Expat Essentials

Shari Boddin in Berlin: My best tips for making your apartment search easier

By SHARI BODDIN

(Editor’s note: This was originally posted on the Expats in Berlin public Facebook page. It’s reposted here with the permission of the author. Please note this post was written with the sole purpose of sharing personal experiences to help others going through the same process. Shari Boddin is not a real estate agent or expert, nor does she claim to be.)

Searching for an apartment in Berlin is a highly discussed topic and an issue almost everyone who has lived in this city has been faced with.

It is a time-consuming, often frustrating experience and can be compared to a full-time job, especially when trying to find one in a timely manner.

Having just searched and found an apartment for my husband and me, I thought I would share some key take-away points/lessons learned/guidelines for the apartment search.

1.     Have all your paperwork ready and assembled (proof of income, SCHUFA Auskunft, Mietschuldenfreiheitsbescheinigung and a copy of ID’s) before you start applying for apartments so that when you get responses to your inquiries you already have everything ready.

2.     Create a profile on sites like immowelt.de and immobilienscout24.de because this saves your information so you don’t have to enter it in every single time.

3.     Write a “template of interest” which includes info about yourself and who you are moving in with (what you do, how much you earn etc.) so that you can just copy and paste this text into the contact forms on the aforementioned websites.

4.     Keep in mind that most landlords expect the household income to be at least triple the amount of the monthly “warm” or “kalt” rent (e.g. if the monthly rent is €600, your household income should be at least €1,800 a month).

5.     There is a large, varying range of prices for apartments which is dependent upon various factors such as location, condition of the apartment etc. So it will come down to your budget and what you are able to find.

Note that in the areas that are in high demand (e.g. Kreuzberg, Mitte, Prenzlauer Berg), apartments are more expensive and are rather difficult to find.

So, the best advice here is, “Be flexible.” Berlin’s public transport system is very good, so if you are having a hard time finding an apartment closer to the city center, broaden your horizon and have a look at apartments that are a little farther out.

6.     Do your best and try to give yourself as much time as possible to find an apartment (opposed to looking for something in a rush), because this allows you to find something that meets your expectations and fits your budget, rather than having to settle for the first apartment you get.

7.     Be aware of scams: There are some awful people out there who capitalize on the desperation of others.

Some guidelines/hints regarding this include:

• If it is too good to be true (too easy, too cheap), it unfortunately usually is;

• Be VERY wary if you get some long-winded explanation of someone’s situation/reason for renting their place out; if they say they live abroad and provide some excuse for why you can’t see the apartment yet ask you for some form of payment.

• Do not pay until everything checks out (you have seen the place, had to submit your application with all required paperwork, have discussed all matters and signed the contract; this is the typical process), you have every reason to be careful if you feel something is suspect.

If everything is legal, then the landlords will cooperate with you and your requests. Any scams should be reported to the appropriate websites to avoid issues for anyone else.

8.     If you are subleasing (Untervermietung/Untervermieter) and are not the main tenant (Hauptmieter) make sure you ask the main tenant for the proof of the approval to sublease!

The main tenant needs permission from the owner of the apartment (whether a person or company) to sub-lease an apartment or part of an apartment. If the main tenant does not have this permission and the owner finds out, both the main tenant(s) and sub leaser(s) are at risk of losing the apartment (speaking from personal experience!).

9.     Last but arguably the MOST IMPORTANT piece of advice: make sure that all correspondence/communication is in German.

If your own German or that of the person you are moving in with (partner/friend/family) is not strong enough, ask a friend/acquaintance/family member if they can help you out. Realistically, you will get much further and more responses if you communicate in German rather than English.

Additionally, if your German is not strong enough, ask a German-speaking friend/acquaintance/family member to accompany you to apartment viewings, as well as to review the contract that you receive (before you sign!) to make sure everything is as it should be.

And make sure you understand everything that is written in the contract – the devil is in the details. Make sure you understand exactly what you are signing because you are legally bound by this document!

Let me just finish by saying while it is difficult to find an apartment here, it is not impossible.

Discussions regarding finding apartments in Berlin can be very pessimistic, because everyone will tell you how hard it is, and it is hard – but it is still not impossible, so don’t lose hope.

The key is being very organized and smart about it and being persistent.

Happy searching Everyone!

About the author:

Shari Boddin’s father is German and her mother is Sri Lankan, so she has a rather multi-cultural, east-meets-west background. Shari was born in Colombo, Sri Lanka, and soon after, her family moved to Cologne Germany, then returned to Sri Lanka in 1999.

In 2008, She went to Pennsylvania in the United States where she received both her bachelor’s and master’s degree in clinical psychology AND met her husband. After 18 years of being away, she returned to Germany.

While Cologne is technically her hometown, she was drawn to “Big City Life” in Berlin has to offer.

“Admittedly, I was rather naïve regarding all the work and bureaucracy involved in this move – ranging from the infamous Anmeldung to coordinating the arrival of our packages which we sent from the U.S via FedEx,” she said. “Despite all the challenges, however, my husband and I enjoy Berlin very much. Not a day goes by that we regret moving, and we certainly understand the appeal this city has, which has people from all over the world flocking to not only visit, but to settle down here.”

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