Housing in Germany
Everything You Need to Know about Finding a New Home
Wondering if it’s better to rent or buy a house in Germany? This guide will explore these two options and highlight what to look out for when signing a German rental or purchase contract.
Finding housing in Germany is one of the most essential parts of the moving process and, therefore, it can also be the most overwhelming. 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 for houses and apartments to 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, such as deposits. This guide also explains how to set up utility bills and an internet and phone connection after moving into your new home.
In Germany, renting an apartment is rather common. 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.
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. In Germany, each and every offer, whether for rental apartments or property, is only accessible via one single agent or company. 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, which can be paid over three months – any amount higher than the equivalent of three months’ rent is illegal.
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.
Documents Needed 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. And 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 documents to rent in Germany:
- Your ID or passport
- A Mietschuldenfreiheitsbescheinigung – a document to prove you don’t owe previous landlords money. Your 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
- 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-Auskunft or Bonitätsauskunft für den Vermieter – a SCHUFA-Auskunft (credit report) shows your prospective landlord your credit score, however, 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.
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Renting a House or Apartment
Renting an apartment in Germany may become difficult if you want to move to a popular city where there’s a housing shortage already. Naturally, personal knowledge of the city and its neighborhoods (or very thorough online research of Germany’s cities and their rental process and rules) is of advantage. It’s also important to know about rental contracts and deposit requirements.
You can find more about the required documents for renting in the previous section of this article, titled “Documents Needed for Renting”. In addition, you can find out more about rental deposits and agency fees in the previous section, called “Real Estate Agencies and the Rental Process in Germany”.
Moreover, when renting an apartment in Germany, make sure you have proper access to public transport if you plan on using it, and that parking is available if you own a car.
In Germany, furnished apartments are the exception. Rental apartments usually come with very basic furnishing and are mostly rented out to 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 relatively well-priced apartments, however, 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 camper vans are quite a common type of home in Germany, especially compared to most other countries around the world.
Average Rental Prices for Apartments and Houses
In general, rental prices in Germany are reasonable, and are around 5% lower than in the UK, for example. Taking into account all types of rental properties, whether it’s a furnished or unfurnished flat or house, the average rent in Germany is about 1,300 EUR.
To be more specific, a one-bedroom apartment in a German city center costs around 700 EUR, while the same apartment outside the center is around 530 EUR. Moreover, a three-bedroom apartment in a city center in Germany is around 1,350 EUR, while one outside of the city center is just under 1,000 EUR on average.
The minimum rent for a house 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, while you can get a more attractive four-room house in cheaper Leipzig for 850 EUR. But, remember, there are bargains to be had everywhere as long as you shop around.
Germany: The Apartment Search
Whether you’re searching before or after you’ve taken the plunge and relocated, there are several resources rich with information and services related to finding accommodation in Germany. Before you move, you can find familiar-looking German property websites, usually available in multiple languages, and 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 local organizations.
Real Estate Ads in Local Newspapers
Most local German newspapers have a classified ad section dedicated to short 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 “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, 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 usually up-to-date. Here is a small selection of some popular real estate homepages in Germany:
Buying Property as a Foreigner
For most people who choose to buy a house in Germany, 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 not 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.
Moreover, 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 sort of 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, with apartments around 5,900 EUR and family homes about 4,200 EUR per square meter. In contrast, Hanover has apartments at about 2,200 EUR and family homes for about 2,000 EUR per square meter.
- A small house of 100m2 is about 350,000 EUR
- A house of 150m2 is about 485,000 EUR
- A house of 200m2 is about 700,000 EUR
- A small house of 100m2 is about 420,000 EUR
- A house of 150m2 is about 675,000 EUR
- A house of 200m2 is about 840,000 EUR
- A small house of 100m2 is about 360,000 EUR
- A house of 150m2 is about 640,000 EUR
- A house of 200m2 is about 880,000 EUR
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 in Germany, 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).
However, 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.
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 as well. 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.
One thing you should know when calculating your rent budget is that utilities are not always included. 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, for some reason, unusually high, the additional charges will be raised accordingly the following year.
In certain rare cases, paying for your water supply in Germany is not a part of your rent or homeowners’ fees. Then you have to get in touch with the local water supply company (kommunale Wasserwerke) in order to set up an individual contract. However, when dealing with German utilities, it is always useful to know the name of your local water supplier in Germany. 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 potable water in Germany. 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, in some cases, gas for cooking and for the central gas heating in your own apartment. 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.
Heat and Electricity in Germany
Take your time to compare utility companies for gas and especially electricity, with regard to prices, services, and environmentally conscious offers that support renewable energies in Germany. Remember that choosing your supplier wisely can have a significant impact on your cost of living in Germany. Consumer advice websites 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, however, 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.
Speaking of electricity, 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, however, that these old-fashioned heating systems can be quite unsafe, and it is often difficult to regulate the heat.
Waste Disposal and Recycling in Germany
It’s a popular stereotype that Germans love separating their household waste. Costs for waste disposal are included in the Nebenkosten (additional charges) of your Warmmiete or in your homeowners’ fee.
Also ask your landlord, the caretaker (Hausmeister), or property manager, which types of bins are provided. According to German customs, you should separate your household waste into paper, glass, organic waste, and residual waste. 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 to that, 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 as well, but you might have to contact them directly and arrange a date.
- Clothes: you can dispose of used shoes and clothes in one of the large containers placed all around towns and cities across Germany, or donate them to charity organizations, like the Red Cross.
- Chemicals: everything 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
Learning how to get a phone number in Germany is probably one of the first things you will want to do upon your arrival. Maybe you need mobile phone access even earlier 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. Sales staff at the mobile phone shops are always glad to offer advice. They can also quickly sell you a cell phone in Germany and a respective plan.
If you live in a single household, you might as well do without a landline and rely completely on your internet and cell phone. There are plenty of attractive offers from Germany’s cell phone service providers, some including a second number, others offering a mobile UMTS internet connection, and flat rates to other mobile phone networks or landlines. As with landline services and internet offers, there is a huge variety of cell phone service providers and rates in Germany.
Using Your Phone on Arrival
Some expats who move to Germany want to hold on to their SIM card from home, in order to still receive calls on their original number. However, this can get expensive. 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 may come at a price as well, 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.
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.
Pre-Paid Cell Phone Services
Pre-paid mobile phone services are usually available without a new device. If you already have a functioning cell phone, this is an easy way to get connected quickly. 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 number and a SIM card together with a new cell phone in Germany. However, you may have to order your mobile phone separately, with prices starting at 25 EUR. Keep in mind that, if you buy a phone with a pre-paid SIM card, most of these devices are locked.
This means that it can only be used with a SIM card of the respective provider. The card, on the other hand, can 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 phone for outgoing calls, a subscription model may still 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 per month. If you consider buying a subscription contract, please remember that the duration of such a contract and its notice period can be rather long (usually 24 months).
Mobile Phone Rates in Germany
Most providers cover various deals: they offer long-term contracts as well as pre-paid cards with different conditions. However, not all providers in Germany offer such supplementary features as those described below.
Mobile Phone Supplements
Some mobile phone providers offer supplements with their long-term contracts. In addition to your mobile phone service, you can get an additional 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 rather frequently. Consider signing up with the networks and providers your friends use because calls within one operator’s network are sometimes significantly cheaper.
No matter whether you decide in favor of a pre-paid card or a subscription model, you need to register 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.
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. Keep in mind that, despite low crime rates in Germany, cell phones are often stolen.
Cell Phone Providers in Germany
The entire mobile phone network is owned by four companies (Netzbetreiber):
In addition to this, there are many other providers that rent their networks and sometimes offer better rates than the Netzbetreiber. This selection is by no means exhaustive:
The Internet in Germany
As in most countries around the world, internet usage has increased significantly in Germany. Particularly, social media platforms have gained popularity and are increasingly used for marketing purposes.
The German railway company, Deutsche Bahn, for instance, uses the communication platform Twitter as a channel for customer service. 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 the intense competition on 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 which is limited to certain parts of Germany. The only exception is Kabel Deutschland. You can check the availability of their internet in Germany online.
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. You’ll most likely be able to watch your home country’s TV in Germany, as well as a wealth of German television channels, including major sports and reality TV.
Some German cable providers are only available in certain areas and some landlords have exclusive deals with certain companies, so check before looking for a new deal. There are some services that are available everywhere in Germany though, such as Vodafone Kabel Deutschland, who allow you access to foreign language channels. You can sign up online or in a Vodafone store in Germany.
According to official estimates, DSL connections with download speeds from 2,000 to 50,000 kbps are theoretically available for over 93% of all households in Germany, especially in the 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 know:
- 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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