to be a customer of a cable television company. Most providers offer a service that is limited to certain parts of Germany. The only exception is Kabel Deutschland, which you can sign up for online or in a Vodafone store in Germany. You can check the availability of their internet in Germany on their website.
When choosing this option, the service provider will fix your TV socket by adding phone and internet plugs. Technically speaking, the TV cable allows for very high traffic and a very fast internet connection. Your best bet to watch your home country’s TV in Germany, is to sign up to an online service. Alternatively, there is a range of domestic options, including major sports and reality TV, as well as a wealth of German television channels.
Some German cable providers are only available in certain areas and some landlords have exclusive deals with companies, so check before looking for a new deal.
According to official estimates, DSL connections with download speeds from 2,000 to 50,000 kbps are available for over 93% of all households in Germany, especially in cities. On websites like DSLWeb.de (German only), you can check whether DSL access from Germany’s major internet service providers is available in your area.
Choosing the Right Internet Provider
In most cases, you will now have the choice between a variety of internet service providers, ranging from national companies, such as T-Online, Alice, or 1&1, to regional providers, such as M-Net (in Bavaria) or BaWue-Net (in Baden-Württemberg). When looking for a DSL provider, there are some important things to ask:
- What is the connection speed?
- What is the monthly flat rate fee, and which services are covered by this flat rate?
- Does this include a flat rate for phone calls as well? Which calls are covered by this flat rate?
- Is the WiFi router included in the contract?
- Do you have to pay an extra installation or activation fee?
- What is the minimum term of the contract?
- How about English documentation and English-speaking tech support?
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