What To Look For In A German Flat

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If you are studying or working in Germany long term, you're going to end up going flat (British English!) hunting at some point after you arrive.  While most apartment hunting checklist points are the same between the U.S. and Germany, there are some points which are more specific to Germany that are worth keeping an eye out for.

  • Neighbor/street issues.  German windows are wonderfully noise cancelling, which can mean that the apartment is louder than you at first think.  Open the windows and actually check if the street is noisy yourself.  The realtor is not about to say that a flat on a main street is actually loud.  Also, look down below you.  If a window of yours is above a balcony or other living space of a lower apartment, look for an ash tray.  If someone smokes below you, it will be coming up to your window.
  • Available shared space.  If the building has a yard, driveway, room to hang clothes to dry, shared balcony or rooftop space, ask about the rights to use it.  You don't want to have any surprises about what you can and can't use, and you should be able to make your decision about the flat without operating under the false assumption of a space you can't use.
  • The current kitchen in the flat.  In Germany, the majority of flats are not rented with a kitchen provided (essentially none will come with one built in).  You should ask if the current tenant (who will be there when you view the apartment, unless it is totally empty, at which point this issue is moot) if they are planning or willing to sell the kitchen, and how much they want for it.  If they are planning or willing to sell it, you should take a close look at the appliances themselves, and determine if they are worth what is being asked for.  If the kitchen has obviously been brought from another flat, or will need substantial work to redo (i.e. you're buying it for the appliances), try to bargain them down if you can.
  • Bike rooms/car parking.  Depending on the building, there may be a bike room, underground parking, or both available in the building.  The bike room should be free of charge, but the parking likely has a monthly fee for the space.  If you don't need the parking space, you shouldn't have to take it in order to rent the apartment.  Depending on your area, parking may be at a higher premium than you might think, even for bicycles.
  • Basements.  In Germany, it's common for apartments to come with a small basement room or caged in area.  It shouldn't be counted towards the total floor space advertised for the flat, and shouldn't have an additional cost.  These can be very useful, particularly for storing seasonal items, bulk purchases, or bicycles for people who don't use them particularly often.
  • Direction the apartment is facing.  German apartment buildings won't have air conditioning, so knowing the direction that the apartment faces will matter for more reasons than just the amount of light that you'll get through the windows.  If the apartment faces North/South, it will get less light and be cooler in summer, if it faces East/West, you will get a lot more light, but it can also mean everything gets much hotter if there's no trees around.
  • Distance from grocery stores and public transportation.  You likely won't/don't have, or have access to a car.  Grocery shopping, even on a bike, gets old fast if you constantly have to travel too great a distance in order to buy anything in a reasonable amount of bulk, or need anything heavy.  The same goes with public transportation.  Also, even if there is access to public transportation, you should carefully consider what the connection looks like to get to your work, university classes, or other places you will have to go to regularly.
  • CHECK FOR THE MINIMUM LEASE TIME!!  German law changed a few years ago, shifting the obligation for paying the realtor's fees from the person renting the apartment to the landlord.  In response, most landlords instituted policies stating that apartments have to be rented for a year or two before you can give (three month) notice to move.  Moving out before this date will result in fees and you still being on the hook to pay the rent for the months that you have signed for.  In general, this means that you can move out within a year and three months of your start date (though one way to get out of this is to have someone take over your lease if you can find someone to do so).  If you are staying for a shorter period of time, it will probably be best to sublet a room within an apartment instead of renting it on your own.