Last week, I went into a long discussion about the legalities of moving to Germany as a foreigner and how to go about getting a visa. So today, I’m going to assume you’re allowed to be here, and jump right into finding a place to live.
When Stefan got his first internship here and even when we moved over here, the rental market for apartments was extremely competitive in and around Frankfurt. You would go to an apartment and there would be 20 other people there and if you like what you saw, you had to speak up fast or lose the place. It seemed like everywhere we went, there were always multiple people looking at the place at once and it certainly made the thrill of the search a lot more interesting. But it also made it that much harder to find a place to live.
Now people ask me all the time about finding a farmhouse like our own to live in while over here in Germany. Let me begin by saying that it’s not always easy or ideal to find a place like this. We looked for our farm for over a year before it landed in our lap — and we literally looked in all areas of Frankfurt to find what we were looking for. At the time, we weren’t 100% sure if we wanted something old, new or in between, but we knew that when we found the right house, it would be obvious.
The German real estate market has fairly stable, and apparently Germans tend to hold on to their houses once they buy them. They’re typically not like Americans who will move up, down and all around over the course of 10 or 20 years. So this results in few properties coming onto the market on a regular basis and keeps the prices in check.
As far as finding a farm for rent goes, it’s rather tricky but in some rather rural areas you can probably find one with a lot of searching. There isn’t really any sort of centralized real estate system like in the US, so working with a Realtor (“Makler”) here can be frustrating as they only know something about the houses they personally have on the market.
Also, the process of buying a home here can take weeks to months. For us, it took nearly 3 months from the time we made the offer until we had all the paperwork finalized. We were allowed to come into the house before all the contracts were totally done and start cleaning things out…but we did wait to start the major construction until after the contracts were signed.
Where to start looking
One of the best places to look for apartments and houses here in Germany is ImmoScout 24. It’s probably the most user friendly real estate site of them all, but again, everything is in German. You can usually run the results through something like google translate and get pretty far along in understanding what is what. Or have a dictionary or leo.org handy to look up words which really throw you off.
“Miete” is to rent. You’ll want a “Haus” instead of an apartment (“Wohnung.”) Once the search loads you can select “Bauernhaus” in the sidebar on the left which would be a farmer’s house, and will usually have a bit of land around it…although you might find something more modern from time to time in that list with property around it. You can also look for empty lots (“Grundstück”) or furnished apartments (“Möbiliertes Wohnen”) or even a room in a shared apartment or house (“WG-Zimmer”).
Places in East Germany are usually more economical and you can usually get more land for less money. Personally I would recommend you pick out a few areas if you have no idea at all where you’d want to go (even if it’s just randomly on a map) and just start looking around. In the search sites, you usually need to select a city or zip code to search around (up to 50km range). So that makes it a bit more complicated to just browse around. But you’ll probably want to be within an hour or so of a major city and airport.
Some of the Costs
It’s general practice that houses or apartments being rented through a realtor require a 3 months rent up front, which is quite a hefty amount of money to have tied up. Be sure to clarify if any of that is a down payment (which will often be used up to complete repairs when you move out) or if that’s just “Makler” fees. A real estate agent is not supposed to take more than 2 months rent as their fee and could be fined if they do not comply.
If you are buying a house, keep in mind that there are several additional costs you’ll have to face. In general, you can expect to pay 10-12% on top of the purchase price for all these fees.
- The person buying a house in Germany is required to pay for any real estate agent fees on top of the sales price. These typically range from 3.5-7% of the purchase price
- A “Notar” (lawyer acting as a notary) is needed to complete the final contracts and will cost about 1.5 percent of the purchase price.
- Stamp Duty or Property Purchase Tax (“Grunderwerbssteuer“) will be 3.5 percent of purchase price. This is only due once and by law both purchaser and seller are jointly liable for this tax. Contracts, however, typically determine that one person is responsible for this tax.
- Land Title Registry generally costs around 1 percent of the property’s value.
- Any mortgage needs to be made binding via the “Grundbuch“ (land registry) and that can only be done by a “Notar” (hence another additional fee) but it may be included with your contracts.
- If you’ve got a mortgage, there may also be additional financing fees that you’ll have to pay up front.
Raising Farm Animals
In general, property lots are rather small here in Germany (compared to Texas) and I think that in most smaller towns you don’t have to worry too much about bans on chickens or other small livestock. The previous owner of our house had pigs, goats and tons of birds including chickens & geese in addition to doves and exotics. Usually a real estate agent should be able to tell you if animals are allowed or not. If you want a farmhouse like our own, you need to look for a “Bauernhaus.”
There are areas around many cities that are specialty clubs for raising certain types of animals. Here near us we have one for raising chickens (and other birds) and I’ve seen them for rabbits as well. But I’m not so sure about something like a cow or pig. You’d really have to basically just happen upon a place that has the facilities for larger livestock like that. These clubs are not only a place for animal raisers to get together and chit chat, but there are often small gardens or living spaces for the animals as well which can be rented out. So if you do end up in an apartment or there’s no space for chickens or goats, it’s possible that you can find a way to raise them on borrowed land. Neighbors of ours also rent property for their sheep to graze on so you just have to look around and ask about options.
Owning Property as a Foreigner
There are no specific barriers to foreigners when it comes to buying property in Germany, but sometimes the banks writing the mortgage will give you considerable trouble if you have no payment history or bank accounts in Germany. Sometimes you may be asked to have a German co-signer for this reason exactly, so there is someone else tied to the German system who can take the blame should you default. And buying a property in Germany does not grant you an automatic visa or right to live here. You’ll still have to go through all the red tape to get your residency permit. See this very useful post from a lawyer in Germany for more about the legalities.
Expats — what sort of experiences have you been through with renting & buying homes in Germany? Have you ever had any trouble?