There are a few quirks about apartment hunting and renting in Germany that you may want to know about before you get started. My first apartment was located outside of Frankfurt where I lived for almost four years.
Renting a place in Germany and getting everything up and running took a lot longer than I expected. And the apartment came with (literally) no kitchen or light fixtures – along with a few other things missing.
Below are some of the tips and tricks I learned along the way.
Finding a Place
First of all, the way I found my place was online through ImmoScout24, But since my German was not that great, I had to run the key information through an online translator and have my German-speaking sister help me. Other options for finding a place include Immonet or Frankfurt Rentals, which has listings in English.
Another option to explore is the personal connection. If you are moving for work, you could ask your future colleagues if they know anyone renting or have any suggestions in case they know someone who is looking for a tenant. Or you could join a meetup or expat group and see if anyone knows of an apartment for rent.
Germans may count rooms differently than in your country. For example, a two-room (2 Zimmer) apartment would most likely have a bedroom and a living room, not 2 bedrooms. Look at the floor plan to see what is provided.
Once I found a place I was interested in, I worked with the listing agent who showed me the place initially because the landlady was out of the area. He handled all the administrative tasks. We communicated exclusively in German. In retrospect it would have been nice to have a German speaker with me when I viewed the apartment, but I bumbled along okay. I had to fill out die Selbstauskunft, a form with personal information, including financial details. Also, your agent might only be available Monday-thru-Friday and not on weekends.
But before signing the lease, the landlady wanted to meet me, too. I assumed she wanted to rent to me, but I was not the only one she was meeting. Therefore, as always, you want to make a good impression. I was able to tell her I had a three–to–five–year work contract and was planning on staying in the apartment for a while. That worked in my favor. After we clarified and negotiated a few things in the contract, I signed the lease agreement (der Mietvertrag) for the apartment and a parking space (ein Parkplatz).
You can’t assume everyone speaks English. I was fortunate that my landlady spoke English, which made things easier on me, but be prepared to speak the language of the country you are living in obviously. For example, when you are getting your Internet hooked up or dealing with the movers or the plumbers, you can’t assume everyone will know your language or be comfortable speaking it.
Deposit and Move-in Costs
To move in, I had to pay three things, which I did by bank transfer: a security deposit (eine Kaution), which was almost two and a half times my monthly rent; a service fee to the property management agent, which was twice my monthly rent; and then the first month’s rent on move in day. The bottom line is moving is serious business in Germany. It is expensive and time consuming, but if you find a place you like, it’ll be worth it.
(Editor’s note: Unlike in the United States, real estate agents in Europe typically don’t work weekends.)
What Appliances and Fixtures Can You Expect?
Do not expect anything to be included in an apartment or rental house – an actual kitchen, light fixtures, or closets – unless explicitly stated. Be sure to ask. My apartment had literally no kitchen, just one pipe to be attached to the sink, no closets, and 17 lamp sockets to put light bulbs in. I bought the bulbs and light fixtures myself.
Serviced apartments or corporate rentals should have everything. But if you are renting an unfurnished unit, it will likely have nothing except four walls and the bathroom fixtures. Consequently, you should find out what will be included.
In my case, since the online photos of the apartment had a built-in kitchen, I just assumed I was getting the built-in kitchen, not understanding that it was the previous tenant’s kitchen, and he would be taking it with him.
In addition to bringing all of my furniture, here are the things that I had to supply:
• an entire kitchen, including sink, cupboards, stove, and
dishwasher, which together with my landlady we were able to
implement in 6 to 7 weeks
• a washer and dryer
• a refrigerator
• light fixtures
Rules and Regulations
Germany, like every country, has its own peculiarities for apartment renting and rules and regulations.
Here are a few more things:
- water, heating, electricity, insurance, garbage, and maintenance fees.
- painting your apartment upon leaving, which is another common expectation.
TV, Internet, and Phone
It can take a while to get your TV and Internet hooked up, so start that process as soon as you are able. I used T-Mobile for my iPhone and Vodafone for my Internet. The phone I was able to get up and running in one day, but the Internet probably took six weeks, which was unexpected.
Time Frame and Bureaucracy
Tenants must give 3-months’ notice in writing to move out in Germany. What this means is that it will likely take you three months to secure a place from the time it is advertised to when it is available because the current tenants have had to give 90-days’ notice as well.
Keep in mind that you might have to reserve a parking place with the city for the movers on moving day unless you have plenty of off-street parking for them. They are not allowed to double park outside your residence without the proper permits.
Consider a Furnished Apartment
Especially for short-term assignments, a furnished (möbiliert) apartment offers more flexibility. Since I had a multi-year assignment, I didn’t need this but would have benefited.
Good luck, be patient and persistent, and happy apartment hunting!
About the author:
Mary Porcella is a Europhile who has lived in Germany, Norway, Italy, and the U.S. She is a writer, editor, and photographer.
She loves seeing new places, returning to old haunts, and meeting up with family and friends. As of today, her travels have taken her to 20 European countries, and she hopes to visit the rest.
See more about Frankfurt here in our Dispatches archive.
See our Germany archives here.
Mary Porcella is a Europhile who has lived in Germany, Norway, Italy, and the U.S. She is a writer, editor, and photographer. She loves seeing new places, returning to old haunts, and meeting up with family and friends. As of today, her travels have taken her to 20 European countries, and she hopes to visit the rest.