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Finding a place to stay in Germany is the first priority for most expats. And having a comfortable home in an area that's suited to their lifestyle will go a long way to easing the transition in their new surroundings.
Accommodation in Germany ranges from furnished apartments and maisonettes to trendy studio apartments, cottages and large family homes. Luckily there are plenty of options for reasonably priced housing in most cities.
As one travels further from the cities, iconic German fachwerk (half-timbered) houses, cottages, and bauernhause (farmhouses) become available.
Expats usually rent property in Germany rather than buy because of the short-term nature of most expat assignments, but most locals tend to rent their homes, too.
Types of accommodation in Germany
Expats moving to Germany will find their choice in types of property will depend on whereabouts in the country they are based. Generally, within the city centres of major urban hubs, most people tend to live in apartments. The standard of accommodation in Germany is on par with other countries in Western Europe. Properties are often comfortable but small, air conditioning isn't common (though it is rarely necessary), and adequate heating is essential in winter.
Expats wanting to rent property in cities such as Berlin, Frankfurt and Munich will find that housing costs are largely determined by location; the closer someone lives to the city centre, the more they can expect to pay. Many people look for accommodation in outlying suburbs where they get a better balance between price and space than 'downtown' areas.
One benefit of living in Germany is that no matter where expats live, they'll have access to efficient public transport.
Finding accommodation in Germany
The process of finding a property to rent in Germany is relatively easy. Expats can search online or check local newspaper listings – especially as using a real-estate agent can cost as much as a month's rent in some cases.
Once they've found a suitable property, expats will need to arrange a time and a date for a viewing (bezichtiging) with the landlord. Group viewings are common, and there may be as many as 20 other potential tenants at a single viewing. Expats should express interest immediately if they've found the right property, especially because landlords often determine the shortlist for rental applications themselves. They should also note that they may need to pay three months' rent as a security deposit.
While shipping furniture to Germany – particularly from within the EU – is a viable option, expats shouldn't have much trouble buying items to kit out their new homes after they arrive. Most German cities have numerous stores that sell new, second-hand and antique furniture.
Home security shouldn't be a major issue either. Although petty theft does occur, especially in the downtown areas of major cities, home invasions and violent crimes are rare, and expats generally feel safe in their homes.
Renting accommodation in Germany
The availability of rental property does vary from one location to another. In the major cities, properties do tend to move quickly as the demand is high, so expats will need to act quickly in order to secure a suitable place.
Upon finding suitable accommodation, expats should start by arranging a viewing with the landlord or agent. If the property is particularly popular the landlord may opt to hold a group viewing. Having viewed a property, if expats are interested in renting it, they will need to express this to the landlord or agent. Again, if the area or property is popular then the landlord may take their time and compare potential applications. In such cases, expats will need to ensure their paperwork is in order so that they can apply swiftly. Usually, expats will be required to provide a copy of their ID, work permit (if applicable) and payslips or a contract of employment.
To secure a property in Germany, tenants are required to put down a security deposit of at least one month's rent. In some cases, the landlord may ask for up to three months' rent as a security deposit. Generally, leases are a year long, but expats can try to negotiate a short-term lease if necessary. Be sure to read the tenancy agreement carefully in order to understand how much notice is required to terminate a lease early. Furthermore, tenants should carry out an inventory and note any damages to the property formally to ensure the security deposit can be returned in full at the end of the lease.
Buying property in Germany
Buying property in Germany is a relatively straightforward process and most deals are handled by real estate agents (immobilienmaklers).
Once an expat has found a property they want to buy, a contract is drawn up between the buyer and seller which sets out the terms of the sale. A notary is then employed to ensure that the sale is carried out correctly and there are no irregularities.
Expats should note that the additional costs involved in buying property in Germany – including the agent's fee, the notary's fee, property transfer tax and administrative costs like hiring an interpreter (if necessary) – can run at about 10 percent of the purchase price.
Finally, expats should be aware that Germans tend to buy houses for life and don't usually speculate on real estate – property is considered a long-term investment.
►For more about rental prices and living expenses, see Cost of Living in Germany
"The housing is relatively good. I would definitely compare it to my living in Chicago. You can live in newer or older houses/apartments. Though apartments in Germany come with three different options – furnished, not furnished, partially built. A co-worker of mine rents her apartment (in a newer building) and the owners had her build her own kitchen. When she leaves she can either take the kitchen with her or sell it to the next tenant." For more on Marisa's experiences as an American expat in Germany, read our interview with her.
Are you an expat living in Germany?
Expat Arrivals is looking for locals to contribute to this guide, and answer forum questions from others planning their move to Germany. Please contact us if you'd like to contribute.
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