Home Search in Germany

Are you looking for a flat or apartment in Germany?

What foreigners need to know about the German residential market and its conventions

  1. Home Search – Looking for accommodation & how to find a flat or apartment in Germany
  2. The conventions and characteristics of the German residential market: how flat sizes, rents and rent deposits are calculated and where you can find information on rent levels
  3. Things to bear in mind for foreigners looking for accommodation in Germany
  4. German residential tenancy agreements: important rules and regulations
  5. A short cultural guide for foreigners in Germany

Home Search – how to find a flat or apartment in Germany

If you already know how long and for what purpose you will be staying in Germany, it will be much easier for you to find a flat or apartment because landlords will always ask you the following two questions:

  • Why are you coming to Germany?
  • How long do you want to rent the flat for?

If you are unable to provide clear answers to these questions, we recommend that you look for a furnished apartment or flat that you can rent on a monthly basis. Alongside the well-known globally operating online portals, Germany is also home to several service providers who specialise in renting furnished flats or finding temporary accommodation. To find these providers, simply enter the search terms „temporary accommodation“ („Wohnen auf Zeit“) or „furnished apartment in <town/city>“ („möbliertes Appartement in <town/city>“) in your chosen search engine (e.g. Google, Yahoo or Bing) or search directly for flats and apartments offered by specialist estate agents such as homecompany.

If you know why you want to live in Germany and how long you plan to stay, it will be easier to find accommodation if you adapt your search to suit your needs and requirements:

If you are a first-time employee, have changed jobs or are an intern/trainee with a fixed employment contract or internship agreement, we recommend that you…

…ask your employer how your predecessors went about finding accommodation and whether they or a contact are able to provide any relevant addresses. This will help you to make quicker progress and save time. After all, many landlords not only consider the individual looking for accommodation, but also place a strong focus on the company at which they are employed. Landlords pay particular attention to the name of the company if you are looking for accommodation in a rural region and tend to favour applicants employed by well-known large companies with a good reputation. If your employer is unable to help you with your search for accommodation, specify the name of your employer when conducting your search, for example „Siemens intern looking for a room…“ („Siemenspraktikant sucht Zimmer…“) or „BASF engineer looking for a flat…“ („Ingenieur BASF sucht Wohnung…“).

If you are a student or trainee looking for a room, flat or apartment for a limited period of time, we recommend that you …

… try to use the accommodation services offered by your university or employer. You can also look at accommodation exchanges offering flats and apartments for students. On top of this, there are a multitude of online portals that specialise in helping you to find rooms in shared flats and apartments. To find these portals, simply enter „rooms in shared flats“ („WG-Zimmer“) in your chosen search engine. Many of the portals also contain an area in which you can publish information on your search for a room. The good thing about this option is that you can even post your search request in English. Nevertheless, it’s important to bear in mind that student accommodation in particular is in high demand and therefore difficult to find. Another good strategy is therefore to initially stay at a bed and breakfast in your chosen town or city for a few days so that you can look for accommodation options in the local media.

If you have changed jobs or are an immigrant who plans to stay in Germany on a long-term basis …

… the most important focus for employed individuals with or without families is probably being able to settle into an unknown environment as quickly as possible. If you have little time to do so because you are predominantly focusing on a new stage in your career, we recommend that you use a relocation service. Unlike estate agents in Germany, which do not actively look for a suitable flat available for rent for their customers, relocation managers actively work to find you accommodation. They also accompany new arrivals and their families to meetings with the authorities, register children for places at schools and nursery schools and know all about the formalities with which foreigners need to comply when moving to Germany. Be it helping you to avoid language barriers and misunderstandings or speeding up processes thanks to its relevant knowledge of the opening hours and responsibilities of different authorities, a relocation service can help to save you time and a great deal of stress.

Families with a cultural background in countries outside of Europe face a particularly difficult challenge when trying to find accommodation. This is due to the fact that the number of large flats available on the rented flat market is very limited and such accommodation is already in high demand among German families. If you have enough money, it may be a good idea to instead opt for a furnished flat or apartment right from the word go. Such accommodation is normally easier to secure because it is more expensive. If not, you should definitely consider our tips on how to apply for accommodation and how to successfully communicate with landlords.

Tips for asylum seekers in Germany:

Asylum seekers face the most difficult challenge when it comes to finding accommodation in Germany. Without the local support of a group of helpers or a German mentor and without sufficient knowledge of English, it will be virtually impossible for you to find accommodation, particularly given that most asylum seekers are dependent on social housing. We recommend that you focus on establishing contact with German helpers who can voluntarily help you with your search. Simply ask around in your local community or your refugee accommodation to find out how to get in touch with such helpers and make the most of every opportunity available to find German supporters who can help you find a flat.

The conventions and characteristics of the German residential market

Online portals operating throughout Germany feature accommodation offers that will help you on your search for a flat or apartment. Important selection criteria are as follows:

Where you are looking

When looking for accommodation in major cities, you should also find out about the bus and tram network that you can use to travel from your potential home to your workplace, school or university. You can then carry out a targeted search for a flat or apartment located close to one of the stops on your route.

The size of flats in Germany is calculated according to both the number of rooms and the number of square metres of living space available.

Kitchens and bathrooms are not counted as rooms in this calculation. A typical 3-room flat therefore contains a kitchen, a bathroom, a bedroom (room 1), a children’s bedroom (room 2) and a living room (room 3). A room should have an area of at least 6m2 and should provide space for a bed. It should also have a window or some form of ventilation, without which it is not suitable for residential purposes and cannot be rented out as a room. Rooms smaller than 6m2 are not classified as rooms.

If you want to base your search on square metres of living space, it is important to remember that not all areas of the flat are included in the overall calculation of living space. In the case of balcony and terrace areas, for example, only half of the area counts towards the overall living space, while areas with slanted ceilings up to a flap tile height of 1.20 metres are not allowed to be factored in as living space at all. Stairs and stairwells are not deemed to be living space and the term also does not apply to cellar rooms and non-heated attics or hobby rooms.
Given that German jurisdiction is very tenant-friendly, a residential tenancy agreement in which the number of square metres specified is more than the actual living space available may entitle the tenant to reclaim excessive rent payments.

The costs of rental apartments in Germany

Rent in Germany is normally calculated in euros per square metre of living space. A flat with 70m2 of living space at a price of 8 euros per m2 therefore has a rent excluding utilities of 560 euros. Alongside this rent, tenants must pay the landlord a monthly advance payment for additional utilities such as heating, electricity, water/warm water, waste disposal, home insurance, real estate tax and cleaning services. In Germany, these costs normally add up to a total of between 1.50 and 3 euros per square metre of living space per month.
In German flat advertisements, these additional costs are normally labelled as „NK“ and „BK“ („Nebenkosten“ and „Betriebskosten“).
If a flat advertisement specifies the rent, net rent or rent excluding utilities, this only refers to the rent for the living space without any utilities or additional costs. You should therefore calculate an extra 2-3 euros per square metre of living space for utilities and additional costs.
Landlords are required to demand payment of these utility costs from tenants as additional down payments and to settle the balance with tenants based on the actual consumption figures at the end of the financial year. This may lead to the payment of credit to the tenant in the case of lower consumption or an additional payment demand in the case of higher consumption.

Rental prices are, however, extremely different throughout Germany:

The most expensive locations in Germany are the cities of Munich and Frankfurt, where accommodation costs up to 15 euros per square metre of unfurnished living space.
In Berlin, rents vary strongly according to the district and year of construction in question and can range between nearly 5 euros and up to 16 euros per square metre of living space.
Tenants tend to pay less rent in northern and eastern Germany than in the west or south. In order to find out the average rent in a specific town or city, search for the „rent index“ („Mietspiegel“) for your selected location or for the „typical local comparable rent for ‚town/city'“ („ortsübliche Vergleichsmiete für ‚town/city'“).

Alongside rental payments, which should be made within the first five working days of each month, tenants are also required to pay their landlord a rent deposit. The rent deposit amount is normally the equivalent of three monthly rental payments excluding utilities and is paid to the landlord in cash or via bank transfer. The landlord must keep this deposit separate from their other assets. The deposit acts as a pledge to the landlord confirming that the tenant will return the flat to the landlord in the same condition as specified in the rental agreement when they move out. This includes, for example, carrying out any necessary cosmetic repairs. If a tenant has properly met all of their contractual requirements when they move out, the landlord must repay them the deposit including any interest accrued.

Things to bear in mind for foreigners searching a home in Germany

In principle, the rules involved in looking for accommodation in Germany are similar to those involved in applying for a job. As is the case with good jobs, good flats cannot be found around every corner in Germany. You therefore need to invest a great deal of effort in quickly and successfully establishing contact with landlords.

Letters to landlords should be written in perfect German. When writing your letter, you should first introduce yourself and then explain why you want to rent the flat in question, whether you want to rent it on a long-term or short-term basis and what financial securities you can offer the landlord. If you apply for a flat online, it is important to make sure that your application is written in perfect German.

We generally recommend that you first send a written application via e-mail and then call the landlord if initial contact by telephone is requested in the advertisement. The use of fluent and correct German is also important when making such calls. If you struggle when speaking or writing in German or English or are not sure whether or not the landlord can speak English, you should ask a trusted German contact to get in touch with the landlord on your behalf. Although this approach doesn’t guarantee success, it is much more likely to have a positive outcome than trying to do everything alone and quickly becoming frustrated. This particularly applies to individuals who have applied for asylum in Germany or are excluded from the employment market on a long-term basis.

If you are invited to view a flat, potential tenants are normally expected to bring a disclosure of personal employment and financial details, copies of their employment contracts and evidence of earnings or information on their personal assets with them to the viewing. Providing incorrect details or omitting information should definitely be avoided, especially given that anyone who submits false details risks having their rental agreement terminated without notice and facing criminal prosecution if they end up being approved to rent the flat.

If your German skills are insufficient, it is a good idea to work with a translator to produce a sample letter. If you have a very foreign-sounding name (especially if you come from a country outside of Europe), we also recommend that you state that you are familiar with the cultural factors in place in Germany as explained below.

A short cultural guide for foreign tenants in Germany

Be on time

If you are invited to come and view a flat, you must arrive at the viewing on time. In Germany, people who are late are often considered to be unreliable and disrespectful. After all, in Germany, time is money.
How to address landlords
Where possible, always address landlords correctly by their surname, for example „Herr Meier“ or „Frau Schwarz“. You should definitely avoid using a landlord’s first name or using the informal German pronoun „du“, but should instead use the formal pronoun „Sie“.

What is a „Hausordnung“?

Most German residential buildings have a „Hausordnung“, namely a set of house rules. Tenants are provided with these rules as an appendix to their rental agreements or they are displayed in the entrance hall. The house rules tell tenants what is and is not permitted in their building. Many sets of house rules are standardised and contain a multitude of regulations, even for rare cases. The most important rules are as follows:
– Tenants are not permitted to leave any objects in the hallways and stairwells of the building or in the garages. This rule mainly apples in order to ensure that the building has insurance coverage because in the case of fire, insurance companies only pay out when all fire protection regulations were complied with.

Many house rules require tenants to keep quiet at night, normally between 11:00pm and 6:00am. Germans also tend to be rather sensitive to noise at other times during the day and do not want to be disturbed by other people’s music, slamming doors or wild shouting and screaming. Oriental-like scents wafting through building hallways are also frowned upon. This particularly applies on Sundays, when Germans typically like to spend time enjoying the peace and quiet of their homes.

Waste must be disposed of on a regular basis in the designated bins. Avoid leaving waste in your flat for too long because this can attract bugs or rodents and result in unpleasant odours. Germans are particularly sensitive when it comes to such waste issues. Avoid smoking in stairwells, which is normally prohibited.

When it comes to recycling material, Germany is at the top of the table. It achieves such successful results by consistently separating waste. Nevertheless, the topic of household waste is dealt with in a number of different ways depending on where in Germany you live. In Bavaria, for example, all household waste can (still) be placed in the same bin. Residents can, however, opt to separate paper, glass and organic waste by using the designated bins. In Baden-Württemberg, only certain rubbish can be disposed of as household waste, while other items and materials must be placed in the designated bins or taken to a recycling centre. Batteries, medicines and other chemicals are not allowed to be disposed of as household waste. Your local authority will be happy to provide you with more information on waste separation and offers a number of corresponding plans and flyers.

You also need to pay a certain amount of attention to your neighbours in Germany. When you move in, you should briefly introduce yourself to your new neighbours in order to establish a basis of trust. Neighbours normally also greet each other and generally make an effort to be friendly.

What NOT to do:

  • Never start a campfire or open fire in your flat.
  • Avoid inviting large numbers of different guests to stay with you.
  • Do not play loud music, slam doors or hold noisy parties after 11:00pm.
  • Never ignore letters from your landlord, property management service or caretaker.
  • Do not leave household waste lying around in the building or stairwells and do not place it next to bins rather than in them.
  • You should not invite non-residents to stay in your flat for long-term periods (of longer than a month).
  • Do not ignore bans on pets by keeping cats or dogs in your flat.