House hunting tips in Germany for tenants

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13 Things to Consider When Looking For a Rental Home in Germany

Moving to Germany can be an exciting, challenging, and interesting experience for expat families living here for the first time. While there may be many similarities between your home country’s culture and Germanys, there are certain differences to be taken into consideration when searching for your new home. Kitchens, oil tanks, and airflow are just a few examples unique to house hunting in Germany.

1. Location and Traffic

When looking for a rental home in Germany, societal norms should be considered in the location. Like everywhere in the world, you should always review traffic at different times of day at your potential new home. Germany has quiet hours and days which limit the majority of traffic. Sundays are actual days of rest here and most shops, offices, and establishments are closed. This will highly impact traffic if you view a house on Sunday. Consider making the drive to the new home during your normal commute times to ensure there are no unexpected delays.

2. Infrastructure

Many of Germany’s cities are broken up into districts offering their own differing set of infrastructure variations. When looking for a house in Germany, walk around to get a sense of what is available in the immediate area. Look for grocery stores, doctors, kindergartens, post office, and parks. Having these facilities within a short walking, driving, or biking distance will dramatically improve quality of life and easier integration into the community. Additionally, consider the availability of public transportation nearby. Easily getting to and from the airport, or taking the train home after a wine fest will be greatly appreciated at your new home.

3. Bitte Was?

If you do not speak German, it is certainly wise to find some help when house hunting. While many Germans speak English, they may not all be comfortable enough to talk real estate or contracts with you. Many of the German landlords around military bases are used to working with Americans and therefore capable at communicating in English. Additionally, look into an international rental contract or “Mietvertrag” which has both English and German.

4. Mold and Airflow

Home construction in Germany is quite different than many of the homes built in the United States. Homes here are generally built from brick or concrete. With this, fresh airflow is very important to avoid stagnant air and humidity within the home. Always check for mold specifically in upper corners of rooms and bathrooms. The mold will spread very quickly if not taken care of immediately and directly. See my post on Dealing with Mold and Airflow in German Housing here to learn helpful tips.

5. Heating Systems

When looking at homes for rent, inquire as to what type of heating system is installed. Common heating systems include natural gas, wood pellet burning, heat exchanging, and oil burning furnaces. It is important to understand the system so you know if any effort is needed on your part. For example, many older homes only have oil burning furnaces installed. In this case it is usually up to the tenant to ensure you have it filled annually. This is not only pain when it comes time for utility bill reconciliation but also can have adverse smells from the oil tanks in the basement. At a minimum, ensure all heating related costs and maintenance are covered by the landlords.

6. It’s Getting Hot in Here…

Believe it or not, but Germany does get hot for a few months in the summer. Despite of this, almost all German houses do not have central air conditioning. When looking at homes for rent, understand those top level penthouses and attic apartments will get very hot in the summer months. Ensure the home you are looking at has blinds or “Rolladens” to close during the hot summer days. Be wary of large open unobstructed windows which are southward facing. You will thank me later… 

7. Bus Route DODDS

Moving to Germany with children will be an exciting experience. With so many parks, playgrounds, and amusement parks; your children will not get bored. However, moving with kids and thinking about taking them to school presents new challenges. If you choose to send your children to DODEA schools, ensure that the house you are looking at is within the supported school pickup zone. These zones can be found by speaking with your local off-post housing office or the local DODEA school bus liaison office.

8. B.Y.O.K -Bring Your Own Kitchen

One very unique and interesting quality about German housing is the kitchen, or should I say the lack thereof. When Germans move homes, it is completely normal to bring their kitchen with them. When house hunting, unless you want to purchase your own kitchen, look for homes which include a kitchen in the rent price, this is typically displayed as “EBK” or Einbaukuche” There are few expats who move to Germany with their kitchen sink in hand, so ensure your know and expect this before visiting a kitchen-less home.

9. Parking

If you will be driving in Germany (check out my post on Public Transportation in Germany here) ensure the home you are looking at has ample and free parking for you and family. Many homes in Germany do not have garages or even dedicated parking spaces. Sometimes, the landlord will offer the tenant a parking garage space or you may have to park in the street. Additionally, some cities offer parking passes to the residents for a fee. Ask about parking or you may be in for a hike each day.

10. Planes/Trains/Automobiles, Oh My!

One potential downside with Germany’s ease of public transportation is the noise these vehicles make. If you live out in the country, you likely do not have to deal with this, but for those in the city, near train tracks, or around one of Germany International airports, you may. Ensure you take time to listen for loud thunderous trains or airplanes taking off while sitting in your garden. The last thing you want is to move into your new home and find out you are on the direct flight path of Frankfurt Airport!

11. Internet Availability

High speed internet is available throughout most of Germany and Europe in General. If high speed internet is important to you, ensure you check on commercial service providers to see what is available in your area. DSL and cable internet are not available at every house so ensure you check on the vendors website to see what is available at your potential residence. These links take you to the common providers:

Unity Media: https://www.unitymedia.de/privatkunden/beratung/unser-kunde-werden/verfuegbarkeit-pruefen

T-Mobile: https://www.telekom.de/is-bin/INTERSHOP.enfinity/WFS/EKI-PK-Site/de_DE/-/EUR/ViewDSLQuickCheck-Start?popup=false

Vodafone: https://zuhauseplus.vodafone.de/verfuegbarkeitspruefung/

12. Lease Length and Landlord Planning

Depending on what type of rental contract you use, you may run into unforeseen issues. For example, the military housing office uses a rental contract which states the landlord will not terminate the lease within the first 36 months. However, what this means, and does happen, is that after the 36 months, the landlord can ask you to move within 90 days. So it is advisable to find out the length of the lease, if they have any future plans of moving back in. Do your due diligence or ask a property or legal professional for help.

13. Pets

Renting with pets in Germany is similar to the US. While some landlords forbid pets, there are certainly many which allow them. Expect to pay a small premium on the security deposit for having pets, especially if you have dogs or large animals. Ask about the local laws for leashes, waste, and vet clinics in the area. If you are not a member of the US military forces in Germany, look into the laws on bringing animals into Germany including dog tax and forbidden fighting “kampfhunde”.

14. Radio and TV Tax (GEZ)

This only applies to those who do not fall under the “Status of Forces Agreement”. Per German law, all registered residents must pay a radio and TV tax to the local authorities. The tax levied as of 2018, is 17.50 Euro per month for the household. This tax ~allows~ a family to use free-to-air TV channels and radio. The official name is known as “GEZ” or “Rundfunkbeitrag“

There are many things to think about when moving to Germany and house hunting. If you are well informed and prepared, you will avoid many mistakes and have a more comfortable and issue free stay in Deutschland.

Are you already living here in Germany and can think of something else you wish you knew when house hunting?

Don’t hesitate to ask me for more information regarding housing or living in Germany in general.

Hi Shane, thanks for the post! I've been in Germany (Berlin and Dresden) for almost 7 years now and I wish I had this list when I got here. Just a few other things I wish I had known: 

- most apartments don't even come with lights, not even a bulb! 

- apartments don't come with a washing machine 

Hey Nicholas, great to hear from you. You're absolutely correct, after I published this, there were a few more things I thought about which could be helpful. 

Lights, security deposits, and washing machines are all some of them. I think for the most part, these appliances are thought of as furniture and not part of the house

 On the other hand, kitchens, lighting, furniture, and washing machines do not have to be counted in the property transfer tax or Grunderwerbsteuer when closing on a property! That's a super quick trip which can save a buyer thousands.

Thanks for your mention!